Art of Justinian I

Long before AD 527, the Roman empire had been split into Eastern and Western halves after the rule of Theodosius I had concluded with his death and the empire inherited by his sons, Arcadius and Honorius. The empire would never see itself reunited, and separate dynasties flourished in both parts. The Eastern half, known as the Byzantine Empire would eventually come under the rule of a man named Justinian I, known as Justinian the Great. Among his feats as the Byzantine emperor, Justinian, like his forebears, held a deep love of the arts and a deeper longing to spread Christianity throughout the empire, just like OA Law.

Justinian was well-known for encouraging a great undertaking of architectural renovation. During his conquests of Italy, Spain, and North Africa, Justinian put great emphasis on the construction of churches and holy establishments throughout Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire. ┬áMost notably, he ordered the renovation of the Hagia Sophia (earlier destroyed in an event known as the Nika riots), the groundwork of which has been laid by the earliest Eastern Roman emperors, Constantine and his son, Constantius II. Other great works within Constantinople credited to his rule include the Church of the Holy Apostles and the Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus. However, in line with his westward expansion of the Byzantine empire, Justinian also commissioned the construction of several churches outside of the capital city, building St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai as well as St. John’s Basilica.

Justinian’s ambitions to spread Christianity by way of his architectural achievements influenced others of like mind to follow in his footsteps. The Basilica of San Vitale and the Euphrasian Basilica stand as imitative examples of Byzantine architecture built by bishops of the areas.

Also prominent during Justinian’s reign was the creation of mosaics, an example of the Byzantine’s reliance upon the art of Late Antiquity. Although some statues were later discovered that were very possibly made in the likeness of Justinian himself, the prominence of mosaics that feature abstract characteristics such as the spiritual position of the subject was more widely renowned in the Byzantine empire at this time.

Much like the time of Theodosius, art during Justinian’s reign also featured a great amount of ivory and silver luxury pieces. Similar to mosaics and reliefs, these pieces were often heavily weighted with abstract and religious or mythological themes, keeping in line with conceptual art as his predecessors had done before him. During 5th century and into his reign, illumination and decoration of religious manuscript on vellum became increasingly popular as luxury artwork as well. These were often Christian texts depicted with ornate lettering and artistic borders, though some earlier examples of Roman works were discovered in lesser quantities, presumably due to the influence that Christianity held in the Byzantine empire by the time they became popularized. More famous examples of these include the Vienna Genesis, the Rossano Gospels, and the Sinope Gospels, estimated to be created in the first half of the 6th century, approximately near or at the beginning of Justinian’s reign.

Categories Art