Early Byzantine Art

In AD 313, Constantine I of the Western Roman Empire and Licinius of the Balkans met in modern-day Italy to form what is now regarded as the Edict of Milan. This agreement between the two leaders sanctioned Christianity as a recognized religion, now free of persecution from Roman officials, that spread throughout the Roman Empire. Combined with reparations paid and wrongs righted in the name of social justice (and speculatively, to avoid the wrath of higher powers), this recognition by the Roman Empire led to a resurgence of Christian-focused art, particularly in the eastern portions of the Roman Empire, later known by historians and scholars as Byzantium.

With the freedom to practice and express Christian beliefs freely within the Roman Empire, Constantine encouraged Christianity into several aspects of Byzantine life, notably in its art and architecture. Churches sprouted under his rule as well as the later rule of his son, Constantius II, chief among these the foundations of the famed Hagia Sophia and Church of the Apostles, later renovated by Justinian I.

The Theodosian dynasty began in AD 379 with the rule of Theodosius I. Theodosius was a deep lover and ambitious patron of the arts within the Byzantine Empire, so much so that he had an obelisk commissioned for transit from Alexandria to Constantinople despite the difficulty for want of technology of the time. The base of the obelisk would later cover the Roman naturalist bas-reliefs in favor of what was known as conceptual art: art depicting abstract concepts such as order and social rank, primarily through a bas-relief of Theodosius’ house separated by the rest of the nobility. Some believe this artistic transition reflected the slow turn of religious dominance to Christianity within the Byzantine empire, and Theodosius himself had begun persecuting Roman religious practices in 381. In fact, by 393, he had completely outlawed all public religious customs of a non-Christian nature. Silver dishes were also a prominent form of luxurious art within the Byzantine community. This was symbolized most by the Missorium of Theodosius, a ceremonial plate made entirely of silver that was believed to be made in AD 388 in honor of the tenth anniversary of Theodosius’ reign as emperor. The Missorium features the three emperors of the time, Valentinian II and Arcadius alongside Theodosius, all crowned with halos while depicting pagan imagery in lower scenes along the plate (before Theodosius had completely outlawed pagan practices).

Although they would be later popularized near the reign of Justinian I, illuminated manuscripts have been discovered and preserved in fragments of the whole, original text to which they were included. These texts were both secular and sacred in purpose, notably exemplifying the works of Virgil and Homer with illustrations to accompany the narrations.

Along with silver and silver plates, Byzantine art also began to make great use of ivory at the time, utilizing it to create luxury art pieces known as diptychs – two heavily decorated ivory plates connected via a hinge, often given as gifts by newly appointed consuls. Decorative sarcophagi, deriving their origins from ancient Egypt as well as ancient Rome, continued to be produced as well through the 3rd and into the 4th centuries, according to http://cmzlaw.net/

Categories Art