Byzantine Painting


 St. Andrew and St. Peter Responding to the Call of Jesus, from the Main Nave
St. Andrew and St. Peter Responding to the Call of Jesus, from the Main Nave Giclee Print
Byzantine School
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 Priests with Censers, 6th Century
Priests with Censers, 6th Century Giclee Print
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 Christ Separates the Sheep from the Goats, 6th Century
Christ Separates the Sheep from the Goats, 6th Century Giclee Print
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The Byzantine school of painting  emphasized transcendent time and place; the only worldly concern was with how one must behave in order to get into heaven. Thus the figures in Byzantine art tend to "hover" in space without weight and solidness, without inhabiting a three-dimensional space.

 According to Medieval historian, Julia De Wolf Addison, "The garments worn by the Byzantines were very ornate; they were made of woven silk and covered with elaborate devices. In the fourth century the Bishop of Amasia ridiculed the extravagant dress of his contemporaries. "When men appear in the streets thus dressed," he says, "the passers by look at them as at painted walls. Their clothes are pictures, which little children point out to one another. The saintlier sort wear likenesses of Christ, the Marriage of Galilee, and Page 192 Lazarus raised from the dead." Allusion was made in a sermon: "Persons who arrayed themselves like painted walls" "with beasts and flowers all over them" were denounced!"

The monasteries owned vast libraries and engaged in the copying of manuscripts.  Manuscript paintings were generally styled after classical paintings of late antiquity.

Byzantine mosaics are bedecked with gold leaf and iridescent glass tiles, radiating a shimmering, heavenly light. The effect of the composition together with the precious materials, lift the holy figures into a divine spiritual place. The figures themselves  are  symmetrical, repetitive, and little emotion or individualism is expressed in their calm faces.

Throughout the life of the Byzantine Empire, the Eastern Orthodox Church also played an important social role. Sacred images, commissioned by the church acted as moral instruction to the illiterate peasants who clamored for enlightenment of the holy scriptures.

Until the twelfth century it had been the custom to adorn the alters with costly religious reliquaries wrought in metal; partly to preserve the metallic sheen of the decoration, partly because of the contiguity of mosaics or stained glass, the paintings had to make the most glittering impression possible. The figures, therefore, are raised like mosaics from a gold background. Red, blue , and gold are the prevailing colors. The figures also have the solemnity of Byzantine types. The head of the Madonna, with  the large almond eyes and long, pointed nose, and the indifferent manner in which she holds the Christ Child with her elongated, bony hands.

With the triumph of Christianity, Byzantine artists aspired to reawaken the divine spirit of holy figures rather than depict their physical qualities. Their luminous paintings captured the spirit of the Bible and helped to popularize Christianity.
 Their unique style is a combination of depicting frontal simplicity, sacred images, harmonious unity, together with precision in details.  The use of costly materials such as gold, precious stones and ivory indicates the degree of wealth that was common during this period, and attests to the sophistication of the Byzantine Society. 

Byzantine style represented early Christian culture and values as well as courtly splendor. The paintings are complex; fraught with religious fervor and symbolism.  Most prominently featured are the holy symbols of the Christian faith--Christ, The ApostlesSaints, The CrossVirgin MaryChalice, Keys, The Anchor, Wheat , The Good ShepherdAnimals, Fish, Angels, Birds, Insects  and Satan.



Princple Painters of the Byzantine Era

Coppo Di Marcovaldo
Duccio di Buoninsegna
Jacopo Di Cione
Ambrogio Lorenzetti,
Pietro Lorenzetti
Lippo Memmi
Andrea Di Orcagna
Andrei Rublev
Theophanes The Greek
Francesco Traini
Paolo Veneziano


Key Descriptive Words  and Phrases associated with this period -   Justinian, icon painting, illuminator, linear compositions,  scriptorium, black death, Manuscript Illumination,  miracle stories,  spiritually significant,  monastic values,  gold leaf, mysticism , idealized biblical themes,  Old Testament stories, religious intensity, soaring spaces, Gospel parables,  Christian symbolism, International Style

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