Roles Of Tradition, Convention, Changing Term Paper

Length: 10 pages Sources: 10 Subject: Art  (general) Type: Term Paper Paper: #80137907 Related Topics: Religious Traditions, Role Model, Roman Architecture, Aesthetics
Excerpt from Term Paper :

The Byzantine artists are well-known for the icon of Symeon with the Christ Child. The icon was effectively changed by Byzantine artists toward the ending of the iconoclastic controversy in the ninth century. Originally the artistic protocol for the depiction has Symeon submissively approaching Mary who is holding the Christ child in her hands however the changes in the icon are of the nature that show Symeon holding the Christ child in the beginning. The first record of Symeon holding the Christ child is stated to be in the church of the Virgin of the Source in Constantinople during the restoration conducted by Emperor Basil I along with Leo and Constantine sometime after 869.

Clouds and sky views often used in Byzantine art are rooted in Roman art which changed from "smooth and pliable clouds" into "flattened triangles with horizontal bottoms and scalloped tops. In this odd and stylized form the y were almost universally adopted by Byzantine artists..." And weren't dropped from use until the Renaissance. It is stated in work entitled: "The Eternal Sky: The Meaning and Beyond" that: "It is possible that these triangular clouds proved so enduring because they suggested the Trinity to the medieval mind." (nd) It is further related in this work that the gold sky is used in Medieval art for several purposes. First it "imparted an aura of majesty" to the art and highlighted the figures against The gold skies simply emulsified any earthy reference point, disassociating the scene from the material realms of time and space and relocating it in the spiritual domain of the eternal and holy." (The Eternal Sky: The Meaning and Beyond, nd)

In the Byzantine culture the emperors were considered to be the "earthly vicars of Jesus Christ" and it was believed as well that the emperor's "imperial will was God's will." (Gardner, nd) The emperors held all authority spiritually and all temporal power as "sole executives for the church and the senate sharing no power with the council of the church or the senate but ruled as 'theocrats...supreme....combining the functions of both pope and Caesar..." (Ibid)

VI. Byzantine Art - Changes in the 11th and 12th Centuries

The work of Wharton Epstein nd Aleksandr P. Kazdan entitled: "Change in Byzantine Culture in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries" states: "For want of evidence, it is impossible to trace with assurance the evolution of dress, diet, entertainment, and the like." Nd) However, there are contrasts able to be drawn between the habits of the Byzantine in the eleventh and twelfth centuries as compared to earlier period in the Byzantine time period. The Byzantines are acknowledged as having at some point become "better dressed." (Epstein & Kazdan, nd) Moreover, the Byzantines were not only dressed better but were also clad elaborately and in various fashions characterized by rich and bright colors with gold and silver thread and embroidered decorations, with pearls and precious stones sprinkled upon their robes.

Wool was the most utilized material although cotton, silk and linen materials were available and used for garments of a 'finer' nature. The Byzantines higher in the ranks had various styles which they wore with a full-length patrician costume being the traditional mode of dress complete with full caftan and wide sleeves and worn with boots. The Greek hairstyle held strong however, in the 12th centuries the Byzantines started to be clean-shaven believed to be a fad the Greeks originally introduced.

VII. Return to Classicism

The embellishment of the churches of the Byzantine time period is illustrated in St. Sophia a creation during the "First Golden Age of Byzantine art." St. Sophia has characteristics that are seen in other churches such as the cistern of Bin-bir -- Direk at Constantinople and in the aqueduct of Justinian who was an "engineer of great ability" although a "unknown master." It is believed that the decorations of St. Sophia "must have been one of the largest and mo0st beautiful composition of sixth-centry Byzantine art, and it would seem that we must recognize in it the handiwork of an artist of genius."

The Iconoclast controversy was the period of time lasting from 726 to 843 and had serious results for art in the Byzantine empire. The Iconoclast Emperors were quite hostile to religious art but enjoyed beautiful displays disliking bare churches or splendorless palaces. Elements sought by these emperors were decorative "picturesque motifs monumental art....landscapes full of tress and flowers, circus and hunting scenes...portraits...historical picture illustrating their victories.

This demonstrates a return to the classical tradition of art and is stated to have 'foreshadowed the freer and more flexible imperial...


The 12th century witnessed a development in Byzantine art that held consequences of an important nature. Drama developed in the church frescoes of Nerez while the frescoes of the Serbian churches display "...a remarkable sense of realism and life..." And as well in the Genesis mosaics at St. Mark's in Venice the art is of landscapes, features of architecture and the picturesque.

The Byzantine Empire wrought creations such as the Synagogue Mosaic located in the northern section of Jerusalem. The Synagogue is a building that was destroyed as the Byzantine period ended. The floor was rich in color and had various depictions including a zodiac and Jewish symbols such as the seven-branched Menorah. Another creation of Byzantine art is the Nile Festival Building stated to be one of the most impressive and largest of all structure that have been excavated in Zippori. Originally the entirety of the structure was "paved with colorful mosaics..." Inclusive were geometrical mosaics, figurative panels and figurative designs.

Summary & Conclusion

Strange to some one finds upon research that the state and church controlled the production of art during the Byzantine period in what can be viewed as a type of psychological operation upon the citizens of the Byzantine Empire as the church and state dictated the subject and content of art that was produced during this period of time. Toward the ending of the Byzantine period this work has shown that a falling away form the abstract and a return to classicism occurred. Iconography was highly protested by members of the Christian community and there are those who believe that a sinister level of psychological intentions are inherently linked to the icons of the Byzantine Empire and that those icons were the method used by the church and state in assuring allegiance to those in control. Just as there existed specific specialized methods of communication of stories to the listener, the art of the Byzantine period was highly symbolic and conveyed its message through use of color, angles and content. The Byzantine period declined sometime after the 12th century falling completely at the time of the Fall of Constantinople. The art of the Byzantine period returned at this point to classicism. The Byzantine artist was not expected to be talented or individualistic, the only requirement was that the artist understand what the church and state wanted art to express and that the artists abandon any 'dreams' of creativity in their work. This study concludes that the Byzantine Empire not only carried forward works of the Greeks but as well, after the 'iconography' initiative


A. Cutler, 'Originality as a Cultural Phenomenon' pp. 203-16

A. Cutler, The Hand of the Master: Craftsmanship, Ivory and Society in Byzantium (9th - 11th Centuries (Princeton 1994)

A.W. Carr, 'Popular Imagery', in Glory of Byzantium, pp. 112-81

A.R. Littlewood (1986) "The Symbolism of the Apple: An Example of Kazantzakis' Debt to Byzantine Erotic Imagery" Byzantine Studies Conference. Second Annual Study Conference 12-14 November, 1976.

A.R. Littlewood (ed.), Originality in Byzantine Literature, Art and Music: A Collection of Essays Oxbow monograph 50 (Oxford 1995): see esp:

A.W. Carr, 'Originality and the Icon: The Panel Painted Icon' pp. 115-24

Diehl, Charles (nd) Byzantine Art From: N.H. Baynes - H.St.L.B.Moss (ed.) Byzantium, An Introduction to East Roman Civilization, Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford 1948. Published by permission. Myriobiblos Online available at

Epstein, & Kazdan, Aleksandr P. (nd) "Change in Byzantine Culture in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries." Online available at

Gardner, (nd) Early Byzantine Art The History of Art Survey

Lecture 17 326-343 Online available at:

L. Brubaker, 'Originality in Byzantine Manuscript Illumination' pp. 147-65

L. James, Light and Colour in Byzantine Art (Oxford 1996)

Maguire, Henry (1980-1981) The Iconography of Symeon with the Christ Child in Byzantine Art. Dumbarton Oaks Papers. Vol. 34, 1980-1981 pp. 261-269. Online available at

Moss, Kevin (1993) A Culture Course Based on a Semiotic Pattern. Russian Language Journal, XLVII, Nos. 156-158 (1993), 3-15. Online available at

Petrowski, Andrezaej (nd) Representational Function of Daylight in the Katholikon of…

Sources Used in Documents:


A. Cutler, 'Originality as a Cultural Phenomenon' pp. 203-16

A. Cutler, The Hand of the Master: Craftsmanship, Ivory and Society in Byzantium (9th - 11th Centuries (Princeton 1994)

A.W. Carr, 'Popular Imagery', in Glory of Byzantium, pp. 112-81

A.R. Littlewood (1986) "The Symbolism of the Apple: An Example of Kazantzakis' Debt to Byzantine Erotic Imagery" Byzantine Studies Conference. Second Annual Study Conference 12-14 November, 1976.

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