Byzantine Style

This Style was created and developed in The Byzantine Empire, also known as the Later Roman or Eastern Roman Empire.

Hosios Loukas is a 10th century monastery at the Greek town of Distomo (near Delphi) and one of the finest examples of Byzantine architecture from the so-called Second Golden Age or Middle Byzantine Period, which roughly corresponds to the rule of the Macedonian dynasty.
Hosios Loukas, 10th century monastery, Middle Byzantine Period, Distomo, Grece.

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About Byzantine Empire

Byzantine art refers to the body of Christian Greek artistic products of the Byzantine Empire, it emerged from the decline of Rome and lasted until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. Many Orthodox states in Eastern Europe, as well as some Muslim states of the eastern Mediterranean, preserved many aspects of the empire’s culture and art for centuries afterward.

Risultati immagini per byzantine columns
Byzantine columns

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Many states contemporary with the Byzantine Empire were culturally influenced by it, without actually being part of the Byzantine commonwealth. These included the Rus, as well as the Republic of Venice and the Kingdom of Sicily.
After the fall of the Byzantine capital of Constantinople, art produced by Eastern Orthodox Christians living was often called “post-Byzantine.” Certain artistic traditions that originated in the Byzantine Empire, like icon painting and church architecture, are maintained in Greece, Cyprus, Serbia, and other Eastern Orthodox countries to the present day.

The Basilica of Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy, was built as an Arian church by Theodoric the Great, King of Ostrogoths (475-526) in the early 6th century. When Italy was conquered by the Byzantines during the Gothic War of 535-554, Justinian I had it converted into an Orthodox church and dedicated it to Saint Martin of Tours.
Basilica of Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo, early 6th century, Theodoric the Great, Ravenna, Italy.

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Byzantine art originated and evolved from the Christianized Greek culture of the Eastern Roman Empire, it never lost sight of its classical heritage. Constantinople was adorned with a large number of classical sculptures, although they eventually became an object of some puzzlement for its inhabitants.

The Basilica of San Vitale is also a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the “Early Christian Monuments of Ravenna”. It too was built by the Ostrogoths (but completed by the Byzantines) and just like the Basilica of Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo, it is decorated with spectacular mosaics which are widely considered as the finest and most beautifully preserved example of Byzantine mosaic art outside Constantinople.
Basilica of San Vitale, part of the UNESCO World Heritage, built by the Ostrogoths (but completed by the Byzantines), consecrated in 547, Ravenna, Italy.

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The basis of Byzantine art is a fundamental artistic attitude held by the Byzantine Greeks who, like their Greek predecessors, never put a play of forms alone, but stimulated by innate rationalism, endowed forms with life by associating them with meaningful content. Although the art produced in the Byzantine Empire was marked by periodic revivals of a classical aesthetic, it was marked by the development of a new aesthetic defined by its abstract, or anti-naturalistic character. Byzantine art seems to have abandoned this attempt to create representations that mimicked reality in favor of a more symbolic approach.

Hagia Sophia, the most famous and most spectacular example of Byzantine architecture, was built between 532 and 537 to replace an early 5th century church that was destroyed by a fire during the Nika riots in 523. When completed, it was the largest and most imposing church in the world, holding the prestigious title until the Ottoman conquest of the Byzantine capital.
Hagia Sophia, Byzantine architecture, built between 532 and 537, the most imposing church in the world, Istanbul, Turkey.

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Early architecture

Byzantine architecture has a lot in common with early Christian architecture. This is not surprising, as most early Christian buildings were built at the command of the Byzantine Emperor Constantine.

The reason is that Byzantine architecture diverges from early Christian architecture during the reign of the Emperor Justinian, around the middle of the sixth century. From the size and shape of their churches to the style of their decorations, the Byzantines established a style and form all their own. This style persisted in Eastern Europe for another thousand years, while Western Europe developed new, Western styles of architecture.

Risultati immagini per byzantine columns
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Novosibirsk

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Structural evolution

Byzantine architects were eclectic, at first drawing heavily on Roman temple features. Their combination of the basilica and symmetrical central-plan (circular or polygonal) religious structures resulted in the characteristic Byzantine Greek-cross-plan church, with a square central mass and four arms of equal length. The most distinctive feature was the domed roof.

As early as the building of Constantine’s churches in Palestine there were two chief types of plan in use:

The basilican(or “axial”), represented by the basilica at the Holy Sepulchre;

The circular: (or “central”), represented by the great octagonal church once at Antioch.

Constructed of brick. Internally, all the oriental love of magnificence was developed, marble casing and mosaic being applied to the walls; hence a flat treatment and absence of mouldings prevailed. Externally the buildings were left comparatively plain, although the facade was sometimes relieved by alternate rows of stone and brick, in various colors.

Nessebur's Church of Christ Pantocrator, built during the Byzantine and Ottoman eras, Nessebur, Bulgaria.
Nessebur’s Church of Christ Pantocrator, built during the Byzantine and Ottoman eras, Nessebur, Bulgaria.

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Openings: Doors and windows are semicircular headed, but segmental and horse-shoe arched openings are sometimes seen.

The windows are small and grouped together. The universal employment of mosaic in Byzantine churches, and the consequent exclusion of painted glass, rendered the use of such large windows as the Gothic architects employed quite inadmissible, and in the bright climate very much smaller openings sufficed to admit the necessary light.

The Hagia Sophia, in Istanbul, Turkey, has a vast interior space.
Hagia Sophia Cathedral, Istanbul, Turkey.

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Roofs: The method of roofing these buildings was by a series of domes formed in brick, stone, or concrete, with frequently no further external covering. The Byzantines introduced the dome placed over a square or octagonal plan by means of pendentives, a type not found in Roman architecture.

ColumnsCapitals sometimes took a form derived from the Roman Ionic or Corinthian types or consisted in the lower portion of a cube block with rounded corners, over which was placed a deep abacus block, sometimes called a “dosseret“. These were used constructively, but were always subordinate features, and often only introduced to support galleries, the massive piers alone supporting the superstructure.

Risultati immagini per byzantine columns
Red Porphyry Columns

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Mouldings: their place was taken by broad flat expanses of wall surfaces.

Internally, the decorative lining of marble and mosaic in panels was sometimes framed in billet mouldings, probably derived from the Classic dentils, and flat splays enriched by incised ornamentation were used.

Externally, the simple treatment of the elevations in flat expanses of brickwork, with occasional stone banded courses, did not leave the same scope for mouldings as in other styles.

Ornament: The scheme of ornamentation was elaborate in the extreme, the walls being lined with costly marbles with the veining carefully arranged so as to form patterns, and the vaults and upper part of walls with glass mosaic having symbolic figures, groups of saints and representations of the peacock (the emblem of immortal life), the whole forming a striking contrast to the less permanent painted frescoes usually adopted in the Western Romanesque churches.

Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy: "Christ surrounded by angels and saints".
Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy: “Christ surrounded by angels and saints”.

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Mosaic thus was used in a broad way as a complete lining to a rough structure, and replaced architectural lines. The great characteristic of Byzantine ornament as compared with Classical is the pattern; it’s incised instead of seeming to be applied.

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