Byzantine Style

This Style was born in The Byzantine Empire, also called the Later Roman or Eastern Roman Empire.

Hosios Loukas Monastery , 10th century monastery, Middle Byzantine Period, Distomo, Grece.

Image source: by MCAD Library

About Byzantine Empire

Byzantine art deals with the body of Christian Greek artistic products of the Byzantine Empire, it was born from the decline of Rome and was in use until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. Much Orthodox say in Eastern Europe, as well as some Muslim say of the eastern Mediterranean, had the role of preserving many themes of the empire’s culture and art for centuries afterward.

Byzantine columns- Hosios Loukas Panayia-Middle Byzantine Period, Distomo, Grece.

Image source: by Hans A. Rosbach

Many scholars thought that contemporaries of the Byzantine Empire were culturally influenced by it, without being part of it. They were talking about the Rus, as well as the Republic of Venice and the Kingdom of Sicily.

After the fall of Constantinople, art produced by Eastern Orthodox Christians who survived was named “post-Byzantine”. Certain artistic traditions that originated in the Byzantine Empire, like icon painting and church architecture, are used in Greece, Cyprus, Serbia, and other Eastern Orthodox countries nowadays.

Basilica of Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo, early 6th century, Ravenna, Italy.

Image source: by Revolweb


Byzantine art evolved from the Christianized Greek culture of the Eastern Roman Empire, it never lost sight of its classical heritage but went on producing artworks recalling the origins. Constantinople had a large number of classical sculptures in the streets, although they became, in the end, an object of puzzlement for its inhabitants.

Basilica of San Vitale, part of the UNESCO World Heritage, built by the Ostrogoths (but completed by the Byzantines), consecrated in 547, Ravenna, Italy.

Image source: by roger4336

The basis of Byzantine art is an important artistic attitude of Byzantine Greeks who, like their Greek predecessors, never used a play of forms alone. Stimulated by innate rationalism, endowed forms with life by associating them with contents full of meaning. Even if the art produced in the Byzantine Empire periodically had revivals of a classical aesthetic, it was featured with a new aesthetic characterized by its abstract, or anti-naturalistic character. Byzantine art seems to have abandoned this will to create mimicked reality for a symbolic approach.

Hagia Sophia, Byzantine architecture, built between 532 and 537, the most imposing church in the world, Istanbul, Turkey.

Image source: by twiga_swala

Early architecture

Byzantine architecture is similar to the early Christian one, many early Christian buildings were conceived under the command of the Byzantine Emperor Constantine. Byzantine architecture becomes different under Emperor Justinian in the sixth century. With the size and shape of their churches and the style of the decorations, the Byzantines established their style. It was used in Eastern Europe for another thousand years, while Western Europe developed a new Western style of architecture.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Bulgaria, Neo-Byzantine style, 1904 – 1912

Image source: by archer10 (Dennis)

Structural Evolution

Byzantine architects were considered eclectic, drawing heavily on Roman temple features. They wanted a fusion of the basilica and symmetrical central-plan, religious structures used in the typical Byzantine Greek-cross-plan church, with a square central mass and four arms of equal length. The most important feature was the domed roof. Constantine’s churches in Palestine were built with two chief types of plan:

  • The basilica: (or “axial”), represented by the basilica at the Holy Sepulchre;
  • The circular: (or “central”), represented by the great octagonal church once at Antioch.

Internally, all the oriental love of magnificence was important. Externally the buildings were quite simple, the facade was sometimes relieved by alternate rows of stone and brick, in various colors.

Dealing with openings, doors, and windows are semicircular-headed, but segmental and horse-shoe arched openings are sometimes used. The windows are small and close to each other. The employment of mosaic and the exclusion of painted glass, made the use of such large windows, as the Gothic architects used to do, inadmissible. In the bright climate, very much smaller openings were employed to admit the necessary light.

Hagia Sophia Cathedral, Istanbul

Image source: by eleephotography

Hagia Sophia Cathedral, Istanbul, Turkey.

Image source: by fusion-of-horizons

The method of roofing was featured by a series of domes with no external coverings. The Byzantines began using the dome put over a square or octagonal plan with many pendentives, not found in Roman architecture.

The Capitals sometimes derived from the Roman Ionic or Corinthian types or consisted in the lower portion of a cube block with rounded corners, called a “dosseret“. These were always subordinate features and often used just to support galleries, the massive piers supported the superstructure.

Red Porphyry Columns, San Crisogno Church in Rome

Image source: by Carlo Raso

The place of the Mouldings was taken by broad flat expanses of wall surfaces.

Internally, the decorative layout of marble and mosaic in panels was sometimes framed in billet moldings and flat splays were used with incised ornamentation.

Externally, the simple use of the elevations with flat expanses of brickwork and occasional stone banded courses, changed the scope of the moldings as they were used in other styles.

The scheme of ornamentation was elaborate, the walls were lined with marbles arranged to create patterns, the upper part of walls were adorned with glass mosaic with symbolic figures such as saints and representations of the peacock (the emblem of immortal life), the whole formed a contrast to the hardly maintainable frescoes adopted in the Western Romanesque churches.

Theodora mosaic – Basilica San Vitale (Ravenna)

Image source: by Petar Milošević

(Archiepiscopal Chapel), Ravenna.

Image source: by pab.solo

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