Byzantine Style

The Byzantine Style developed during the Byzantine Empire, which is also called the Later Roman or Eastern Roman Empire.

Hosios Loukas Monastery: A brown stone building with various skinny arched windows.
Hosios Loukas Monastery , 10th century monastery, Middle Byzantine Period, Distomo, Greece.

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 during the decline of Rome and was in use until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. Much Orthodox in Eastern Europe, as well as some Muslim of the eastern Mediterranean, preserved many themes of the empire’s culture and art for centuries afterward.

A photo of a Byzantine-Style column. The trunk of the column is quite simple and smooth, but the top of the column has various leaf-like flourishes.
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 referred to the Rus, as well as the Republic of Venice and the Kingdom of Sicily.

“Post-Byzantine,” art produced by Eastern Orthodox Christians began after the fall of Constantinople. Certain artistic traditions that originated in the Byzantine Empire, such as icon-painting and church architecture, are present in Greece, Cyprus, Serbia, and other Eastern Orthodox countries’ architecture.

Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo - Ravenna: Grand room with gold-tiled ceiling and white column archways. Pictures of religious line the left and right high walls. Above which there are arched windows.
Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, early 6th century, Ravenna, Italy.

Image source: by Revolweb

Byzantine Style Characteristics

Byzantine art developed out of Christianized Greek culture in the Eastern Roman Empire. The art never lost sight of its classical heritage, but went on producing artwork that referenced its orgin. Constantinople had numerous classical sculptures in the streets, although they eventually became an object of puzzlement for its inhabitants.

Ravenna - Basilica of San Vitale: a large simple, brown Basilica. There are various arched windows in three rows on the wall of the church. There is a cross on the top of the building as well.
Basilica of San Vitale, consecrated in 547, Ravenna, Italy

Image source: by roger4336

Byzantine art depicted the artistic attitude of Byzantine Greeks who, like their Greek predecessors, never played with 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 had 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 more symbolic approach.

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul: a large, ornate building with various domes and 4 skinny towers that surround it. Furthermore, there is a body of water in the foreground of the photo.
Hagia Sophia, built between 532 and 537,Istanbul, Turkey.

Image source: by twiga_swala

Early Byzantine Architecture

Byzantine architecture is similar to the early Christian architecture. In fact, many early Christian buildings were conceived under the command of the Byzantine Emperor Constantine. However, 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 own style. It was present in Eastern Europe for another thousand years, while Western Europe developed a different architecture style.

Bulgaria-0508 - St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral: A large Cathedral in Byzantine style. There are two prominent domes, fashions with arched windows that go all the way around. Furthermore, the photo is taken in the nighttime.
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral – Bulgaria – 904 – 1912

Image source: by archer10 (Dennis)

Byzantine Structural Evolution

Byzantine architects were 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 dome roof. Constantine’s churches in Palestine had two chief layouts:

  • The basilica: (or “axial”), represented by the basilica of the Holy Sepulcher
  • 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 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 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, much smaller openings let in necessary light.

Ceiling photo of the Hagia Sophia Cathedral. The walls are covered in ornate paintings in blue and yellow. There are various small windows that line the wall and dome of the cathedral. Moreover, there are various tourists in the foreground of the photo.
Hagia Sophia Cathedral, Istanbul

Image source: by eleephotography

Top of a column from the Hagia Sophia Cathedral. Although the trunk of the column is simplistic, the top is covered in ornate decorations, that are quite leaf-like.
Hagia Sophia Cathedral, Istanbul, Turkey.

Image source: by fusion-of-horizons

The method of roofing has a series of domes with no external coverings. Further, the Byzantines used the dome over a square or octagonal plan with many pendentives, which is present 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.

Photo of Classical red-porphyry column in the San Crisogno Church in Rome.
Red Porphyry Columns, San Crisogno Church in Rome

Image source: by Carlo Raso

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

Externally, the simple use of the elevations with flat expanses of brickwork and occasional stone banded courses, changed the scope of the future moldings.


The scheme of ornamentation was elaborate. The walls were lined with marbles arranged to create patterns, and 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). Further, the whole formed a contrast to the hardly maintainable frescoes adopted in the Western Romanesque churches.

Photo of the vividly colored Theodora mosaic in Basilica San Vitale (Ravenna).
Theodora mosaic – Basilica San Vitale (Ravenna)

Image source: by Petar Milošević

Photo of a mosaic in the Archiepiscopal Chapel. A veiled person's upper body is depicted within a circle. Vivid colors are utilized.
Archiepiscopal Chapel, Ravenna.

Image source: by pab.solo

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