The most powerful periods of the Byzantium Empire were
years that were stagnant in terms of advancement of thought, but were highly active in
terms of religion. It should not be forgotten, however, that it was this highly detailed
embroidery of the Middle Ages that was to pave the way for the Renaissance. The struggle
between two very great religions, Islam and Christianity, was to lead to the development
of Islamic civilization on the one hand, and Byzantine civilization on the other.
Byzantine art was a synthesis of the Christian art forms of the Middle Ages, their own art
forms which had existed in the pre-Christian early period, and all of the arts that had
been gleaned from the territories and countries which were under the rule of the Empire.
Elements of Anatolian, Iranian, Italian, Egyptian, Syrian, Balkan, and North African
cultural forms could all be found within this aggregate. The principal element within this
synthesis was, however, the Anatolian.
Byzantine arts in their earliest periods were
closely related to the changes which had occurred in the Roman Empire. Because the
Byzantine Empire did not have its own unique beginning as a civilization, this early
transitional period is referred to as the period of "Early Christian Art."
Following this early period, the art forms of the Byzantine can be classified as having
three distinct stages. The first stage is called the "Early" or the "First
Byzantine" stage. This period began in the fifth century and continued on until 726.
Byzantine art produced its first original and important pieces during this period. This
was the period of time in which the Emperor Justine played such an important role and this
period is termed the "Justinian Period." Certain internal struggles began to
appear near the close of the seventh century. People began to rise up against the
restraints placed upon them by the church and the monasteries. The period of Iconoclasm
began at the beginning of the 8th century as a reaction to church pressures. As this
reaction grew, many religious paintings were destroyed and such paintings were forbidden.
Many monasteries were closed and the nuns and priests of these orders were forced into the
street to live as common citizens. Painting became a secular art as non-religious subjects
were chosen. The Middle Stage of Byzantine art began in 842 when the church regained much
of its power. This period lasted for almost four hundred years. Byzantine art matured
during this period and developed its own unique characteristics. It also assimilated
elements of Islamic civilization.
The rulers of this period came from the line of
the Macedonians and the Kommenos. While the Seljuk Empire was being established in
Anatolia, the Byzantines were in the midst of an internal power struggle. Another period
of Crusades had again begun. As a result of all these various pressures, much of the
Empire was divided into small principalities, and in its last century there was almost no
attention paid to the arts. New art forms began to make their appearance in the Mora and
Epiros Despots who had broken off from the Empire and in the government of Trabzon.
Generally speaking , Byzantine art forms are
composed of two main elements. lts primary characteristic is that fmds its source in
religion. The second chief characteristic is that it developed as an aristocratic art form
among the royal circle.
There are very unique examples of Byzantine
architecture found in its capitol city of Constantinople and in other cities in Anatolia.
The advancement of sculpture went hand-in-hand with the advancement of architecture.
Besides architecture and sculpture, there are many excellent examples of painting,
handicrafts, gold enameled work, and pottery which were left to us by the Byzantines.