1.2.3 Byzantine (330-1453) and Merovingian (476-705)

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BYZANTINE (330-1453):
Areobindus Dagalaiphus
Ivory panel archangel
Rabula Gospel miniatures
Mosaics Justinian I/Theodora
Mosaic of St Demetrius
Enthroned Madonna with Child
David Plates
Hagia Irene Cross
Hosios Loukas, St Luke
Hagia Sophia Thessaloniki
Harbaville Triptych
David Composing the Psalms
Ethiopian Saint Arethas
Mosaic of Daphni Monastery
Virgin of Vladimir
Frescoes in Nerezi

Christ Pantocrator
Hyperpyron of Michael VIII
Andronikos II’s debasement of the currency
Byzantine Crucifix
Mosaics and murals, Chora Church
Pala D’Oro
Medal of the Emperor John VIII Palaiologos
Constantine XI depicted in semi-classical armour
MEROVINGIAN (476-705):
Metalwork and ring
Looped fibula
Dagobert 1
Gospel Book
Gellone Sacramentary
Gospels of St Meddard


A definition of Byzantine Art is usually content with defining its period, from the foundation of the Eastern Roman Empire in 330, aka the Byzantine Empire (aka Byzantium) and its descendant states up until the fall of Constantinople in 1453. This represents the art of the Eastern Orthodox Church, but that means the geography changes as orthodoxy spread to include Russia, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, the Republic of Venice and the Kingdom of Sicily for exmple.

The Byzantine Empire, aka the Eastern Roman Empire, or Byzantium, was essentially the continuation of the Roman Empire in its eastern provinces. These names were bestowed by historians after the era, those living it called themselves the Roman Empire and themselves as Romans. Its capital city was Constantinople and it survived beyond the fragmentation and fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th c CE and continued for an additional thousand years until falling to the Ottoman Empire in 1453.

During most of its existence, the Byzantine empire was the most powerful economic, cultural, and military force in Europe.

As importantly it spans more than a millennium of evolution. Naturally art history considered the material in four chronological periods – Early (300-842), Middle or High (843-1204), Late (1205-1453) and post-Byzantine (post-1453).

The Early period was presaged in 313 when Constantine’s Edict of Milan allowed public Christian worship, but commenced in 330 when Constantinople was established as the Eastern Empire’s capital and cultural hub. The city had competitors in Alexandria, Antioch and Rome, but once the Arabs had taken the first two and the Goths had talen Rome, Constantinople flourished with Constantine’s major building programme. Emperor Justinian I (527-565) was significant in establishing growth and security and inspired changes in Byzantine art.

Constantine V convened The Council of Hieria in 754 and it prohibited the manufacture of icons of Christ. This Iconoclastic period lasted, with interruptions, until 843. It effectively halted the role of religious art, possibly some earlier apse mosaics and portable icons were destroyed. Following the Constantinople earthquake of 740, a number of churches were rebuilt under the iconoclastic rules. Hagia Irene, Istanbul (see below) therefore had a simple though large mosaic cross in its apse, one of the best extant examples of iconoclastic church art.

The Middle Period followed a seventh-century period of decline, with losses of territory amd invasions by Arabs, Avars, Persians and Slavs. A new church council reversed the Council of Hieria, among others the

The Middle Period followed a seventh-century period of decline, with losses of territory amd invasions by Arabs, Avars, Persians and Slavs. A new church council reversed the Council of Hieria, among others the

The Middle Period followed a seventh-century period of decline, with losses of territory amd invasions by Arabs, Avars, Persians and Slavs. A new church council reversed the Council of Hieria, among others the Hagia Sophia had a new apse mosaic and was hailed as a victory over iconoclasm. Basil I aka ‘the Macedonian’ became Emperor and prompted more patronage of Byzantine art and architecture, some have entitled the Middle Period as the ‘Macedonian Renaissance’, a resurgence in Classical imagery and Old Testament subjects. The Paris Psalter is a good example.

In the 12th c, the Palaiologoi were Greeks, members of the military aristocracy, that did not hold any administrative or political offices, But through intermarriage with the ruling Komnenos family they increased their prestige and rose to the nobility, producing the last and longest-ruling dynasty of the Byzantine Empire that lasted almost two hundred years, from 1259-1453.

In 1259, Michael VIII Palaiologos became co-emperor to the young John IV Laskaris through a coup and in 1261, following the recapture of Constantinople from the Latin Empire, John IV was deposed and blinded. Much of the Palaiologan period was a time of decline, due to internal strife in the family and due to a host of enemies – Bulgarians, Ottomans and Serbs.

The Empire’s loss of Asia Minor in 1171 (to the Turks) led to a need for more secuirty, which was assured by the Komnenian dynasty. The Komnenoi were also great patrons of the arts, a fine example being the Theotokos of Vladimir.

In 1453 the Ottomans conquered Constantinople and killed the last Byzantine Emperor, Constantine XI Palaiologos, in the process.


Early Byzantine: One part of an ivory diptych of Areobindus Dagalaiphus, a consul in Constantinople.
Here, Areobindus is presiding over the games held in the Hippodrome. It is dated to 506 and is on show at the Musée national du Moyen Âge)

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

The Archangel ivory (usually said to be Michael) is the largest surviving Byzantine ivory panel. Dated as 525-550, it depicts an archangel holding a sceptre and imperial orb, the angel is dressed classically and assumed to have been from the imperial workshops at Constantinople.
It is thought to be the right side of a diptych, the other side is conjectured to have been Emperor Justinian receiving the imperial insignia from Michael. It is 43 x 14 cm and is the largest single piece of extant Byzantine carved ivory.
It is on show at the British Museum in London
A miniature depicting the scension from the Rabula Gospels, a 6th c illuminated Syriac (Aramaic) Gospel Book.
It was one of the earliest Christian manuscripts that used large miniatures and is considered one of the finest Byzantine works produced in Asia. The miniatures have bright colours and drama. Little art survives from the period, making this manuscript more significant.
The lower image is folio 4v showing the canon tables for the four gospels with minatures in the margins.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: metmuseum.org

Image source: Wikimedia commons

At the Basilica of St Vitale in Ravenna Italy, there are two mosaic panels on the apse side walls dated to early 6th c. To the right the right is a mosaic depicting the East Roman Emperor Justinian I, clad in Tyrian purple with a golden halo, standing next to Bishop Maximian, court officials, palatinate guards and deacons. He has a halo that matches that of Christ in the dome of the apse.
On the left is his wife and close advisor Theodora. She too has a halo and is a saint to the Eastern Orthodox Church.
The Church of Saint Demetrius, aka Hagios Demetrios, at Thessaloniki has six extant mosaics. The image shows St Demetrius with officials responsible for the restoration of the church. Saint Demetrios is the patron saint of Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city.
Image source: greekreporter.com

Image source: ohsapah.wordpress.com

The Virgin and Child sits between Saints Theodore and George, with two angels protecting them. The image is interesting because it is early in using light and shadow to suggest three-dimensional individuals. It was painted c600 and is located in St Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai in Egypt.
The David Plates are a set of nine silver plates that date to 613-630, each depicts a seceme from the life of the Hebrew king David. The largest (pictured) shows David fighting Goliath. They are been considered key additions to early Byzantine secular art.
Image source: Wikimedia commons

Hagia Irene, aka Saint Irene, is an Eastern Orthodox church within the outer courtyard of Topkapı Palace in Istanbul. It is one of the few churches in Istanbul that has not been converted into a mosque, but only because it was used for storing weapons and ammunition in the 19th c. Today it is a museum and concert hall.
The image shows a mosaic of a cross, outlined in black with a gold background. The ends are teardrop shaped. It is at the base of the semidome and was created during a reconstruction by Constantine V.

Image source: thewonderoftruth.wordpress.com

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Hosios Loukas is a historic walled monastery founded in the 10th c and situated near the town of Distomo, in Boeotia, Greece. It is one part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It is Luke of Steiris that is commemorated by the church and this frescol a military saint and not the Evangelist. He died in 953 and his tomb is here.
Hagia Sophia in Thessaloniki, Greece, is one of the oldest churches in the city still standing. It is included as a World Heritage Site on the UNESCO list. The mosaic in the dome depicts the Ascension and has an inscription taken from The Acts, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? The dome is ringed by the figures of all Twelve Apostles, Mary and two angels.
Image source: pallasweb.com

Image source: khanacademy.org

This ivory triptych is 28 x 24 cm and is at the Louvre. Named the Harbaville Triptych, it has polychromy traces, so may have been painted originally.
It is assumed to have been commissioned by wealthy patrons and used in private devotion.
At the top-middle it has a traditional iconic representation of Christ in Majesty carrying a book, and flanked by the Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist. The saints are shown facing Christ with their hands raised in supplication on behalf of all humanity. The other panels are saints and Apostles.
The Paris Psalter is an illuminated manuscript that was produced in c900, it had all 150 psalms that David had written on 449 folios and with 14 full-page miniatures. The imagery used was a mix of classic pagan themes and current Medieval Christian ones. Psalters were commonly copied works in the Middle Ages of the central role of psalms in church services.
This image is of David Composing the Psalms, 38 x 27 cm and it is on show at the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Image source: smarthistory.org

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Saint Arethas, an Ethiopian soldier, was murdered in 523 because of his Christian faith. This 10th c image presents him in Byzantine court dress, holding a cross to signify his martyrdom.
It is 17 x 17 cm and on show at the Walters Art Museum.
There are a number of mosaics in the 11th c Daphni Monastery, Daphni means laurel. It is 9km from Athens. It was founded upon a Greek Temple of Apollo, it is now a museum and UNESCO world heritage site.
The mosaics are fragmentary, but the individuals are naturalistically presented and this is the best collection of mosics in southern Greece.
The top image features Jesus, and the saints Peter and John.
The bottom image is of the Nativity of the Virgin.

Image source: helenmilesmosaics.org

Image source: pallasweb.com

Image source: Wikimedia commons

The Theotokos of Vladimir aka Virgin of Vladimir is a 12th c Byzantine icon depicting the Virgin and Child and an early example of the Eleusa iconographic type; Eleusa images, aka Virgin of Tenderness, has the Christ child nestled against the Virgin’s cheek. It is one of the most culturally significant and celebrated pieces of art in Russian history. The Vladimir refers to the Assumption Cathedral in Vladimar where the icon was located for a period.
It is 104 x 69cm and is at the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.
The 12th c Church of Saint Panteleimon in Macedonia dedicated to St Panteleimon, the patron saint of physicians. The image is just one of its frescoes dating from 1122
The image is a Pietà by Meister von Nerezi.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

The top image is the detail from the 1261 deesis mosaic, in Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, of Christ Pantocrator. Pantocrator means ‘ruler of all’ or almighty and is a feature ot the Eastern Orthodox or Eastern Catholic churches, it does not feature in Western Catholicism or Protestantism.
The bottom image is the oldest known Christ Pantocrator from the 6th c and Saint Catherine;s Monastery in the Sinai Peninsula. Note that the two sides of Christ’s face are different, it is suggested that this was to show he was both a man and God.
Michael VIII Palaiologos was co-emperor of the Empire of Nicaea (1259-1261) and then
Byzantine Emperor from 1261 until his death. He was the founder of the Palaiologan dynasty, taking Constantinople back from the Latin Empire. His descendants would rule the Byzantine Empire until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453.
The top image is a 15th c portrait of the Byzantyne Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos. The artist is not known, it is on show at the National Library of Russia.
The lower image is a gold hyperpyron coin showing Michael kneeling before Christ, watched by the Archangel Michael.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

The top image is a 14th c painting of the Byzantine emperor Andronikos II (1282-1328). Andronikos’ reign was marked by the beginning of the decline of the Byzantine Empire. During his reign the Turks took most of the western Anatolian parts of his empire. During the last years of his reign, he faced a civil war mounted by his grandson Andronikos. This led to Andronikos II’s forced abdication in 1328, he retired to a monastery, where he spent the last four years of his life.
As a result Andronikos presided over a debasement of the Byzantine currency to fund his defence. The bottom image shows the resultant ‘clipped’ coins.
The Byzantine Cross had outwardly widening ends originally created by Cimabue in 1288. It was adopted by other Christian cultures of the time, such as the Franks and Goths.

This wooden image is the Crucifix of Pisa. The other striking element of the Byzantine Crucifix is the figure of Christ. He is not hanging from the cross, not a corpse. Instead he is shown as God radiating the hope of the Resurrection. It does not show death by crucifixion, it instead depicts the nobility of eternal life.
The Byzantine cross often has the Holy Virgin and Saint John and other scenes that detract from the crucifixion itself.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: lonelyplanet.com

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: hum54-15.omeka.fas.harvard.edu

The Chora Church had been ransacked when te Crusaders invaded Constantinople. In 1315, Andronikos II appointed a wealthy Orthodox Byzantine aristocrat, Metochites, to restore the church.
Metochites commissioned mosaics and murals as part of his restoration, Sadly these were later covered up by the Ottomans when it became a mosque in 1500. But the church became the Karyiye museum in 1945 and they were again revealed. In 2020 it was converted back to a mosque.
The middle image is of a mosaic showing the journey into Bethlehem.
The bottom image is a mural showing Virgin and Child.
The Pala d’Oro (Golden Cloth) is the high altar retable of the Basilica di San Marco in Venice, and is universally recognized as one of the most refined and accomplished works of Byzantine enamel.
It is thought to have been started in 976 by Doge Pietro Orseolo, and was expanded in 1105 by Doge Ordelaffo Falier. In 1345 the goldsmith Giovanni Paolo Bonesegna was commissioned to complete the altarpiece.
The development was continued by other artists so that the whole is 3m wide and 2m tall. It is fabricated in gold and silver, has 187 enamel plaques and 1,927 gemstones. 526 pearls, 330 garnets, 320 emeralds, 255 sapphires, 183 amethysts, 175 agates, 75 rubies, 34 topazes, 16 carnelians, and 13 jaspers. The lower image is a close-up view.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Medal of the Emperor John VIII Palaiologos during his visit to Florence (1438). The artwork was by Pisanello an early Renaissance painter.

He was the penultimate Byzantine emperor from 1425-1448. He was also the last reigning Byzantine emperor to die of natural causes.

The legend reads, in Greek, ‘John the Palaiologos, basileus and autokrator of the Romans’.

Image source: Wikimedia commons
Constantine XI, the last Byzantine emperor, depicted in semi-classical armour. He was aggressive towards the Ottomans and they responded.
Memhed II, aka Memhed the Conqueror, was the Ottoman Sultan who succeeded in invading Constantinople in 1453. His army was variously estimated at 80,000 to 200,000 men and many canon. The Ottoman canon breached the walls and Constantine XII tried to defend it. The last Roman emperor died fighting, his body was not discovered and so he was believed to have been cosigned to a mass grave.

MEROVINGIAN (476-705):

Merovingians were kings and leaders of the Franks, originally a Germanic tribe from Northern Europe, who lived during the beginning of the medieval period. The name ‘Merovingian’ derives from a shadowy figure named Merovech, aka Meroveus, whose son, Childric I, was an early Frankish leader.

The Merovingians ruled early in European history, after the fall of the Western Roman Empire and when Christianity was spreading into all corners of Europe. In terms of time period, we’re speaking roughly from 476 – 750 AD. Eventually, the Merovingians ruled over what is today parts of France, Germany, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

Merovingian art tends toward abstraction, which means it doesn’t look quite like anything in the real world, using geometric shapes, patterns and surface decorations.


These are two examples of Merovingian metalworking that illustrate their move towards abstraction. Many of their architecture was fabricated in wood, so little remains.
The people remained somewhat nomadic so they tended to make portable items like jewellery, belt buckles and religious objects. Most of the extant Merovingian art objects were found in burials.
The top image is an item of adornment and clearly shows abstraction.
The lower image shows a gold ring.

Image source: study.com

Image source: smarthistory.org

This is a pair of Merovingian looped fibulae or clasps. This is an example of cloisonné, a technique popular in barbarian art, inlaying semi-precious stones. The word cloisonné literally means ‘partitioned’.
Dagobert I was the king of Austrasia (623–634), king of all the Franks (629–634), and king of Neustria and Burgundy (629–639). He was the last king of the Merovingian dynasty to wield any real royal power. He was also was the first of the Frankish kings to be buried in the royal tombs at Saint Denis Basilica.
The image is of his bronze throne, which was last used by Napoleon I in 1804 when he created the Légion d’Honneur.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

The Trier Gospels were written by two scribes between the years 720 and 740 A.D. in Echternach Abbey. used Merovingian script and art for the ornamental initial. The image is their depiction of St Matthew, compare this with the two Carolingian St Marks.
The gospels are currently located at Trier Cathedral Treasury.
This is a spread from the Gellone Sacramentary, a late 8th century illuminated manuscript that used Merovingian illumination.
It was copied in a double monastery of monks and nuns in the Diocese of Meaux for Old Cambrai Cathedral. It was then owned by William of Gellone, perhaps a gift from his cousin Charlemagne.
It is now in the manuscripts department of the Bibliotheque Nationale de France.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons
The Gospels of St. Medard de Soissons is a 9th-century illuminated manuscript, the codex was produced before 827 when it was given to the church of St. Medard de Soissons by Louis the Pious and his wife, Judith. The book contains the Vulgate text of the four gospels, Eusebian canon tables, and other prefatory texts.
It remained in Soissons until the time of the French Revolution. It has 239 folios 36 x 27 cm, it has six full miniatures including the image which is St John the Evangelist.

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