Dictionary of Art and Artists



 

 


History of

Architecture and Sculpture

 
 

 

 
 

 
 

CONTENTS:

 
 

PART ONE
THE ANCIENT WORLD
PREHISTORIC ART
EGYPTIAN ART

ANCIENT NEAR EASTERN ART
AEGEAN ART
GREEK ART
ETRUSCAN ART
ROMAN ART
EARLY CHRISTIAN AND BYZANTINE ART

PART TWO
THE MIDDLE AGES
EARLY MEDIEVAL ART
ROMANESQUE ART
GOTHIC ART

PART THREE
THE RENAISSANCE THROUGH THE ROCOCO
LATE GOTHIC
THE EARLY RENAISSANCE IN ITALY
THE HIGH RENAISSANCE IN ITALY
MANNERISM AND OTHER TRENDS
THE RENAISSANCE IN THE NORTH
THE BAROQUE IN ITALY AND SPAIN
THE BAROQUE IN FLANDERS AND HOLLAND
THE BAROQUE
THE ROCOCO

PART FOUR
THE MODERN WORLD
NEOCLASSICISM AND ROMANTICISM
REALISM AND IMPRESSIONISM
POST-IMPRESSIONISM, SYMBOLISM, AND ART NOUVEAU

PART FIVE
TWENTIETH-CENTURY
TWENTIETH-CENTURY SCULPTURE
TWENTIETH-CENTURY ARCHITECTURE


INDEX
FIGURES
 

 

 


CHAPTER EIGHT
 

EARLY CHRISTIAN AND BYZANTINE ART
 

EARLY CHRISTIAN ART-I
EARLY CHRISTIAN ART-II

BYZANTINE ART-I
BYZANTINE ART-II
 

 

 


BYZANTINE ART


There is. as we have noted earlier, no clear-cut line of demarcation between Early Christian and Byzantine art. It could be argued that a Byzantine style (that is, a style associated with the imperial court of Constantinople) becomes discernible within Early Christian art as early as the beginning of the fifth century, soon after the effective division of the Empire. However, we have avoided making this distinction, for East Roman and West Roman—or, as some scholars prefer to call them, Eastern and Western Christian—characteristics are often difficult to separate before the sixth century. Until that time, both areas contributed to the development of Early Christian art, although the leadership tended to shift more and more to the East as the position of the West declined. During the reign of Justinian (527-565) this shift was completed. Constantinople not only reasserted its political dominance over the West but became the undisputed artistic capital as well, Justinian himself was an art patron on a scale unmatched since Constantine's day. The works he sponsored or promoted have an imperial grandeur that fully justifies the acclaim of those who have termed his era a golden age. They also display an inner unity of style that links them more strongly with the future development of Byzantine art than with the art of the preceding centuries.



Architecture and Decoration of the First Golden Age

Ironically, the richest array of monuments of the First Golden Age (526-726 A.D.) survives today not in Constantinople (where much has been destroyed) but on Italian soil, in the town of Ravenna. Originally a naval station on the Adriatic, it had become the capital first of the West Roman emperors in 402 and then, at the end of the century, of Theodoric, king of the Ostrogoths, whose tastes were patterned after those of Constantinople. Under Justinian, Ravenna was the main stronghold of Byzantine rule in Italy.



S. VITALE, RAVENNA.

The most important church of that time, S. Vitale, built under imperial patronage between 526 and 547, is of a type derived mainly from Constantinople. We find only the barest remnants of the longitudinal axis of the Early Christian basilica. Toward the east is a cross-vaulted compartment for the altar, backed by an apse; and on the other side a narthex, whose odd. nonsymmetrical placement has never been fully accounted for. We recognize its octagonal plan, with the domed central core (figs. 319-22), as a descendant of the mausoleum of Sta. Costanza in Rome (see figs. 306-308), but the intervening development seems to have taken place in the East, where domed churches of various kinds had been built during the previous century.



319. S. Vitale, Ravenna. 526-47 A.D.



320. Plan of S. Vitale
321. Transverse section of S. Vitale


Remembering S. Apollinare in Classe (see figs. 303-305), built at the same time on a straightforward basilican plan, we are particularly struck by the alien character of S. Vitale. How did it happen that the East favored a type of church building (as distinct from baptisteries and mausoleums) so radically different from the basilica and, from the Western point of view, so ill-adapted to Christian ritual? After all, the design of the basilica had been backed by the authority of Constantine himself. Many different reasons have been suggested: practical, religious, political. All of them may be relevant, but if the truth be told, they fall short of a really persuasive explanation. In any event, from the time of Justinian, domed, central-plan churches were to dominate the world of Orthodox Christianity as thoroughly as the basilican plan dominated the architecture of the medieval West.

Compared to Sta. Costanza, S. Vitale is both larger in scale and very much richer in its spatial effect (fig. 322). Below the clerestory, the nave wall turns into a series of semicircular niches that penetrate into the aisle and thus link it to the nave in a new and intricate way. The aisle itself has been given a second story: the galleries, which were reserved for women. A new economy in the construction of the vaulting permits large windows on every level, which flood the interior with light. The complexity of the interior is matched by its lavish decoration, which incorporates an extraordinary wealth of mosaics and extends to the intricately carved capitals.


322. Interior (
the apse), S. Vitale


S. Vitale's link with the Byzantine court is manifest in the two famous mosaics flanking the altar (figs. 323 and 324), whose design must have come directly from the imperial workshop. Here Justinian and his empress, Theodora, accompanied by officials, the local clergy, and ladies-in-waiting, attend the service as if this were a palace chapel. In these large panels, made shortly before the consecration of the church, we find an ideal of human beauty quite different from the squat, large-headed figures we encountered in the art of the fourth and fifth centuries. We have caught a glimpse of this emerging new ideal occasionally (figs. 299, 316, and 317), but only now do we see it complete: extraordinarily tall, slim figures, with tiny feet, small almond-shaped faces dominated by their huge, staring eyes, and bodies that seem to be capable only of slow ceremonial gestures and the display of magnificently patterned costumes. Every hint of movement or change is carefully excluded. The dimensions of time and earthly space have given way to an eternal present amid the golden translucency of Heaven, as the solemn, frontal images in the mosaics seem to present a celestial rather than a secular court. This union of political and spiritual authority accurately reflects the "divine kingship" of the Byzantine emperor. We are, in fact, invited to see Justinian and Theodora as analogous to Christ and the Virgin Mary. On the hem of Theodora's mantle (fig. 324) is conspicuous embroidery showing the three Magi carrying their gifts to Mary and the newborn King, and Justinian (fig. 323) is flanked by 12 companions—the Imperial equivalent of the 12 apostles (six are soldiers, crowded behind a shield with the monogram of Christ).



323. Emperor Justinian and His Attendants, ñ. 547 A.D. Mosaic. S. Vitale




324. Empress Theodora and Her Attendants, ñ. 547 A.D. Mosaic. S. Vitale


Justinian, Theodora, and their immediate neighbors were surely intended to be individual likenesses, and their features are indeed differentiated to a degree (those of the archbishop, Maximianus, more so than the rest), but the ideal has molded the faces as well as the bodies, so that they all have a curious family resemblance. We shall meet the same large dark eyes under curved brows, the same small mouths and long, narrow, slightly aquiline noses countless times from now on in Byzantine art. As we turn from these mosaics to the interior space of the church, we realize that it, too, shares the quality of dematerialized, soaring slenderness that endows the figures with their air of mute exaltation.




HAGIA SOPHIA, ISTANBUL.



328. ANTHEMIUS OF TRALLES and ISIDORUS OF MILETUS.
Hagia Sophia, Istanbul



328. ANTHEMIUS OF TRALLES and ISIDORUS OF MILETUS.
Hagia Sophia, Istanbul



325. Section of Hagia Sophia. 532-37 A.D. (after Gurlitt)
326. Plan of Hagia Sophia. (after v. Sybel)
327. Parts of a dome



330. Interior, Hagia Sophia


Among the surviving monuments of Justinian's reign in Constantinople, the most important is Hagia Sophia (Church of Holy Wisdom), the architectural masterpiece of the era and one of the great creative triumphs of any age (figs. 325, 326, 328-30). Built between 532 and 537, it achieved such fame that the names of the architects, too, were remembered: Anthemius of Tralles and Isidorus of Miletus. After the Turkish conquest in 1453, it became a mosque (the four minarets were added then) and the mosaic decoration was largely hidden under whitewash. Some of the mosaics were uncovered in our century, after the building was turned into a museum (see fig. 339).

The design of Hagia Sophia presents a unique combination of elements. It has the longitudinal axis of an Early Christian basilica, but the central feature of the nave is a square compartment crowned by a huge dome and abutted at either end by half-domes, so that the nave becomes a great oval. Attached to these half-domes are semicircular niches with open arcades, similar to those in S. Vitale. One might say, then, that the dome of Hagia Sophia has been inserted between the two halves of a central-plan church. The dome rests on four arches that carry its weight to the great piers at the corners of the square, so that the walls below the arches have no supporting function at all. The transition from the square formed by these arches to the circular rim of the dome is achieved by spherical triangles called pendentives (see fig. 327); hence we speak of the entire unit as a dome on pendentives. This device permits the construction of taller, lighter, and more economical domes than the older method (seen in the Pantheon, Sta. Costanza, and S. Vitale) of placing the dome on a round or polygonal base. Where or when the dome on pendentives was invented we do not know. Hagia Sophia is the earliest case we have of its use on a monumental scale, and its example must have been of epoch-making importance. From that time on the dome on pendentives became a basic feature of Byzantine architecture and, somewhat later, of Western architecture as well.

There is, however, still another element that entered into the design of Hagia Sophia. The plan, the buttressing of the main piers, and the huge scale of the whole recall the Basilica of Constantine (figs. 254-56), the most ambitious achievement of Imperial Roman vaulted architecture and the greatest monument associated with a ruler for whom Justinian had particular admiration. Hagia Sophia thus unites East and West, past and future, in a single overpowering synthesis. Its massive exterior, firmly planted upon the earth like a great mound, rises by stages to a height of 184 feet—41 feet higher than the Pantheon—and therefore its dome, although its diameter is somewhat smaller (112 feet), stands out far more boldly.

Once we are inside, all sense of weight disappears, as if the material, solid aspects of the structure had been banished to the outside. Nothing remains but an expanding space that inflates, like so many sails, the apsidal recesses, the pendentives, and the dome itself. Here the architectural aesthetic we saw taking shape in Early Christian architecture has achieved a new, magnificent dimension. Even more than previously, light plays a key role: the dome seems to float—"like the radiant heavens," according to a contemporary description of the building—because it rests upon a closely spaced ring of windows, and the nave walls are pierced by so many openings that they have the transparency of lace curtains.

The golden glitter of the mosaics must have completed the "illusion of unreality." We can sense the new aesthetic even in ornamental details such as moldings and capitals (fig. 329).


329. Capital, Hagia Sophia


The scrolls, acanthus foliage, and the like are motifs that derive from classical architecture, but their effect is radically different. Instead of actively cushioning the impact of heavy weight upon the shaft of the column, the capital has become a sort of openwork basket whose delicate surface pattern belies the strength and solidity of the stone.



Painting of the First Golden Age

In the late sixth century, icons—paintings of Christ or the Enthroned Madonna—came to replace relics as objects of veneration. They were considered "portraits." and understandably so, for such pictures had developed in Early Christian times out of Graeco-Roman portrait panels. One of the chief arguments in their favor was the claim that Christ had appeared with the Virgin to St. Luke and He had permitted the saint to paint their portrait. Other portraits of Christ or of the Virgin were believed to have miraculously appeared on earth by divine fiat. These original, "true," sacred images were supposedly the source for the later, man-made ones. Little is known about their origins, for examples antedating the Iconoclastic Controversy are extremely scarce.

Of the few discovered so far, the most revealing is the Virgin and Child Enthroned with Saints and Angels (fig. 331). Like late Roman murals, it is a compilation painted in several styles at once. Its link with Graeco-Roman portraiture is evident not only from the use of encaustic, a medium that went out of use after the Iconoclastic Controversy, but also from the fine gradations of light and shade in the Virgin's face, which is nearly identical in treatment to that of the little boy in our Faiyum portrait. She is flanked by two warrior saints—Theodore, on the left, and George, on the right—who recall the stiff mannequins accompanying Justinian in S. Vitale (fig. 323). Typical of early icons, however, their heads are too massive for their doll-like bodies. Behind them are two angels, who come closest in character to Roman art (compare the personification of Arcadia in fig. 293), although their lumpy features show that classicism is no longer a living tradition. Clearly these figures are quotations from different sources, so that the painting marks an early stage in the development of icons. Yet it is typical of the conservative icon tradition that the unknown artist has tried to remain as faithful as possible to his sources in order to preserve the likenesses of these holy figures. While hardly an impressive achievement in itself, it is worthy of our attention: this is the earliest representation we have of the Madonna and Child. We shall encounter its descendants again and again in the history of art.
 


331. Virgin and Child Enthroned with Saints and Angela. Early 7th century A.D. Encaustic on panel.
Monastery of St. Catherine, Mount Sinai


Faiyum portrait

 
 

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