• Category Archives Byzantine Culture
  • Byzantine Glass Art Work


    Chandelier Byzantine Period



    Byzantine Glass Art Work


    In Byzantine period glass offers the possibility of creating not only beautiful glass mosaic, but it also applies to the glassware for windows. Those magnificent paints made of colored glass were made to get the viewer’s attention on the characters and narratives scenes represented in them. This achievement was possible mainly thanks to the light coming from the outside.

    Fragments of painted stained glass found in Constantinople narrate biblical passages, illustrating very well the art of Byzantine of the 12th century.

    Glass was also used to make perfumes jars, to keep liquids; lamps and container for drinking. Byzantium produced a few colored glasses adorned with a décor where the painting with polychrome enamels and gold are used to draw foliage decorated with animals or characters within medallions.

    Amulets of glass molding, glass yarn bracelets, pearls in glass paste, small jewels and the false cameos also formed part of productions; mainly in the Mediterranean region, although it is possible that they were also done in Constantinople.

    Experimenting with different substances artisan glass blower’s get interesting shades of color, they often produce incised or engrave decorations that were either simple, geometrical, or more elaborate with figurative motifs. Have been preserved as well glass work decorated with Jewish and Christian symbols from the Paleo-Christian period or with animals and plants, been those last ones more often done during the iconoclast period.


    Byzantine beaker and cups


    Have been found from different regions of the Byzantine Empire some glass containers and they go from light green; transparent, as well as other shades like: brown, red and purple; as they blend them to be apply in their production for different use.

    Is important to remark that glassworkers use also to recycle glass dated from early times; been those mainly the one produced during Roman Empire times.  From the early cristian period this process of recycling provide them with materials to produce a wide range of  new items like the ones that are showing in the images.


    Byzantine glass jars


    The glass consisted basically of soda, lime and silica, colored with oxides of iron, copper and manganese. Other substances like lime, fragments of quartz, copper chips and scraps of iron were added to obtain the different tonalities. Jars and cups for drinking highlighted in the Corinthian productions of the Byzantine era.

    In churches and Byzantine cathedrals the patens, calyxes and sanctuary lamps are not differed from the other vases by the use of Christian symbols as they did in the Paleo-Christian era. Mold blown technique evolve to considerable better quality through times obtaining more rich colors, smooch surfaces and more elaborate forms in with the practical use of destination was took in consideration.


    Byzantine Jars


    Vessels for holding and serving liquids, generally wine, usually holding around 1 or 2 Libra, without handles. Others counting with one or two handles, were produced in many forms.

    Mainly  Glass vessels shapes used in Byzantine period: 

    –          Spherical.

    –          Pear-shaped.

    –          Spindle-shaped.

    –          Cylindrical.

    –          Prismatic.

    –          Inverted Bell shape.


    From middle Byzantium period on, the buildings had less openings letting in natural light and these light deficiency places were replaced by oil lamps and candles. Those beautiful glass and metal objects made to illuminate the areas where the natural light was not properly cash were strategically located and the position and specific places stipulated by the church. The intention was to create a mystic atmosphere allowing the devotees get in adoration and humble state of mind when they were in the house of god.



    Byzantine glass lamp


    The simple geometric designs; with verticals lines and bell shape body, raid in some new design in which natural elements were incorporated and some oriental geometric forms were adopted, in the middle and late period of Byzantine Empire.


    Byzantine Glass tesserae manufactured production.

    Since so few of the mosaics made with glass tesserae are left, it has previously been assumed that they were very expensive, However, recently some questioned arise that analyze, why was this observer as a fact?, placing some discrepancies to this assumption and suggesting that the raw material; (glass), was not expensive, since Byzantine was close to desert regions and suppliers.


    Byzantine Art Work


    Byzantine glass tesserae manufacture production was spread all over the Byzantine Empire only the setting of the mosaics in the destination places was the most expensive aspect since it was very labor intense. They were manufactured in a number of ways and often colored.

    Furthermore it seems that glass mosaics were far more widely spread than previously thought and would also explain why small and politically insignificant churches, which were not situated in any major centre, were so decorated.


    Byzantine window glass art work


    Due to the fragile characteristic; many of the glass art work of that period have been loss or destroyed in a different way; like for example the destruction occurred during the iconoclasm period in 8th and 9th centuries.

    Glass vessels from Byzantine period were also destroyed during the 300 years of Arab expansion and invasions, but natural disasters such as earthquakes and fires played a roll as well.

    The remaining glass vessels that survived give us an idea of the achievement in glass blow technique of those artisans from the Byzantine Period.


    Byzantine beaker V-VI C.A.D


  • Byzantine Sculpture


    Byzantine sarcophages


    Byzantine sculpture in the early days.


    The Byzantine sculpture In the early days is more an extensions of the Hellenistic art, were portraits of great impacting aesthetics drama were produced. Sculpture underwent changes very similar to those in architecture; were several good examples of secular architecture survive from that period. Among them are vestiges of an atrium in the Great Palace of Constantinople. This building was decorated with an splendid mosaic plant, containing in it sculptures representation, worthit example of the empire wonder’s.

    In sculpture the forms are still basically representational, but they are treated in an abstract manner what give us an indication on how the symbolic character of the art becomes gradually more important; over even its expression and aesthetic, responding to the new theology and ecclesiastical power. 

    For instance the three-dimensional representational sculpture forms they inherited from the hellenistic period in the early days of the long Byzantine period progressively were reduced, until they vaguely used them in subsequent stages.



    Byzantine Diptychs



    Previous to the iconoclastic period themes were more related to religious themes. Representation of sacred figures and saints were prolific also in sculpture as they were used elsewhere in art such as painting and mosaic, although we also see more everyday themes and motifs from nature that were still reminiscence from the Hellenistic influence. Many represent animals loaded with symbolism, Christian, Dove, deer, peafowl, or acrostics signs (form of writing in which taking the first letter; syllable or Word of different lines and putting them together it can be read a message) these contained a great theological significance.

    During the Iconoclastic struggle sculpture representations are forced to completely abandon sacred images representations, instead the naturalistic themes rich predominance. The struggle between iconódulos (in favor of images representation) and iconoclasm (opponents of the images) resulted in the year 754 all art; based on religious images were banned in the Eastern Church.

    They try to put an end to the religious images representation to avoid idolatry and the cult to the images therefore was banned. The exempt  sculpture lost importance and was reduced to the Arts under the ivory, enamel, bronze and gold materials; in with they work the bas-relief with great skill. The topics represented during the iconoclastic period persecution were the geometric, astral and animals figures, with uneven and concave moldings (estrigilos).









    Sculpture after the Iconoclastic struggle.


    After the Iconoclastic period important Byzantine sculpture are the one of small sizes; such as the diptychs and boxes, carved in ivory which was used for the realization of objects of luxury and religious use. This type of exuberant and luxurious objects were preferred  mostly by the elites of Constantinople and to supply with those specifically, was necessary brought them from distant places such as Egypt and India.

    The elaboration of those art pieces in ivory; does not require a complex structure such as workshops and numerous people, is rather a handmade work made with extreme careful. Some have very intricate and elaborated work; to which sometime gold and silver elements were added to highlight some aspect of the scenes or figures, but also this metals were used in to the frame support. In the images above and below can be appreciate the spectaculars results. 

    This very detailed oriented trade, elaborate by the artisan himself and perhaps some other assistant in training; since this type of trades knowledge was pass in that kind of fashion, have a high demand at that time. Their results were of incomparable beauty and exquisiteness accessible only to the wealthy hierarchies and the principal client of course was the Church.


    This Art work are of incomparable beauty and exquisiteness accessible only to the wealthy hierarchies


    After the culmination of this iconoclastic period there is a return to the worship of images, but not to return to idolatry and under the influence of the new Islamic currents; the human figures representations disappears  from  the exempt sculpture representation to avoid the predecessor idolatry ever to take place again.

    The most outstanding works are the ornaments of the capitals with vegetal motifs competing with animals figures such as those of San Vitale of Ravenna,  or the sarcophagi with themes as the good Shepherd.




    Sculpture representation  in Sarcophagus in the Byzantine art.


    In sculpture, the best sample of the Byzantine art can be found located in the reliefs of the sarcophagus. Subsequent to the year 313 the figurative items, inspired by the Roman models are the most common, on the fronts of the sarcophagi appear reliefs, which initially only follow classical aesthetics. One mainly example is “The sarcophagus of Probes”.

    Subsequently representation turns to be with more flat designs and figures, generally in the same sizes. These were placed in those spaces in which the structure of arches give unit to the scene.


    The better examples of sculptures in this period related their thematics around religious representation of well known passages from the bible, applying them to the decoration of the sarcophagus. As examples those tematics were:

    The life of Christ.

    Scenes from the Old Testament (Daniel and the Lions)

    The sacrifice of Abraham.

    – Adam and Eve.



    Most important sarcophagi representation in Byzantine art.

    The Junious Basso (Vatican)



    The junius Bassus Sarcophagus.


    The Dogmatic or the Trinity. (Museum Lateran)


    Dogmatic of the Trinity Sarcophagus. Byzantine period.
    Dogmatic of the Trinity Sarcophagus. Byzantine period.

    You can also see the version in spanish of this post in http://www.historiadelarteen.com

    The part corresponding to Byzantine architecture, painting, glass making and mosaic are explained each in separate posts to better understand those tematics. You will find them in the archives of the blog or in the right column by categories.




  • The Byzantine Painting

                        Byzantine Period painting


    virgen and the child with king and queen


    Presents two interesting modes:

    –       The mural for the decoration of the interior of the temple. 

    –       The easel, which produces small pieces on planks of wood, called icons, i.e. images.


    Mural painting was oil or tempera on wood, and they were great compositions of religious theme, character symbolic and very compatible with the abstract mentality of Eastern peoples.


    images conteining religious theme
    Byzantine Culture painted allegorical scenes with images containing religious theme


    In these paintings their intention was not to imitate the image of the man and the nature in details, they made instep a rational representation of the concept of these. From one period to another in the Byzantine painting the differences in the representation of the human figures related to the posses, Movement, expressions and dramatized scenes are quite noticeable showing the evolution the painting experiences along so many years of Byzantine empire regency.


    Byzantine painting transformation along time


    In the Vaults and domes were often painted allegorical scenes with images containing as a theme:

    The Virgin.The Virgen and the child. Byzantine Mosaic

    The Christ.                                  

    The resurrection.                                           

    The last judgment.

    The glory.



    Byzantine Vault paint


    Byzantine rigid figures representation.


     The Byzantine mosaics


    It is not possible to speak of the Byzantine mural art without reference to one of its finest creations: The mosaic.

    It consisted of the composition of large scenes, usually religious, but not painted is made with small pieces of glass or marble with colors called “tesserae“, these small pieces of cutter glass in different colors were sticking to a base prepared to contain and sort them and in which had been made the previous drawing of the figures.

    The great diversity of colors, tones and gradations of these “tiles”allowed give the figures all the effects of painting, in what refers to shades, shadows, shapes, and so on. The Byzantine Mosaic is distinguished for the rich materials, with abundance in the use of gold. Glass mosaics with golden material that emit a glowing sensation and also a fancy magnificent opulence in the ornamentation, although show poverty in the movement of the figures or expression in the characters faces. Elongated and serious figures reinforce the solemn and religious dramatics scenes.  


    Byzantine Mosaic with glowing sensation


    The Byzantine Mosaic achieved impressive lighting effects and shadows; as well as penetrating contrasts between the figure and the bottom with an effective result. This Mosaic supported the propaganda intension for which these murals were created to instill idolatry and deep religious fervor in the Viewer.



    The use of the mosaic in the Byzantine culture is different from the use given in Rome.

    In Byzantium they were used more for the decoration of the walls of the Church by placing them preferably in high places where got this overwhelming and domineering effect.

    In Rome they were used widespread as a paving to walk on luxurious flats.

    During the period of the fight (opposed to the use of images); a ferocious destruction of many of these images was carried out and the painting and mosaic were forced to vary the themes and eliminate the use of images so penalty to be destroyed.

    Countless beautiful paintings, mosaics and sculptures were destroyed; as mentioned above, but already for the 9th century, art was returning to be present as an instrument of catechization and vehicle of devotion.


    In a separarate article is explained the importance of Byzantine glass art work due to the extension of this matter.

     Byzantine Art Glass Work

    To learn about the Byzantine Architecture please visit the following link

    Byzantine Architecture

    To better underestand the general aspects of this Byzantine period please visit :  Byzantine Art

    The Byzantine sculpture is also develop in a separate article please visit: Byzantine Esculpture



  • The Byzantine Architecture



    The Byzantine Basilica takes all its constructive aspects from the Roman style.

    The fall of the Western Empire around the year 476 of our era, influences on Byzantium heritage in both aspects the spiritual and the philosophical.


    With the famous Justinian (which was a great benefactor of the arts) where executed many constructions both in Constantinople and Ravenna. In Constantinople he built the Church of Hagia Sofia dedicated to the divine wisdom the most important construction of Byzantine architecture; the masterpiece of this art. This Church has four minarets which were added in 1453 by the Turks, when this church became a Muslim mosque.


    Hagia Sofia


     Hagia Sofia architect’s were two prominent exponents of the Byzantine art and they had previously worked for the Emperor in some military constructions. Their Names are:
    -Anthemius of Tralles
    -Isidore of Miletus

    Byzantine Intermidiate Period (second golden age)

    In the intermediate period (second golden age) predominated the churches of Greek cross plan, this are covered with beautiful domes located on polygonal drums on the rest. Countries with which Byzantium was more in touch or share the same historical and cultural tradition inspire the foundations of their constructive engineering. Of course we can find elements taken from the Romans, the Greeks, Syria or Persia, combined with others of their own invention; with the same importance and ingenious constructive creativity as the others cultures.
    Centralized plant churches can be found more in the eastern part of the Byzantine Empire. Such is the case of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Holy Sepulchral in Jerusalem.


    Central Plant Church Oriental Part. Byzantine Empire.


    Byzantine Art  in the Third Golden Age period.


    In the final period; (third golden age) Byzantine art is continuing to spread by the valleys of the Danube, Romania and Bulgaria, even reaching the Russian lands. They left in this region their cultural mark on important architectural works such as the Church of the Assumption of the Kremlin in Moscow. Russians, as well as many other Eastern nations show evidence of architecture elements similar to that of the Byzantine Empire. One example of this influence is the Onion Dome as a predominant architectural element in this Culture.



    Onion Dome


     Main architecture elements  in Byzantine religious buildings.


    • The dome.

    • The trompa. 

    • The pendentives.

    • The vault.

    • The arch.

    • The buttresses.

    • The columns.

    • The towers.






    The distinctive features of Byzantine architecture are:

    • Ø -The construction of domes,
    • Ø -The use of brick as construction material in replacement of the stone,
    • Ø -The intensive use of mosaics by replacing the sculptures.
    • Ø -A greater elevation in the height of the buildings by the use of the domes,
    • Ø -The use of support of square that allows finishing the end through a drum (structural architectural element located at the base of a round dome as an extension).




  • The Byzantine Art



    The Byzantine Art developed along many years important achivetment  in the representation of Christianity temathics in Europe, it was the continuation of the Roman Empire in the East long after the fall of this one. Byzantium maintained a culture equaly  important as the Roman Empire for a long time actively protecting all of Europe from both invasion and cultural destruction. Without the Byzantine Empire,  Islam would almost certainly today be the only surviving religion in Europe. History would have been very different from all philosophical, religious and cultural aspects. The importance of this culture have been not enough positive recognized, centurys of art and knowledges needs to be better studied for what really meaned to the human history and cultural heritages.


    Byzantium shows all the features of an original, theocratic monarchy
    Byzantine Culture


    The Emperor Theodosius half a century later in 395 divided his Kingdom between his two sons, and creates two independent States:

    • The Western Empire, with Rome as its capital.

    • The Eastern Empire, with Center in Byzantium.

    The Greek city of Byzantium, who had dominance amounts the Roman province, ascend by decision of Constantine the great, to the rank of imperial capital under the name of Constantinople in 330 of our era. Today that city is named Istanbul. The geographical situation of Byzantium in close and continuous contact with the kingdoms of East, influencing it, but displays also great influx of the Asian world, which is largely reflected in his art.


    The Byzantine culture takes place during long time, begins in the 4th century and culminating with the fall of Constantinople in the hands of the Ottoman Turks in 1453, in the 15th century. Byzantium shows all the features of an original, theocratic monarchy (where the clergy and the Church have a preponderant role of control and subjugation through religion) as well as totalitarian and repressive power through the political authorities.

    The Byzantine Art takes important elements from the Greco-Roman classical art (like the basilicas for example); but were adapted more to the needs of liturgy and congregation purposes that could hold as many people in its large central room as possible. Byzantium preserved the old art and culture of the Roman Empire but with a fresh perspective, innovated its own new set of dogmas, politicals rules and artistic characteristics; including new styles and techical advances in art, literature, architecture and engineering. Byzantine contributions to Western culture are still around us every day.

    This culture can be study better taking into account the three fundamental periods of classification designate for each; due to the extensive proportions of time been covered; about ten centuries of evolution and validity of this interesting Byzantine cultural heritage.


    Three fundamental periods in Byzantine art:

    • Initial period. First golden age (VI to VIII centuries).

    • Intermediate period. Second golden age (IX-XII centuries).

    • Final period. Third golden age (XIII – XV centuries).


    The Byzantine painting, sculpture and architecture  are explained in separate post in this web site to better understand this artist manifestation that were developed in a very extensive period of time. Below are the links to this post with more information and images.

     Below are the links to this post with more information and images.

    Byzantine Sculpture

    Byzantine architecture

    Byzantine Painting