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by Archaeology Newsroom

Byzantine archaeology

In founding Constantinople, the “New Rome”, Constantine the Great transferred the centre of the empire to the East. The official state language in Constantinople was Latin, although the Church adopted the Greek language. After the division of the empire into Eastern and Western, the term “Byzantine archaeology” defines the Christian archaeology of the “Orthodox”, Eastern part of the Empire. Christian religion did not at the beginning favour art, which was considered to be a vehicle of pagan ideas. In the early years Christian art had a symbolic character (Doura-Europos. Catacombs). One of the accomplishments of Byzantine architecture was born from the need to symbolize heaven with a dome. The church of Hagia Sophia is a magnificent example of this, built by the emperor Justinian’s architects, Anthemius and Isidore. The iconoclastic controversy is the main characteristic of the early Byzantine period(641-843AD). According to the iconoclasts all figurative church decoration should be destroyed.

In the middle Byzantine period (843-1204) Arabic and Slavic states were created adjacent to the borders of the empire. Heretic controversies were over, and by the end of the eleventh century the first attempts were made for a psychological representation of the figures represented.

After the rise of the Palaeologean dynasty to the throne, the facial expressions in painting exhibit a variety of moods. The presence of Latins in the capital and the creation of small Frankish states on Byzantine territory cut the empire to pieces. Characteristic of the period is the introduction of various cycles such as the Infancy of Christ and the Life of the Virgin. In the Paleaologean age two schools of painting stand out, the Macedonian and the Cretan. In 1453 Constantinople falls to the Turk.

After the Fall of Constantinople the Macedonian school obtained a popular character. In the seventeenth century wall painting declined while portable icons became a popular medium. By the nineteenth century religious painting had died out. Greek painting of the time was influenced by artistic currents coming from centres such as Munich or Paris.