Menu Search
About Us
The Art Story Homepage Movements, Styles, and Tendencies Byzantine Art and Architecture

Byzantine Art and Architecture

Byzantine Art and Architecture Collage

Started: 330

Ended: 1453

"For it soars to a height to match the sky, and as if surging up from amongst the other buildings it stands on high and looks down upon the remainder of the city, adorning it, because it is a part of it, but glorying in its own beauty."


Summary of Byzantine Art and Architecture

Existing for over a thousand years, the Byzantine Empire cultivated diverse and sumptuous arts to engage the viewers' senses and transport them to a more spiritual plane as well as to emphasize the divine rights of the emperor. Spanning the time between antiquity and the Middle Ages, Byzantine art encompassed an array of regional styles and influences and developed long-lasting Christian iconography that is familiar to practitioners today.

Because of its longevity and geographical scope, Byzantine art does not necessarily proceed in a linear progression of stylistic innovations. Its origins in the Roman Empire meant that even in the face of unclassical tendencies that favored hierarchical compositions and symbolic meanings there were periods of revival that emphasized more naturalistic renderings that foregrounded storytelling. Within this milieu, distinctive styles of mosaics and icon paintings developed, and innovations in frescos, illuminated manuscripts, and small-scale sculptures and enamel work would have lasting influence not just in Eastern realms such as Turkey and Russia but also in Europe and even in contemporary religious painting.

Key Ideas

In further developing Christian iconography that began during Roman times, images became powerful means to spread and deepen the Christian faith. Many of the now-standard iconographic types, such as Christ Pantocrator and the Virgin and Child enthroned, were created and evolved during the Byzantine era. This new-found power of images, however, was not without controversy and sparked a heated and, at times, violent debate over the place of images in the church.
Byzantine emperors used art and architecture to signal their strength and importance. Often, depictions of the emperor were less naturalistic and instead used compositional clues such as size, placement, and color to underscore his importance. Additionally, the emperor was often visually associated with Christ, making it clear that his power was divinely ordained and, thus, secure.
Beginning with the basilica and central plans used by the Romans, Byzantine architects and designers made huge engineering innovations in erecting domes and vaults. The use of pendentives and squinches allowed for smoother transitions between square bases and circular, or octagonal, domes.
The architectural surfaces of Byzantine churches were covered in mosaics and frescoes, creating opulent and magnificent interiors that glittered in the candle and lamp light. In building such elaborate and seemingly miraculous structures, the goal was to create the sense of a heavenly realm here on earth, a goal that later Gothic architecture fully embraced.
Byzantine Art and Architecture Image


The term Byzantine is derived from the Byzantine Empire, which developed from the Roman Empire. In 330 the Roman Emperor Constantine established the city of Byzantion in modern day Turkey as the new capital of the Roman empire and renamed it Constantinople. Byzantion was originally an ancient Greek colony, and the derivation of the name remains unknown, but under the Romans the name was Latinized to Byzantium.

Most Important Art

Share on FacebookShare on TwitterSave on PinterestSend In Facebook MessengerSend In WhatsApp
Support Us