Byzantine Art and Architecture, the art of the Hellenic Byzantine Empire
originated chiefly in Constantinople, the ancient (Hellenic) Greek town of Byzantium.
The Hellenic Byzantine Empire continued for almost 1,000 years after the collapse of
the Western Roman Empire in 476. Byzantine art eventually spread throughout most of the
Mediterranean world and eastwards to Armenia. Although Turks
destroyed much in Constantinople in the 15th century, sufficient material survives else
where to permit an appreciative understanding of Byzantine art.
Byzantine art and architecture arose in part as a response to the needs of the Eastern, or Orthodox, Church. Unlike the Western Church, in which the popular veneration of the relics of saints continued unabated from early Christian times throughout the later Middle Ages, the Eastern church preferred a more contemplative form of popular worship focused on the veneration of icons. These were portraits of religious figures, often depicted frontally and rendered in a highly stylized manner. Although any type of pictorial representation a wall painting or a mosaic, for instance could serve as an icon, it generally took the form of a small painted panel.
Byzantine art never lost its Hellenistic heritage but continued to draw upon it as a source of inspiration and renewal. In this process, however, the Classical idiom was drastically modified in order to express the transcendental character of the Orthodox faith. Early Christian art of the 3rd and 4th centuries had simply taken over the style and forms of Classical paganism. With the triumph of Christianity, artists sought to evoke the spiritual character of sacred figures rather than their bodily substance. Painters and mosaicists often avoided any modelling of the figures in order to eliminate any suggestion of a tangible human form, and the production of statuary was almost completely abandoned after the 5th century. Sculpture was largely confined to ivory plaques (called diptychs) carved in low relief, which minimized sculptural effects.