church of Chora Chora in Constantinople

More splendid were the paintings and the mosaics. Notably the splendid mosaics of the Church of the Chora (1310-20) in Constantinople, wall painting everywhere replaced the more costly medium of mosaic decoration. The rules governing the hierarchical disposition of figures in mid-Byzantine churches were also largely abandoned. Narrative scenes sometimes occupied the vaults, and the size of the figures tended to diminish, leading to a novel emphasis being placed on landscapes and architectural backgrounds. In the mosaics of the Church of the Chora fantastic architectural forms reminiscent of 20th-century Cubism were carefully coordinated with the figures. In a contemporary fresco of the nativity in the Church of the Peribleptos at Mistra, in Greece, a vast rocky wasteland poignantly emphasizes the isolation of the small figures of the Virgin Mary and the Infant Jesus. In the background of the Raising of Lazarus in the Church of the Pantanassa at Mistra (1428), a wide V-shaped cleft between two tall peaks eloquently alludes to the chasm of death that separates the mummified corpse of Lazarus from the living Saviour. In emphasizing the settings, however, the artists were careful to avoid creating any sense of realistic space that might destroy the spiritual character of the scenes.

Although the basic compositional forms of the more traditional Byzantine images were retained, they were reinterpreted with exceptional vitality. In a fresco in apse of the the mortuary chapel adjoining the Church of the Chora, in Constantinople, the time-honoured theme of the Anastasis(Resurrection), the descent of Christ into limbo, is infused with extraordinary energy: the resurrected Christ strides victoriously across the shattered gates of hell to liberate Adam and Eve from the infernal regions. The Koimesis, the Dormition and Assumption of the Virgin Mary, was traditionally depicted in terms of a simple but effective arrangement: the horizontal body of the Virgin is counterbalanced by the central upright figure of Christ holding aloft the small image of her soul. In the church at Sopoçani (c. 1265), in Serbia, this basic composition of the Virgin and Christ is greatly amplified to include a whole cohort of angels arranged in a semicircle around the figure of Christ.

The vigorous and creative tradition of Palaeologan art continued in the Balkans until the middle of the 15th century. By that time, however, the days of Constantinople's glory were over. Harassed by the barbarians Turks who came from Moggolia, the impoverished empire was reduced to little more than the city itself. The end came with the taking of Constantinople by Muhammed II in 1453. Nevertheless, the art and architecture of the vanished empire lived on. Hagia Sophia provided the model for the mosques that the Turks build in Constantinople. In Russia the churches continued to be constructed in an exotic Slavic version of the Byzantine style. In Russia and other parts of the Orthodox world the age-old traditions of icon painting were handed down through many generations, and, although influenced by Western art, these traditions have survived to this day.