Byzantine art flourished under the Byzantine Empire from the 6th century until the fall of the Empire in the 15th century. In the early period of the Empire, Byzantine art borrowed significantly from the Western Roman Empire.
However, artists and artwork in Byzantine were more influenced by the classical Greek origins of the Roman Empire, probably because Asia Minor, including the areas comprising Hellenistic Greek, was the defining territory of the Empire. Most of the art produced under the Empire was directly religious in nature, associated with depictions of scenes from Jesus life or themes related to Christianity.
Early Byzantine Art
The early period of the Byzantine Empire was strongly defined by its Christian identity. Consequently, much of the art produced during this period was directly religious in nature. Most notable art produced during this period spanning from 4th to 6th centuries was the monumental architecture, most of it ecclesiastical in nature.
A remarkable example of such architecture is the Hagia Sophia built during this period. Artists in the Byzantine Empire also illustrated the notable literary works during this period. Another form of art during this period was ivory carving, frequently used by the aristocracy.
From the early period of the Empire, the creation of icons of Christ was immensely popular. The icons were then placed in churches and in the houses. Such icons ushered a major wave of artwork during the early centuries of the Empire all the way until early 8th century. The use of mosaics in Byzantine churches was also encouraged due to the use of such icons.
The Byzantine emperors imposed a ban on the use of the icons beginning in the early 8th century and lasting until the mid 9th century. The ban was lifted in 843 and the use of icons remained a vital part of the Byzantine religious art throughout the later medieval period.
The Macedonian period of Byzantine Art
From the late 9th century to 11th century, the Byzantine Empire came under the rule of the Macedonian dynasty. This period marked stability of the Empire’s frontiers, military strength and an increase in the patronage of different arts.
Byzantine architecture underwent a revival during this period with construction of many new buildings. Notable structures erected during this period include the Daphni Monastery near Athens and Hosios Loukas in Boeotia. Byzantine artists also began to use motifs and styles from classic Hellenistic age in their artwork. A notable form of art during this period were ivory carvings.
Late Byzantine Art
The Byzantine Empire came under Komnenian rule from the 11th to late 12th century. During this period, a revival was witnessed in the use of frescoes and icons as the most popular forms of art in the Empire’s territories. Naturalistic and humanistic tendencies pervaded the artwork dated to this period of the Empire.
The icons were created as painted artwork, created as a mosaic or made from ceramic. Most of the mosaics made during this period adorned the religious buildings located in different part of the Empire’s territories.