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Byzantine art and architecture

constantinople period arts decoration

Byzantine art and architecture, aesthetic style that arose in the city of Byzantium (Constantinople) after it became the capital of the Roman Empire (330 A.D.), under Constantine the Great. The term also may be applied to art and architecture heavily influenced by Byzantine forms, which spread to Italy, Greece, Russia, and much of the Middle East. The greatest monument of the early phase is the cathedral of Hagia Sophia (Santa Sophia), built 532–537 in Constantinople. Mosaics, the principal form of decoration in Byzantine churches, were highly developed during this period.

The minor arts, including ivory carving, silverwork, illuminated manuscripts, and textiles, became very sophisticated. Stylized naturalistic motifs and lavish decorative color were used.

The period after 1204 saw a second great flowering of Byzantine art, known as the Second Golden Age. In church building the favored type, initiated by Basil I, was a plan based on a circle inscribed in a square, a three-aisled plan with five domes, the largest one in the middle. The most famous example of this type is Saint Mark's Venice (11th-13th century). Manuscript illumination also flourished, the most famous example being the Paris Psalter.

Constantinople was sacked by the Crusaders in 1204, and during the next 2 centuries Byzantine art underwent profound changes. Fresco became the most important form of decoration; by the late 14th century mosaics had virtually disappeared. Work in the minor arts was generally of a lower quality. During this late period it was in the outlying areas of the former empire—Russia, Sicily, and the Balkans—that Byzantine art flourished. In 1453 Constantinople was conquered by the Turks, marking the end of the Byzantine state. The style of art and architecture, however, continued to flourish in Russia, Greece, and Bulgaria for several centuries.

See also: Byzantine Empire.

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