The Art of the Byzantine Empire Revealed

Under the Eastern Roman Byzantine Empire, paintings and other popular art forms flourished as the artists of the time discovered new mediums and forms. The empire reigned from the 4th century to the 15th century, and produced some iconic styles of artistry like icon painting which are still used today.

Icon painting was frequently used as a decoration for the interiors of churches, and was used in standalone paintings as well. This and other Byzantine art forms evolved significantly over the course of the Byzantine Empire’s long and fruitful history. A few other forms of painting that were popular during the time included panel paintings, and paintings used to illustrate classical texts of various descriptions.

Byzantine Icon Painting

Icon painting refers to Byzantine paintings which depict imagery of the Church, the Saints, the Virgin Mary, and other scenes related to Biblical teachings. This form of painting was especially popular in Byzantine and was used prolifically in churches, temples, homes, education institutions and more as a form of spiritual veneration. Nowadays, we are much more used to the art styles used in top games!

In the Empire’s early days following up to the iconoclastic 8th century ban, painted icons were even more vogue. This did change slightly between the 8th and 12th centuries, but after that period, the paintings were once again in high demand. The pre-iconoclastic icon painting period in the Empire was characterized by naturalistic tendencies, while the 12th century style had more decorative qualities to it.

Most of the icon painting found in the Byzantine Empire was created using cool colours and gold gilding. The overall scenes were usually quite colourful, and gilding was reserved for depicting reverted religious figures. The faces and figures of the art style were soft and radiant, intending to give a viewer a sense of the depicted figures’ divinity.

Byzantine Manuscript Paintings

Another extremely popular painting style in the Byzantine Empire pertained to the illustration of manuscripts of famous literature. The Bible, of course, was illustrated in great detail by artists at the time. Some pieces of these biblical manuscripts and paintings still exist today. Other books that were similarly illustrated include Homer’s Iliad and the works of Virgil.

Byzantine Painting Subjects

Be they illustrations or icons, the paintings of Byzantine dealt primarily with religious subjects, the Emperor, and his family. This was because Christianity became one of the Empire’s biggest motivators towards art and aesthetics, particularly during its earlier days. The Orthodox Church of the time emerged as a primary patron of the arts, which meant that the art it produced was typically used in church buildings.

Influences of Byzantine Art

Byzantine paintings, and specifically icon paintings, provided a very significant influence on the developing art styles of Russia, Greece and Asia. The Greeks borrowed icon painting from Byzantine cultures and continued to do so well after Constantinople fell and was overtaken by the Ottomans in the 15th century. Russia was also heavily influenced by Byzantine art, especially due to its Orthodox Christian state religion and close regional placement.