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BBC Documentary About Byzantine Art Essay

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Updated: Feb 16th, 2022

“The Glory of Byzantium” is a documentary video by BBC about Byzantine art: how it was born, how it grew and developed, and how it reached its zenith, then faded and died. The Byzantine Empire also referred to as the Eastern Roman Empire, or Byzantium (pp. 395-1453 AD), was a state formed in 395 AD as a result of the final division of the Roman Empire into Western and Eastern parts. By the middle of the sixth century, Byzantium had formed its own identity, which it maintained even during periods of conquest.

This film helped me to better understand the Byzantine art by showing how spiritual influence could be traced everywhere in this culture. In political life, it was expressed in the deification of power and the Emperor; in painting, there was no equal to the Byzantine iconography; in architecture, new landmarks and elements of architecture appeared. In the architecture of Byzantium, much attention was paid to the decoration of the temple, not only outside but also inside, and the type of domed Basilica was developed. One of the most significant events was Iconoclastic controversies, formed under the influence of old Testament texts. It was directed against the veneration of icons, and for a long time, slowed down the development of iconography. Only by the beginning of the tenth century, icons took their former place.

Hagia Sophia (p. 534 AD) became the highest achievement of Byzantine architecture. It is the heiress of ancient architecture; this Church is a complex project of Justinian’s architects. A remarkable achievement of the architects of the Eastern Romans is the cross-domed Church, which replaced the basilica type. It is obvious that the largest number of architectural masterpieces was located in the capital of the state — Constantinople. But as urbanization progressed, so did the architecture of other cities — sights appeared in Thessaloniki (The Church of Hosios David and Saint Demetrius), in Ravenna (San Vitale, p. 547 AD).

Byzantine art reached its apogee in the monastery of Hosios Loukas (p. 959 AD), in Phocis. On the glittering golden background of the dome of Hosios Loukas, the descent of the Holy Spirit to the apostles is represented — a quite rare iconography in Byzantium. A grandiose project for its time, Hosios Loukas is an example of a Middle-Byzantine synthesis of architecture, painting, and sculpture, creating an ideal iconographic scheme of a cross-domed temple. Chora Monastery (1315 AD) is perhaps the most studied monument of Byzantium — the last grandiose construction of the Byzantine capital, created by the efforts of Theodore Metochites. The mosaics of this Church are only partially preserved, but they also eloquently testify to the theological education and refinement of the compiler of their program.

I found it particularly amusing how George Kordis, a modern icon painter, explained the rhythm of icons that make them alive. Icons’ perspective and two different dynamics invite you to participate in them, knowledge is participation. One more interesting fact that I learned from this video is about how icons help to pray. Icons are a representation of the Kingdom of God, and they support prayer. From my point of view, the questions that were left unanswered in this video are:

  • How does the Byzantine art of icon painting has evolved over time?
  • Why is there so much energy and emphasis on action and emotion in late Byzantine art?
  • In the video, Priest, Fr Bath Relles, said that people find Western Churches very cold and Greek Churches – warm, what might be the possible reasons for that?
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