The Art of Byzantium
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The Art of Byzantium. Anthemius of Tralles and Isidorus of Miletus Hagia Sophia, Constantinople (Istanbul), Turkey, ca 532-537. Architecture.

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The Art of Byzantium

Anthemius of Tralles and Isidorus of Miletus

Hagia Sophia,

Constantinople (Istanbul), Turkey, ca 532-537

Architecture

Byzantium's grandest building and one of the supreme accomplishments of world architecture; its steel-less structure is about 270 feet long and 240 feet wide. The dome is 108 feet in diameter, and its crown rises 180 feet above the ground. In scale, Hagia Sophia is like the Pantheon, the Baths of Caracalla, and the Basilica of Constantine.

However, the building's present external aspects are much changed from the origial appearance; the first dome collapsed in 558 and was replaced by the present one, greater in height and stability. Huge buttresses were added to the Justinianic design, and four Turkish minarets were constructed after the Ottoman conquest of 1453, when Hagia Sophia became an Islamic mosque.

Even though the walls and floors are lavishly decorated with colored stones from around the world, what distinguishes Hagia Sophia from the interiors of Roman buildings is the mystical quality of the light that floods the interior.

Figure 12-3


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The Art of Byzantium

Anthemius of Tralles and Isidorus of Miletus

Hagia Sophia

Constantinople (Istanbul), Turkey,

ca 532-537

Architecture

The canopy-like dome that also dominates the inside of the church rides on a halo of light from windows in the dome's base. The forty windows create the illusion that the dome is resting on the light that comes through them--like a "floating dome of heaven."

Huge wall piers to the north, half-domes to the east and west, and smaller domes covering columned niches give a curving flow to the design.

The "walls" in Hagia Sophia indicate that the architects sought Roman monumentality as an effect, but did not design according to Roman principles.

The use of brick instead of concrete was a further departure from Roman practice and characterized Byzantine architecture as a distinctive style.

Figure 12-3


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The Art of Byzantium

Anthemius of Tralles and Isidorus of Miletus

Hagia Sophia

Constantinople (Istanbul), Turkey,

ca 532-537

Architecture

The architects were ahead of their time in that they used pendentives to transfer the weight from the dome to the piers beneath, rather to the walls. In this, the space beneath the dome was unobstructed and allowed room for windows in the walls, which created the illusion of the suspended dome. This technicality can be explained by experts today, but was a mystery to Anthemius' and Isidorus' contemporaries in the 6th century.

Additionally, the fusion of two independent architectural traditions [the vertically oriented central-plan building and the horizontally oriented basilica] was previously unseen, and was the successful conclusion to centuries of experimentation.

Figure 12-3


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The Art of Byzantium

Anthemius of Tralles and Isidorus of Miletus

Hagia Sophia

Constantinople (Istanbul), Turkey,

ca 532-537

Architecture

The mystical quality of the light that floods the interior has fascinated visitors for centuries. The canopy-like dome that also dominates the inside of the church rides on a halo of light from windows in the dome's base.

The forty windows create the illusion that the dome is resting on the light that comes through them--like a "floating dome of heaven." Thus, Hagia Sophia has a vastness of space shot through with light and a central dome that appears to be supported by the light it admits.

Light is the mystic element that glitters in the mosaics, shines from the marbles, and pervades spaces that cannot be defined. It seems to dissolve material substance and transform it into an abstract spiritual vision.

Figure 12-3


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The Art of Byzantium

Anthemius of Tralles and Isidorus of Miletus

Hagia Sophia

Constantinople (Istanbul), Turkey,

ca 532-537

Architecture

The poet Paulus described the vaulting as covered with "gilded tesserae from which a glittering stream of golden rays pours abundantly and strikes men's eyes with irresistible force. It is as if one were gazing at the midday sun in spring."

The use of the gilded mosaics serves to create a more radiant light when the sun hits it; the light is more complex and multidimensional and creates a different aura than if the light had just hit a plain mosaic.

The gilded mosaic changes the color of the light to a softer, more ethereal realm that lends itself to the atmosphere of Hagia Sophia.

Figure 12-3


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The Art of Byzantium

Justinian, Bishop Maxanius and attendants,

mosaic from the north wall of the apse,

San Vitale, Ravenna, italy,

ca. 547

Mosaics

The golden wreath of victory Christ extends during the Second Coming to Saint Vitalis is also extended to Justinian, for he appears on the Savior's right side in the dependent mosaic below and to the left of the apse mosaic.

These rites confirmed and sanctified his rule, combining the political and the religious. The laws of the Eastern Church and the laws of the state, united in the laws of God, were manifest in the person of the emperor and in his God-given right.

Justinian is distinguished from those around him, not only by his royal purple, but by his halo, another indication of his god-like status.

Each figure's position in the mosaic is important. Justinian, in the center, is distingushed by his holy halo. He seems to be behind bishop to the right, and with the imperial powers to the left, yet his bowl is in front of the bishop, unifying the two groups of people.

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The Art of Byzantium

Justinian, Bishop Maxanius and attendants,

mosaic from the north wall of the apse,

San Vitale, Ravenna, italy,

ca. 547

Mosaics

All of the figures are rigid in stature but the objects everyone is holding to the right gives it the sense of slow motion.

Their feet seem to float on the ground like divine powers and they all have blank stares and simple charactersitics.

Iconography of religion is used for these figures instead of veristic expression.

Figure 12-10


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The Art of Byzantium

Theodora and attendants,

mosaic from the south wall of the apse,

San Vitale, Ravenna, italy,

ca. 547

Mosaics

The empress stands in state beneath an imperial canopy, waiting to follow the emperor' procession. An attendant beckons her to pass through the curtained doorway.

The fact she is outside the sanctuary in a courtyard with a fountain and only about to enter attests that, in the ceremonial protocol, her rank was not quite equal to her consort's.

It is interesting in that neither she, nor Justinian ever visited Ravenna, where they are shown in the mosaic.

Theodora's portrayal is more surprising and testifies to her unique position in Justinian's court.

Theodora's prominent role in the mosaic is proof of the power she wielded at Constantinople and, by extension, at Ravenna. In fact, the representation of the Three Magi on the border of her robe suggests she belongs in the elevated company of the three monarchs who approached the newborn Jesus bearing gifts.

Figure 12-11


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The Art of Byzantium

Theadora and attendants,

mosaic from the south wall of the apse,

San Vitale, Ravenna, italy, ca. 547

Mosaics

Again, the figures are elongated, with bent elbows. The faces are all facing forward, and the eyes of the prominent figures are looking towards the viewers.

The hands of the major figures in the mosaic are across their heart, and all of the poses are very regal and stiff, upright.

The dimension of the mosaic is flat and there is very little attempt at portraying objects and people in some type of perspective.

Key word to use when describing the mosaics on the walls of San Vitale:

Elongated, spiritual, ethereal, votive eyes, religiously symbolic, denatured

Figure 12-11


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The Art of Byzantium

Virgin (Theotokos) and Child,

icon (Vladimir Virgin), tempera on wood,

Late 11th to Early 12th Century

Mosaics

The Vladimir Virgin clearly reveals the stylized abstraction that centuries of working and reworking the conventional image had wrought.

The characteristic traits of the Byzantine icon of the Virgin and Child are all present: the sharp sidewise inclination of the Virgin's head to meet the tightly embraced Christ Child; the long, straight nose and small mouth; the golden rays in the infant's drapery; the decorative sweep of the unbroken contour that encloses the two figures; the flat silhouette against the golden ground; and the deep pathos of the Virgin's expression as she contemplates the future sacrifice of her son.

The icon of Vladimir was placed before or above stairs in churches or private chapels, and incense and smoke from candles that burned blackened its surface.

Figure 12-29


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The Art of Byzantium

Virgin (Theotokos) and Child,

icon (Vladimir Virgin), tempera on wood,

Late 11th to Early 12th Century

Mosaics

It was exported to Russia in the early twelfth century and then taken to Moscow to protect the city.

The Russians believed that the Vladimir icon saved the city of Kazan from later Tartar invasions and all of Russia from the Poles in the seventeenth century.

It is a historical symbol of Byzantium's religious and cultural mission to the Slavic world.

These types of images were not universally accepted by Christians.

Those who opposed the use of “icons” are termed iconoclasts and those who embrace the concept of the “icon” are known as iconphiles

The following passage from Exodus 20:4,5 explains the reason behind the iconclast ideal:“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or this is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them”

Figure 12-29


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