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The Art of the Byzantine World

30 Credits

At its greatest extent, the Byzantine Empire was vast and powerful and the influence of its cultural outputs endured long after its demise.

Beginning in 330 with the move of the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to Constantinople and ending with the capture of the latter by the Ottoman Turks in 1453, Byzantine history extends over eleven centuries and covers a region stretching  as far east as Iraq and as far west as Spain.

Throughout the ‘middle ages’ Constantinople was the ultimate city, its name evoking grandeur; its patriarchal church, Hagia Sophia, was unrivalled in splendour and inspired countless imitations; the manuscripts enamels and silks of Byzantine workshops represented the highest degree of refinement and its icons continue to inspire the art of the Eastern Orthodox Church today.

This course surveys the buildings and works of art of the Byzantine world, adopting a loosely chronological sequence. The lectures are organised according to the key themes and issues which inform the study of Byzantine art and architecture. Each object and building will be examined in its historical and cultural context, as products of the shifting societies that comprised the Eastern Roman Empire as its borders fluctuated throughout its history.

Starting with the seismic geopolitical, religious and aesthetic changes of late antiquity we will consider the so-called demise of the Greco-Roman world and the beginning of the ‘middle ages’. We will chart the emergence of Early Christian art and the changes that occurred as Christianity gained imperial support. Lectures will address themes such as the changes to art following the period of Iconoclasm, the corporeal and sensory experience of Byzantine buildings and objects, the relationship between art and political ideologies, the construction of gender in Byzantium, and the continuity of Greco-Roman visual culture for the duration of the Empire.

The final part of the course will address the relationship between Byzantine art and the Latin West. By the end of the course students will have acquired knowledge of significant and  representative works of Byzantine art and architecture, and the ability to place them within a larger art historical context.