Byzantine art - Characteristics of Byzantine Ornaments

When the Emperor Constantine, removed the seat of Government from Rome to Byzantium, in the year A.D. 330, he inaugurated a new era in art, viz.: the Byzantine. 

Byzantine art - Characteristics of Byzantine Ornaments

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Еxcerpt from the book: A Manual of HISTORIC ORNAMENT TREATING UPON THE EVOLUTION, TRADITION AND DEVELOPMENT OF ARCHITECTURE AND OTHER APPLIED ARTS. PREPARED FOR THE USE OF STUDENTS AND CRAFTSMEN.

BY RICHARD GLAZIER, Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects; Head Master of the Municipal School of Art, Manchester, LONDON: 1899

Original Title of the chapter - Byzantine Ornaments 

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The traditional Greek and Roman arts were now assimilated with the arts of Persia and Syria, but moulded and influenced by the new religion, giving the strong personal vitality, deep significance and symbolism which was so remarkable throughout the Byzantine period.

The change of style did not take place immediately, for most of the buildings erected by Constantine were in the traditional Roman style, but the arts were gradually perfected until they culminated in the building of S. Sophia by Anthemius of Tralles, and Isidorus of Miletus, during the reign of Justinian, A.D. 538. 

This building is remarkable for its splendid dome, supported by semi-domes and pendentives on a square plan, its embellishment with mosaics of glorious colours, and the great inventiveness and symbolism of the detail. The traditional sharp acanthus foliage of the Greeks was united with the emblems of Christianity such as the circle, the cross, the vine, and the dove; the peacock also is frequently seen. 

Figure sculpture was rarely used, but groups of figures were used in great profusion in the gold ground mosaics that covered the upper part of the walls and the vaults and domes of the magnificent Byzantine buildings. The churches of Ravenna in Italy, have somewhat similar characteristics; S. Vitale, the basilica churches of S. Apollinare Nuovo, A.D. 493-525, S. Apollinare in Classe, A.D. 538-44, together with the Baptisteries are rich in mosaics and sculptured capitals of the 6th and 7th centuries. In the cathedrals of Torcello, A.D. 670, and Murano and the beautiful St. Mark’s at Venice, marbles and mosaics were used in great profusion. The two sketch plans here given are typical of Byzantine planning in which the symbolism of the circle and cross are used as constructive features. 

This symbolism is a marked feature in Byzantine ornament; interlacing circles and crosses mingle with the acanthus or the vine, and are cut with a peculiar V-shaped section. The circular drill is largely used at the sinking of the leaves, and but little of the background is visible in the sculptured ornament of this period.