Byzantine Art

Byzantine art is not very different from Gothic art in the sense that it is religious in nature or else had to do with the history of the monarchy because of the idea in the middle ages that the nobility were somehow related to God through a system of hierarchy that they tried to trace back all the way to Adam and Eve.

After examining many of the paintings from the Byzantine Era, I was able to identify several constant techniques used that seem to be a common theme throughout the era. For one thing: the subject. Byzantine artists typically painted/sculpted, etc. icons. These icons were, of course religious or noble figures. One of the most popular of course is the Madonna/Virgin Mother/Mary Mother of Christ. Besides the Virgin Mary, artists typically depicted saints, martyrs and of course the royal families. These iconic images were most often painted on wooden panels or as frescoes or mosaics which were the most common art genres of the time.

The Madonna and Child - Berlinghiero (Italian)


Another common theme found within the pictures is that the subjects are most often somber. This has a lot to do with the period of time in which all things holy are thought to be somber. In many of the paintings, the backgrounds are gold and the faces of the subject are long and flat.

Notice the golden background and iconic subject of this painting from the Byzantine Era.

There are several artists of note from this period. Here are three of them and some examples of their work (Please not that the text for these mini biographical notes are not mine):

Dionysii or Dionysius ((ca.1440-ca. 1510)

Continuing the traditions of Moscow icon painting, Dionisii developed a light, elegant, and sophisticated style. While traditionally the head of a represented figure fit in the body about seven times, in Dionisii’s art the ratio increased to nine, sometimes even ten. His figures became elongated and buoyant through a drastic reduction of the sizes of the heads, hands, and feet. To increase the effect of ethereal elongation Dionisii used “draperies in such a way as to outline the flesh and muscles which they cover.” The color palette of Dionisii also differed from the traditional palette of the Moscow artists. He introduced pastel colors, especially turquoise, pale green, and rose. By using these painterly devices, Dionisii was able to “emphasize the mystical over the dramatic content of narrative scenes.”

dioho2.jpg (500×714)

Notice the subject: the Virgin Mary. This is another example of icons in the Byzantine. Also, notice the magnified eyes which is a common technique used during this era.

Andrei Rublev (c.1370-1430)

Rublev is best known for his masterpiece The Old Testament Trinity. This icon exemplifies the simplicity and the skill of his style, as well as its ability to transcend pictorial constraints with spiritual and religious ideas. Renowned for its lyrical and rhythmic quality, the icon was an instant success and found many imitators. Perhaps Rublev contributed the most to icon painting, however, when he “broke away from the prevailing severity of form, color, and expression” that characterized the developing Russian style of icon painting, especially the work of Theophanes the Greek. Thus did he infuse his work, and that of icons to come, with the gentleness and harmony characteristic for his spiritual outlook.

rutrin.jpg (396×494)

Theophanes the Greek (ca. 1330-ca.1410)

Believed to have been born in the 1330’s and to have died sometime between 1405 and 1409. He had been well read in religious literature and art before his arrival in Novgorod around 1378. During his self-contained, quiet, short-lived stay in Novgorod, Theophanes painted famous murals in the church of Transfiguration on the Ilyin Street. His works are also present in the Church-on-Volotovo-Field and in the Cathedral of St. Theodore Stratilates. After working in Kostroma in 1390, Theophanes moved to Moscow in 1395 as it was entering a new stage of history attempting to lead Russia to unification of divided lands and to the end of the Mongol yoke. Theophanes’ first Muscovite work was the Book of Gospels of Boyar Koshka, for which he painted miniatures and which would later be used as the basis of the Khitrovo Gospels. Although Theophanes must have painted many icons throughout his life, scholars believe that the following nine are indisputably his: The Dormition of the VirginThe Virgin of the Don (both 1392) and The Saviour in GloryThe VirginSt. John ChrysostomArchangel GabrielSt. PaulSt. Basil, and St. John the Evangelist, all of which were painted in 1405 for the Deesis tier in Moscow’s Cathedral of the Annunciation.

Notice the somber mood of the painting which can be inferred by the colors and expression on the subject's face. This is a common element in Byzantine art.

Another well-used art form in the Byzantine Era was the mosaic. Mosaics are scenes depicted using tiny bits of colored glass, stone and other materials. These materials are usually cubic. Think about a art piece on a school building that is made of tile and that would be an example of a modern day mosaic.

Christ Pantocrator - This is a famous Byzantine mosaic.

Byzantine Art Project: Dried Beans Mosaic

Materials Needed:

  • Cardboard
  • Superglue/Any Glue
  • Beans in colors of your choice


  1. On your piece of cardboard, draw the image that you would like to make a mosaic.
  2. Put glue inside the lines and fill in with the bean colors of your choice to make the picture visible out of beans!
  3. Let dry and enjoy!

Example of a bean mosaic.

Byzantine Art Project: Magazine Mosiac

Materials Needed:

  • Magazines
  • Old Photographs
  • Construction Paper
  • Glue
  • Either cardboard or a piece of paper to draw your image on


  1. On your piece of paper or cardboard draw the image that you would like to make a mosaic out of.
  2. Next, Cut out pieces of old pictures, magazines and (as a last resort) construction paper in the colors needed ot make your image.
  3. Glue the pieces on the paper so that it makes the image on your paper.
  4. Let dry and enjoy!

Magazine mosaic example.


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