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.”

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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.

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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.


Gothic Art and “Stained Glass” Art Project

One of the things that I have decided this New Year is to learn more about the different styles of art. Ive done this by making a list of the different eras of art I found online and I am going down the list on order researching the art styles of each era, who the famous artists of that era were and examples of the kind of art the produced. I also have decided to do a little mini art project at the end of my research to experience each style of art either in the traditional way or in my own style. I decided to start my research in the MedievalAge.

othic Art was a style of art that predominated from 1150AD to 1440AD. The art during this time period was all devoted to religious purposes because Christianity had such a huge impact on the time period. A lot of the art is still around today in the form of churches and stained glass and even written manuscripts called “illuminated manuscripts”. The majority of famous artists in this time wee sculptor and architects however.

This sculpture, sculpted right into the arch of a building is a classic example of Gothic Art by Benedetto Antelami. The subject is religious and it is carved into the classic arched structures of Gothic architecture.


Plans for Gothic architecture

These plans for Gothic architecture show the use of arches at windows and doors, steep gables and the stone workings that were so popular at the time. Here are some examples of churches built during the Gothic era that are still standing:

Architecture was not the only important style of art that the Gothic era focused on. Another very beautiful thing that came out of the Gothic era was stained glass windows. Most were depictions of history or religious stories from the Bible and some were just patterns and tessellations, but all works of art that are still on view today.

This is “The Life of Joseph Window” in Bourges Cathedral done in the 13th century. Notice the religious nature of the work. Most art pieces in this time had to do with stories from the Bible, religious figures, saints or martyrs.

Another kind of artwork that was very popular at the time was called illuminated manuscripts. Many people have seen exaples of these although they did not realize it at the time. I know I did. The best way I can think of to describe this art form is… Remember, those old fairy tale books where the first letter was alway big and ornate and the pictures were beautiful and there were little drawings and illustrations throughout the entire book? That would be a prime example of an illuminated manuscript. In the Gothic era the printing press had not yet been invented so books were rare things since they had to be hand copied and drawn. Books were a work of art at this time and when you see them you’ll see why.

This is an excellent example of an illuminated manuscript.

Notice the large ornate first letter.

Example of Illuminated Manuscript Page

Besides these forms of art, the Gothic era also had its selection of traditional artists that painted and such. There subjects were, once again, religious in nature and I am not really fond of the painting but they are considered great painters of their time. Here are some examples of paintings from the Gothic era:


"Nativity", Giotto

Giotto, “Nativity”, 1305

Hieronymus Bosch

"Christ Carrying Cross", Hieronymus Bosch

If you’d lie to research some more artists and their styles from the Gothic era here is a list of famous artists of the ime:

  • Nicola Pisano
  • Fra Guglielmo
  • Giottino
  • Stefano de Verona
  • Jean Maluoel
  • Herman Limbourg
  • Henri Bellechose
  • Peter Parler

The Gothic era was filled with geometric shapes and religious icons and symbology in its art. Many of these things are incorporated in the art styles we have today.

Now here is an Art Project having to do with the Gothic era. Some people may have done this in elementary school during an arts and crafts class, but its a lot of fun, if not a little time consuming.


Materials Needed:

  • 1 sheet of black construction paper
  • Colored construction paper
  • Exacto Knife
  • Glue
  • Pencil


  1. On the black sheet of construction paper draw a design using shapes. Make sure to keep space around each of your lines so that there is an outline in your picture. Look at examples of stained glass online to see what I am talking about.
  2. Using the Exacto Knife, carefully cut the shapes out so that all you are left with is the outline of you design or drawing.
  3. Using pieces of construction paper cut to fit, fill in the empty spaces and glue the pieces onto the back of the black construction paper. Make sure that the color construction paper you are using to fill one shape does not overlap into your other shape.
  4. When you are done gluing your colored construction paper, get another piece of construction paper and glue it to the back so that the messy back part does not show.
  5. Flip over and look at your beautiful “stained glass” art!

Here is an example of what it should look like when you are done.

Example of stained glass project