Creator of a new Rome
Creation of a new art
The man himself
There seems consensus among historical scholars
that the Roman emperor
(image from fineartamerica.com):
(ruled A.D. 306 – 337)
was an enlightened man.
Successful in enacting many needed reforms
to strengthen the Empire,
he was regard by contemporaries
as a leader.
Proponent of religious freedom,
he signed into law the Edit of Milan, 313 A.D.,
which secured citizens’ right to practice
what their conscious dictated
Constantine supported Christianity.
It is believed he converted,
thus becoming the first
Christian Roman emperor
Although he would achieve success in life and
immortality in death
(as his name will be forever remembered),
his was a birth right questioned.
Born in A.D. 272 – 73 to
Constantius Chlorus, a military officer and
Helen his consort.
It was claimed that his father was of noble parentage.
Yet, there was suspicion that this may
have been a fabrication.
Whatever, say the naysayers,
it is of fact that he earned his name
Constantine the Great
(image from viamus.uni-goettingen.de):
(image from ancientrome.ru):
As fate dictated,
Constantius would rise to become
Emperor Constantius I Cholrus and
Helen would later be canonised as
believed to have discovered
the relics of Christ’s cross.
(image from hung.art.hu):
St Helen and the Discovery of the True Cross
Fresco, mid 14th c
St. Andrew Parish – Tornaszentandras, Hungary
A vision explains all
It said that in 312 A.D,
Constantine had a vision of the words
“in hoc signo vinces”
–in this sign you will conquer–
written on a cross.
He then promised to embrace
Christianity if victorious against
his enemy Maxentius,
with whom he was engaged in civil war.
Now armed with additional
force of conviction for victory –
Constantine won the day
He ruled jointly with
Licinius, his brother – in – law.
Shared rule was not to last.
Licinius failed to honour the Edit of Milan, which
essentially safeguarded religious liberties.
Licinius was defeated
With no further challenges,
Constantine became sole ruler of the Roman Empire, 325 A.D.
Having seen better days
Rome, once the great and powerful
administrative seat of the Empire –
was in slow, steady and prolonged decline.
Plagued by internal economic challenges ,
political strife and
harassed by external forces of invading tribes –
the city continued to weaken.
The Emperor Diocletan in 286 had moved
the capital from Rome to Mediolanum (modern day Milan).
This move at least maintained the centre of government
on Italian soil.
As emperor, Constantine wielded a last crippling blow
by transferring the location of the capitol from Rome to
Byzantion, renaming it Constantinople, 330 A.D.
Although it diminished Rome,
the move would initiate a flourishing of
breath-taking art, which is still
admired and celebrated.
Byzantium and Art
The early period of Byzantine Art begins with the
inauguration of the new capitol and into the 700s.
Christianity became the official religion
of this culturally diverse state.
So too Christian iconography became
the subject of artistic images.
With the rise of monastic life,
which involved some monks labouring
as writers and illuminators;
and with the introduction of bound manuscripts –
there was a flowering of beautifully illustrated books :
on biblical stories
noble tales /poetry of esteem
and medical treatises.
(image from metmuseum.org):
This early period also experienced popularity in painting and mosaic art.
Fragment of Floor Mosaic, 500 – 50
marble and glass
There still stand impressive structures of
secular and ecclesiastical architecture.
An exceptional example of early Byzantine
ecclesiastical architecture is the
Church of Hagia Sofia, Constantinople.
(image from studyblue.com):
Church of Hagia Sofia, Istanbul
(images from dreamstime.com):
internal views, Hagia Sofia
(image from pallasweb.com):
mosaic in Hagia Sophia
The John and Eirene Panel
Mother of God
Emperor John II Comnenus, 1118 – 43
(803 – 1204)
This second period of Byzantium established Greek
as the official language of Church and state.
The Empire prospered and with this boom
wealthy patrons indulged in the
commissioning of art works.
Authoring of illuminated manuscripts,
craving of ivory and stone pieces,
manufacturing of cloisonne enamel –
all flourished due to great demand.
In addition to religious iconography;
subject matter for art and literature
were of the classics- testament to
the continuing importance of
Byzantium’s ancient past.
(images from metmuseum.org):
plague with John the Baptist, early 9th c – elephant ivory
Jaharis Lectionary, circa 1100
tempura, ink and gold leaf on parchment, leather binding
book cover plaque of Christ in majesty, 1185 – 1210
gilded copper, champleve enamel
medallion of crucifixion, circa 1100
gilt copper, cloisonne, champleve enamel
The construction of more moderate-sized
churches was of the order.
These were decorated internally with
beautiful frescos and mosaics,
which depicted narratives of Christian icons.
The Latin Occupation
(1204 – 1261)
Byzantium was invaded by
forces of the Fourth Crusade.
Conquered in 1204, the
imperial city was renamed:
Latin Empire of Constantinople.
This new Crusader state was placed under
the spiritual leadership of the Pope,
the head of the Western Church.
The Latin Occupation spread chaos
throughout Byzantium society.
The ruling class/nobility was in exile
and fighting among themselves.
Yet, the Latins were driven out and
by 1261 Byzantine rule was restored.
(12 61 – 1453)
Though money was not as readily
available as before, art and architecture
Patrons financed the building of
as well as the renovative work on
those damaged during
the Latin Occupation.
Devotional art pieces, meant for private prayer,
continued in production; although many
were now made in materials other than
gold, silver and enamel.
Beautifully crafted miniature mosaic icons of
coloured stones, semi-precious gems, glass
gave the illusion of luxury and
were particularly popular.
Icon figures were also craved
from wood and colourfully painted
portable mosaic with the Virgin Eleousa, early 14th c
wax on wood panel with gold
multi-coloured stone and gilded cooper tesserae
icon with Christ and Chorus of Saints, 1300 – 1500
made of steatite
fresco depicting King Stephan Uros with his wife Simonis, 1314 – 14
Studenica Monastery, Serbia
icon with presentation of Christ in the temple, 1400 -1500
wood, painted, with gold ground
(image from the cityreview.com):
icon with the Virgin Hodegetria, 1360 -70
tempura, gold on wood
And so it was
Constantine fulfilled his destiny
and established an enduring legacy:
the famed Byzantine Empire and
Constantinople, its wondrous capital.
Constantinople (today’s Istanbul) evolved into
the wealthiest city of the then Christian world.
Triumphing over external forces and internal strife
the Byzantine Empire lasted a millennium;
finally succumbing to the
Ottoman Turks in 1453.
The art produced during the
Byzantine Empire remains subject
for study, contemplation, inspiration.