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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):

Constantius Chlorus


(image from ancientrome.ru):

As fate dictated,

Constantius would rise to become

Emperor Constantius I Cholrus and

Helen would later be canonised as

St. Helen

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

 the battle

 the war.

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.

Conflict erupted.

War ensued.

Licinius was defeated

and executed.

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

Hagia Sophia Stock Photography - Image: 21702382


Hagia Sophia Ceiling Royalty Free Stock Photography - Image: 20441647

mosaic art

Hagia Sophia Mosaic Royalty Free Stock Image - Image: 20441686

(image from pallasweb.com):

mosaic in Hagia Sophia

The John and Eirene Panel

John Comnenus, Eirene and the sone Alexios from Hagia Sophia


Mother of God

The Theotokos and Christ from Hagia Sophia

Emperor John II Comnenus, 1118 – 43

John Comnenus from Hagia Sophia

Empress Eirene

Augusta Eirene from Hagia Sophia

Middle Byzantium

(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

detailed image

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.

Late Byzantium

(12 61 – 1453)

Though money was not as readily

available as before,  art and architecture

still flourished.

Patrons financed the building of

new structures

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

Icon with the Virgin Hodegetria


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.