This course examines the art and architecture of the Byzantine Empire from its beginnings in the sixth until its end in the fifteenth century. Across the vast domain of Justinian’s reunited empire, from Ravenna to Constantinople, magnificent domed structures replaced the simple timber-roofed basilicas that had been the typical building type since Constantine. Covered in precious gold mosaic they were meant to display the splendor of the Christian religion and the new vitality of the Roman Empire. Justinian’s ‘golden’ age, however, was short-lived. Ethnic and political upheavals in the following centuries thrust the eastern empire into obscurity and set it on a path of decline from which it never truly recovered. Ravaged by religious disputes, civil wars, foreign occupation, and economic crises, Byzantium in the medieval period was reduced to a pale reflection of its former glory -- not a world empire anymore, but a medieval principality. Austere saints in dim candlelit interiors replaced the festive images of salvation that adorned the walls of Justinian’s dazzling bright churches. Despite this inclination toward mysticism links with antiquity were not severed. A profoundly classical humanism emanates even from the strictest and transcendental of Byzantine mosaics, ivory plaques, illuminated manuscripts, and icons. It is due to its classical origins that Byzantine culture managed to produce a creative tour de force even in the most precarious of times. The last of these, under the Paleologue dynasty, was a true classical revival whose intellectual achievement anticipated in many ways the Italian Renaissance.

For further information on the course see the Syllabus, Requirements and Readings.

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