MIDDLE BYZANTINE ART AND ARCHITECTURE

 

 

 

 

 

       In Early Christian and Byzantine art and architecture, the architectural form and its decoration are inseparable. It is impossible to study one without the other. This can be illustrated by examining the different components from both the interior and the exterior of typical Middle Byzantine churches.

 

       Churches from the Middle Byzantine period served many purposes: they symbolized the cosmos, heaven and earth; they represented the Holy Land; and they served as a three-dimensional calendar of the Christian Year with all its festivals.

 

 

Interior:  

 

Byzantine achievements in mosaic decoration brought this art to an unprecedented level of monumentality and expressive power. Mosaics were applied to the domes, half-domes, and other available surfaces of Byzantine churches in an established hierarchical order. The main dome was reserved for the representation of the Pantocrator, or Christ as the ruler of the universe, whereas other sacred personages occupied lower spaces in descending order of importance. The main apse was reserved for the representation of the Theotokos, or Virgin Mary. The side apses were occupied by either Archangels or Saint Peter and Saint Paul. The squinches, pendentives, nave vaults, narthex domes, and narthex vaults contained festival cycles, or festivals related to the life of Christ. The minor domes, vaults, and upper walls in the narthex, ambulatories and galleries were covered with Saints and benefactors.

 

Gold surrounded the figures of Christ, Mary, and the Saints, because it symbolized light and thus divinity. When sunlight reflected from these gold backgrounds, the entire church gleamed, re-emphasising the divinity of Christ.

      

The domes, apses, squinches, pendentives, vaults, and clerestory windows on Middle Byzantine churches visibly bring the mosaics to life.  Without a doubt, these mosaics would not have been as powerful if they had been applied to dark churches with flat ceilings and flat walls.

 

In addition, many Middle Byzantine churches have arcades and colonnades that are not functional. Instead, they further decorate the interior of the church. Columns often have basket capitals or windblown acanthus capitals.

 

Examples of Middle Byzantine churches with these characteristics include Hagia Sophia and Hosios Loukas in Greece.

 

 

Exterior:

 

       For a Middle Byzantine church, the exterior decoration was just as important as the interior decoration. Cross-domed or ambulatory churches and cross-in-square or quincunx churches were common because they were cross-shaped churches.

 

       Different techniques were used to decorate the exterior walls, including bands of dogtooth brickwork and cloisonné work between the regular building blocks of the walls. Blind arcades were also used to decorate the exterior walls.

 

       Examples of Middle Byzantine churches with these characteristics include The Church of St. Panteleimon in Yugoslavia and The Monastery of Christ Pantocrator in Constantinople.

 

 

Architecture of the Middle Byzantine period was characterized by relatively small scale and design that sought to perfect certain established concepts (e.g., cross-domed and cross-in-square church types). Particularly important was a close-knit relationship between architecture and interior decoration. An "ideal" system evolved in which various architectural components (e.g., the dome) attained fixed positions and acquired fixed iconographic content (e.g., Pantocrator--the Ruler of the Universe).