In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Byzantine Art

  • Introduction
  • Reference Resources
  • Textbooks
  • Catalogues
  • The Evolution of Byzantine Art
  • Constantinople
  • Iconographical Studies
  • Minor Arts
  • Text and Image
  • Icons
  • Byzantium and Its Neighbors, East and West

Medieval Studies Byzantine Art
Lynn Jones
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 June 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 June 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0060


Byzantine art, simply stated, is the art produced in the Byzantine Empire during the period 330–1453 CE. Of course it is not quite as simple as that. Byzantium was the Eastern Roman Empire, distinguished from Rome by three elements: Greek language, Christian religion, and Roman law. Byzantium was founded by Emperor Constantine I (the Great) in 330 CE with a new capital city, Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey), and was, for over a century, the cultural center of the Middle Ages. Byzantine art history is divided chronologically. The Early Byzantine period (330–842 CE) begins with Constantine and ends with the overthrow of Iconoclasm, “icon breaking.” The Iconoclastic controversy (730–842 CE) was a period of turmoil during which the role of icons in pubic liturgy and private use was fiercely debated, resulting in a ban of icon use and production. Art of this period is characterized by its evolution from Roman art and by its transition from pagan to Christian art. While there is a relative wealth of monumental decorative programs and manuscripts, many icons were destroyed during Iconoclasm. The Middle Byzantine period (842–1204 CE) begins with the “Triumph of Orthodoxy”: the reestablishment of icon use and production. It ends with the sack of Constantinople by the Latin armies of the Fourth Crusade. There is more surviving art from the Middle Byzantine period than remains to us from either the Early or Late periods. This period saw the full flowering of art; imperial and aristocratic patronage spurred artistic development in all fields. Patrons and artists also looked back to Byzantium’s classical artistic heritage. The “classicizing style” that resulted is best represented in illuminated manuscripts. There is also a growth in the production of luxury objects, including ivory caskets, reliquaries, and jewelry. The art of the 11th and 12th centuries reveals increasing contact with western Europe. The Late Byzantine period (1204–1453 CE) covers the loss of much of Byzantium to the Crusaders, its reconquest, and subsequent increasing interactions with the West. The empire was also reduced by subsequent attacks by Arabs, Seljuks, and Mongols. In 1453 CE, Constantinople fell to the Ottomans, ending the empire. Of the three periods, there is less extant Late Byzantine art, but what remains, while lesser in quantity, is not of lesser quality. Monumental wall paintings, mosaic decorations, and illuminated manuscripts attest to the increasing influence of Western art and to the continued artistic production of the highest quality.

Reference Resources

The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium (Kazhdan 1991) is the only dictionary dedicated specifically to Byzantine studies and covers all aspects of the field, making it useful for scholars and students alike. The edited volumes published by Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, DC (Byzantine Studies), and by the Society for the Promotion of Byzantine Studies (SPBS) in England present collections of papers given at their annual symposia and reflect the latest in Byzantine scholarship. These volumes contain articles by historians, art historians, paleographers, and archaeologists and are unified by a single topic. A digital reconstruction of the city of Istanbul c. 1200 (Byzantium 1200) provides students with an excellent introduction to the city.

  • Byzantine Studies.” Dumbarton Oaks Papers. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.

    Dumbarton Oaks provides online access to a limited number of its volumes, the Dumbarton Oaks Papers (abbreviated as DOP). Most university libraries contain the full DOP series (1941–present) in their holdings or provide online access to all or part of the series.

  • Byzantium 1200.

    A digital reconstruction of the city of Istanbul as it existed in the year 1200. Searchable by monument, it provides students with an excellent introduction to the city. Some placement and identification of buildings has been questioned; the site should be used as a guide and not as an exact replica.

  • Kazhdan, Alexander P. The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. 3 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.

    Broad coverage of all areas of Byzantine studies. Bibliography does not include materials published after 1989.

  • Society for the Promotion of Byzantine Studies (SPBS).

    The SPBS in the United Kingdom began publishing papers from its annual Spring Symposia in 1992. They are not available as e-journals but are found in most academic libraries. A list of the series, including forthcoming volumes and with tables of contents and brief synopses, can be found on the publisher’s website.

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