Byzantine art is the term commonly used to describe the artistic products of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire) from about the 5th century until the fall of Constantinople in 1453. The term has also been used for the art of states which were contemporary with the Byzantine Empire and shared a common culture with it, such as Bulgaria, Serbia or Russia, and also Venice, which had close ties to the Byzantine Empire. Byzantine Art is characterized by a rich use of color and figures which seem flat and stiff. The figures also tend to appear to be floating, and to have large eyes. Backgrounds tend to be solidly golden or toned. Intended as religious lessons, they were presented clearly and simply in order to be easily learned. Early Byzantine art is often called “Early Christian art.” In some respects the Byzantine artistic tradition has continued in Russia, Greece, Serbia and other Eastern Orthodox countries to the present day. Byzantine art grew from the art of Ancient Greece, and never lost sight of its classical heritage, but was distinguished from it in a number of ways. The Byzantine capital, Constantinople, was adorned with a large number of classical sculptures. The most salient feature of this new aesthetic was its “abstract,” or anti-naturalistic character. If classical art was marked by the attempt to create representations that mimicked reality as closely as possible, Byzantine art seems to have abandoned this attempt in favor of a more symbolic approach. The subject matter of monumental Byzantine art was primarily religious and imperial: the two themes are often combined, as in the portraits of later Byzantine emperors that decorated the interior of the sixth-century church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. These preoccupations are partly a result of the pious and autocratic nature of Byzantine society, and partly a result of its economic structure: the wealth of the empire was concentrated in the hands of the church and the imperial office, which therefore had the greatest opportunity to undertake monumental artistic commissions. One of the most important genres of Byzantine art was the icon, an image of Christ, the Virgin, or a saint, used as an object of veneration in Orthodox churches and private homes alike.
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