Sunday, March 24, 2019

Byzantine Murals

Some of the world's most beautiful murals, I believe, were made by mosaic artists and fresco painters working throughout the Byzantine Empire. Many extraordinary churches were built and decorated in a unique Byzantine style from the early days of Roman Byzantium through the Middle Ages. I'm especially fond of this artwork, and I've made efforts to visit cities where these churches are located in order to enjoy seeing this artwork. I did try to take pictures of the murals which are very large and not always well-lighted, so my photos of the murals are not fantastic. Thus, I've selected some available images, mainly from Wikipedia, to illustrate these historic and wonderful murals. I searched for images of the mosaics that I recall most vividly: I've chosen only one for each city that I've visited. If you are intrigued, you can easily find more.

Palermo, Sicily

King Roger II of Sicily being crowned by Christ. (Wikipedia)
Several churches in Palermo have remarkable murals by Byzantine artists
that were hired by the Norman kings of Sicily in the eleventh century.

Monreale, Sicily

Interior of Monreale Cathedral. Monreale is near Palermo. (Wikipedia)

Ravenna, Italy

The Emperor Justinian and his retinue, San Vitale Basilica, Ravenna. (Tripadvisor)

Venice, Italy

Mosaic: "Noah Releasing the Dove," Saint Mark's Cathedral, Venice. (Wikipedia)
In Saint Mark's, there's an entire series of murals illustrating the story of Noah, which I found incredibly impressive.

Istanbul, Turkey

Mosaic from the Chora Church, Istanbul. This is an amazing little church far from the center of the city. (Wikipedia)
Some parts of the church are also decorated with frescos.

An Extremely Brief History 

Mosaic depicting the Emperor Constantine. (Wikipedia)
You probably know this: in the year 330 of the current era, the Roman Emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to the Greek city of Byzantium. The city received a new name: Constantinople. The depiction of Constantine is one of the famous mosaics of Hagia Sophia.

At the time, "Barbarians" from northern Europe had taken over much of the Italian peninsula including Rome. However, emperors based in Constantinople continued to rule a substantial part of the empire, including the areas now belonging to Greece, to parts of current Turkey, to Sicily, and to other cities in Italy. Based on ancient Roman traditions, the Byzantines developed unique art and culture during their 1000 year existence. In particular, Roman mosaic art, which had largely been secular, developed into a new and rather different type of Christian art during the long Byzantine era -- as illustrated above.

In 1453, after a long series of territorial losses, the final defeat of Byzantium/Constantinople ended the empire. The Ottoman Turks took over the city and renamed it Istanbul. In the growing Ottoman Empire, Islam became the dominant religion. Though the rulers never prohibited Christian worship, the most famous Byzantine murals, those of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, were covered over by plaster soon after the takeover. The building was converted from a church to a mosque where representative art was prohibited. Today this remarkable building is neither a church nor a mosque, but is kept open as a monument to art and history. I fear that its integrity as a work of art may be endangered by current religious nationalism in Turkey.

For more worldwide murals see the weekly post Monday Murals at Colorful World.


Jeanie said...

Every single one of these is totally fabulous and my only regret is that I've never seen them in person!

Sue Jackson said...

Wow, these are all beautiful and so varied! I've never been to Italy, so thanks for the armchair visit!


Book By Book

Iris Flavia said...

Impressive, also the history behind it.

Sami said...

They had incredible artists centuries ago.
Thanks for participating Mae.

Bertiebo said...

These are all beaautiful. Thank you!

kwarkito said...


Klara said...

fabulous artwork.

Jackie McGuinness said...

Monreale Cathedral is stunning!

Jackie McGuinness said...

Monreale Cathedral is my favourite, mesmerizing.

restlessjo said...

They're fabulous, aren't they? Love Italy :) :)

Linda said...

Marvelous works of art!