Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Byzantium explored in exhibit at the Royal Academy of Arts in London

The first major exhibit of Byzantine art in the last 50 years in the UK is on display now until March 22, 2009 at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. I hope those of you near London or visiting London during this time will take the opportunity to see these breathtaking works. Alas, my travel calendar is already booked for the coming year.

[Image - Perfume brazier in the form of a domed building, Constantinople or Italy, end of the twelfth century. Silver, partially gilded, embossed and perforated, 36 x 30 cm. On loan from the Basilica di San Marco, Venice, Tesoro, inv. no. 109. Photo per gentile concessione della Procuratoria di San Marco/Cameraphoto Arte, Venice]

"Byzantium 330–1453 follows a chronological progression covering the range, power and longevity of the artistic production of the Byzantine Empire through a number of themed sections. In this way the exhibition explores the origins of Byzantium; the rise of Constantinople; the threat of iconoclasm when emperors banned Christian figurative art; the post-iconoclast revival; the remarkable crescendo in the Middle Ages and the close connections between Byzantine and early Renaissance art in Italy in the 13th and early 14th centuries.

Between 1204 and 1261, Constantinople was in the hands of the Latin Crusaders, but the return of the Byzantine Emperors to the city initiated a final period of great diversity in art. Art from Constantinople, the Balkans and Russia show the final phase of refinement of distinctively Orthodox forms and functions, while Crete artists like Angelos Akotantos signed their icons and merged Byzantine and Italian styles. Up to the end of the Byzantine Empire, with the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, manuscripts, micromosaics and metalwork demonstrates the virtuosity of its artists.

The exhibition shows the long history of Byzantine art and documents the patrons and artists and the world in which they lived. Seeing themselves as the members of a Christian Roman Empire they believed that they represented the culmination of civilisation on earth. The art emits an intellectual, emotional and spiritual energy, yet is distinctive for the expression of passionate belief and high emotion within an art of moderation and restraint."

The Academy's website includes a downloadable illustrated guidebook and a podcast from curator Robin Cormack.

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