Type: Analysis
Pages: 4 | Words: 934
Reading Time: 4 Minutes

The growth of Christianity challenged the already existing social codes and attitudes and thus it offers one clue to the radical transformations of Roman art (Cormack 1). The similarities and differences between the art during the Roman Empire and the Byzantine art is the key to understanding the processes of the rebirth of ancient art and therefore the Byzantine art and the Roman Empire art remains a living art although they began some 2000 years ago (Cormack 1).

The fall of the Roman Empire thus gave birth to Byzantine art which was regarded as highly true or close to nature. Through Byzantine art, the illiterate could learn to recognize common saint’s names and the main biblical narrative subjects where else through the Roman Empire or Western art people could figure out the emperors, generals and political images during a certain period (Cormack 76).  

Byzantine art in a real sense signifies religious icons, unlike the art during the Roman Empire which portrayed political and scientific figures. In this context, the art of the Byzantine period can be conceived as above all a religious art that was centered on a Christian society based in Constantinople (Cormack 2). As a result, religious icons were at the center of Byzantine art and life because they were seen and venerated by all those who identified themselves as belonging to the culture. Byzantine art says that “the Byzantine art was one of the most solemn and elevated modes of religious expression ever developed because the icons could manipulate viewers and create an atmosphere more potent than most other art forms” (2).

New Approach to Art in The book Art: Perception & Appreciation

Unlike Byzantine art which was largely influenced by Christianity, Ortiz et al. say that the social changes and ways of living in the Roman Empire led to the introduction of western art. They say that the social changes led to a reassessment of man and the world around him revived from classical times and pervaded philosophy in the 19th century in academic art. The book Art: Perception & Appreciation established that in Western art “portraits, landscapes, still life’s, and genre lent themselves to the smaller format of portable easel paintings” (189).

The book further says that the important characteristic of the western art of that period was the spirit of scientific inquiry and investigation. Art: Perception & Appreciation found out that “this was considered as a new and vital approach to the material world which led to empiricism and laid emphasis on the evidence of the senses hence the scientific spirit manifested itself not only in the new discoveries but the art as well”  (189).

The Roman Empire art was dissimilar to Byzantine art because the Byzantine art had a functional as well as an aesthetic aim which implies that they were made as props in the face of joy and sorrow happiness and pain. The book Byzantine art further says that this form of art received the prayers and veneration that passed through them to the other world that they symbolized and they were expected to reflect the powers of God. In this context it was noted that each icon had to maintain its power from century to century.

The artist in the Roman Empire was influenced by the interest in science strove for a more naturalistic portrayal of man and developed new techniques such as the utilization of modeling and shading for a three-dimensional effect, unlike the Byzantine artists who were influenced by the Christianity religion. Ortiz et al. also says that the modeling of the human figure countered the liner tradition of Byzantine art (189). He continues to say that this trend was begun by Giotto in his frescoes in which he stressed the solidity and monumentality of his figures that they existed with volume in space and were surrounded by space. Ortiz et al. says that this was done by careful modeling with particular attention to folds and draperies.

Unlike Byzantine art the western art as illustrated by Giotto and Masaccio were among the first artists to endow their figures with a familiar human quality in reaction to the otherworldly hieratic forms of Byzantine art (Ortiz et al., 189). Ortiz et al. established that the art was first supposed to employ meaningful gestures to express emotions within the context of a human situation (189).

On the other hand, Ortiz et al. says that the classical and Asian artistic traditions merge in Byzantine art because of their two-dimensional or flat style placing emphasis on clarity of line and sharpness of the outlines (189). The book Byzantine art, therefore, says that “early Byzantine art adopted the visual vocabulary of pagan art for maximum effect on the Christian viewer which expressed the total triumph of the early church over antiquity” (31). The icon which was the second object was a work of art of a different form period and function.

Cormack in his further studies indicates that the comparison of the value of the icon in Byzantine art suggests that a systematic treatment of Byzantine art in time and context offers more than the broad synoptic treatment (31). The icon used in Byzantine art was small in scale and religious hence it was appropriate for individuals, even private, viewing, painted on wood, and could be easily moved and transported. According to Byzantine art the “subject of this type of art had broad connections with the Rotunda because it included a group of saints shown by definition after death and in paradise since they were surrounded by divine light symbolized by the gold ground of the background who were arranged in registers around the image of Christ” (31).

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