Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Byzantine Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Among the numerous artefacts from around the world found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), one exhibition stood out for me, that from Byzantium.

Many of the objects exhibited in this cosmopolitan museum are well known, since they are depicted in many books, when referring to the Byzantine Empire, i.e. the first Christian Empire. The visitor can admire the countless icons, bibles, crosses and liturgical objects. 

Illuminated manuscripts written in Greek were considered one of the greatest art forms by the highly literate and sophisticated clerical and secular elite of Byzantium. Over the centuries many works were commissioned for use in important churches.

The "Jaharis Lectionary", depicted above, profoundly shows, through its richness, tempera, gold, ink on parchment and leather binding, that it was probably made for the great church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. 

The cross in Byzantium had a prominent position, since it symbolised Christ's Passion and his victory over death, the cross was ubiquitous in the Byzantine world. Beginning with Constantine I's vision of the cross on the eve of the battle with his rival Maxentios in 312, the cross was associated with the emperor; it became an imperial insignia on the battlefield and a fixture in court ceremonies.

The cross played an important role in religious and civic life. Crosses were processed through city streets during times of natural disaster and enemy attack and in commemoration of there events. They decorated churches, official buildings, municipal structures, homes and all manner of domestic and personal goods. 

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