Late Antiquity and Byzantine Art: Comparative Essay

During the period of Late Antiquity and Byzantine, art and beauty was influenced by and indeed conceived in terms of Neoplatonism, especially that of Plotinus, and even more Christian theology (Newington-Cropsey Cultural Studies Center, 2006-2017). Byzantine art (4th - 15th century CE) is generally characterized by a move away from the naturalism of the Classical tradition towards the more abstract and universal, there is a definite preference for two-dimensional representations, and those artworks which contain a religious message predominate (Cartwright, 2018). Late Antiquity was the period of the late Roman Empire when Christianity was becoming prominent. Its art was developed from a multicultural period where art was made from both Christians and Pagans. They both used roman techniques and classified their art in which we acknowledge as the antiquity period. The art of the Late Antiquity and the Byzantine share similar features such as architecture, religion association, and carvings. Although these periods share similarities they also differ in the same features.

Architecture, painting on panels or walls (fresco), metalwork, mosaics, stained glass, manuscripts, jewelry, and more were all types of artistic mediums during the Middle Ages. Late Antiquity architecture is mostly basilican or centrally planned buildings. Late Antique architect would have found it difficult to adapt the classical temple to accommodate large numbers of people within it (Kleiner 249). For example, The Old Saint Peter’s Basilica has plan elevation. It had a 300-foot-long nave with flanking aisle, but unlike other early churches, it also had a transept and an atrium. Brick, stone, or a mixture of both used to create decorative patterns were the materials most often used for Byzantine churches. Byzantines added more intricate and deeper carved decoration to their own Corinthian capitals, and they often added an impost above the capital itself. This was a plain stone which gave the larger base needed to support heavy arches (Ancient History, 2009-2019). An example of this would be the Rotunda church of Thessalonica. Although Late Antiquity used different materials to build their walls, one of those materials is brick in which Byzantine used to build their walls as well. They both often used semicircular arches for the doors and windows. Also, despite the different styles and patterns, both periods included domes, columns, and ornaments.

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Religion plays a huge role in art. The Late Antiquity and the Byzantine share Christianity as their religion. The Late Antiquity was during the start of Christianity when it first became a religion, Early Christianity. During this time, Christians referred to the victory of Christian beliefs over the allegedly false beliefs and practices of paganism. The churches were public and people worshipped by sacrifices. The type of Christianity practiced in Byzantium was called Eastern Orthodox, New Christianity. The head of the Eastern Orthodox Church is called the Patriarch of Constantinople and men were called bishops in the major cities of the Empire. During this period, religion was more organized and held more expectations for Christians. Early Christianity is not the style of the works itself, just subject matter whereas mosaics were intended to publicize and codify Christianity in New Christianity.

Ivory Carving has been prized for years beginning during the early times. In Late Antiquity, artists chose ivory most frequently for book covers, chests, and boxes (Kleiner, 253). Diptychs, paired hinged tablets, usually of wood with a wax layer on the inner sides for writing letters and other documents fashioned from ivory generally were reserved for ceremonial and official purposes. An example would be when announcing a marriage between two wealthy families. Ivory Carvings are important to Byzantine because it has no money value and cannot be melted down or recycled. Ivory diptychs were also made during the Byzantine period but unlike the Late Antiquity period, they were often uniquely decorated and given as gifts by newly appointed consuls. The three-part triptych replaced the diptych during the Byzantine period. They were used for private devotion and include hinged wings. Ivory Carving was very tradition during both the Late Antiquity and the Byzantine art periods.

The Late Antiquity and Byzantine art are similar in many ways due to their closeness in periods, but they do have differences. The architecture of Late Antiquity presented mostly classical plain structures while that of the Byzantine presented slightly the same structure but less plain. Both periods associated with Christianity. Christians of the Late Antiquity practiced Early Christianity whereas Christians of Byzantine practiced New Christianity. Ivory Carving was very traditional and common during both periods. In Late Antiquity, diptychs were often created and proposed during official ceremonies. In Byzantine, triptychs were brought about and given had gifts. During the periods of the Late Antiquity and the Byzantine a lot of art was made in which each period used architecture, religion, and carvings to express their culture.


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