overall: 110 x 80 cm (43 5/16 x 31 1/2 in.) Byzantine and Christian Museum, Athens
There are dining tables, coins, ivories, jewelry and other objects, but it's the mosaics which I find most captivating, and this exhibition allows a close-up view. Their nuances of size and shape can be closely observed here, but not in slides or in the distance. Byzantine artists gradually replaced stone mosaics with glass tesserae, painting gold leaf behind the glass to portray backgrounds for the figures. It was the Byzantines created these wondrous images by transforming the Greco-Roman tradition of floor mosaics to that of wall mosaics.
|Van Eyck, St John the Baptist, det-Ghent Altarpiece|
Church architecture evolved very differently however, with the Latin church preferring elongated churches with the floor plan of Roman basilicas. The ritual requirements of the Orthodox Church resulted in a more compact form using domes, squinches and half-domes. Fortunately, the National Gallery's exhibition has a lot of information about Orthodox churches, their layout and how the Iconostasis (a screen for icons) divided the priests from the congregation.
|Reliquary of St. Oswald, c. 1100, is silver gilt|
|Mosaic with a font, mid-5th century Museum of |
Byzantine culture, Thessaloniki
Photo source: NGA website
|A Baptismal Font, 1226, is superb example of Medieval|
metalwork from Hildesheim Cathedral.
|Golden Madonna is wood covered in gold, made for St. Michael's Cathedral before 1002|
Although heaven is more important than earth, and God and saints in heaven are more powerful than humans, sometimes medieval artists have been capable of revealing the greatest truths about what it's like to be a human being. In the icons, there is great poignancy and beauty in the eyes. At times the portrayal of grief is overwhelming, as we see on an icon of the Hodegetria image where Mary points the way, the baby Jesus but knows He will die. On the reverse is an excruciatingly painful Man of Sorrows.
|Icon of the Virgin Hodegetria, last quarter 12th century, tempera and silver on wood, Kastoria, Byzantine Museum. On the Reverse is a Man of Sorrows|
|The Expulsion, before 1016, detail of bronze door, St. Michael's, Hildesheim|