What is... Byzantine art
EL GRECO studied iconic art, which has its origins in Byzantine art, the art of the Byzantine Empire. The centre of focus was Constantinople (now Istanbul) and the time line is from the fifth century AD to the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1450.
The Orthodox Church had a central role in the development of this art form. Byzantine paintings and mosaics have rich colours and flat, stiff figures that appear to be floating. Backgrounds are solidly golden or toned. Human figures were represented in two styles - frontal figures that represented authority and the other where the figures symbolised adoration, sympathy or prayer. Folds of drapery and the position of the arms were manipulated to give a definite meaning. Feet were not placed on a firm foundation - rather they would be pointing downward to give an impression of floating. The human figures were the focus with landscape and architectural details coming a far second.
While being an artist during the Byzantine era was an honour, artists were not identified before the 13th Century. Giotto is considered the father of modern art and was the first Western artist to make figures three dimensional with the interplay of light and shadow.
Icons were devotional images considered to be the windows between the spiritual and temporal world. In 726 Emperor Leo prohibited the painting of icons as he said it was a form of idolatry. This Iconoclastic crisis split the empire in two. The intention was to teach the viewer religious lessons, which is why the images were simple and easily understood.
The Byzantine influence can be clearly seen in architecture - which favours the central dome and decorative mosaics. Examples of Byzantine architecture can be seen to this day including the Senate House in Madras University.
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