This course will serve as an introduction to the vibrant visual culture that developed in the early Christian period and the reign of the Byzantine Empire during the Middle Ages. The Byzantine Empire, which had its capital in Constantinople, was an enormously powerful and influential polity in the eastern Mediterranean that considered itself to be the rightful successor to Rome. Over the course of its thousand-year history, artisans in Byzantium created a distinctive visual culture to serve the needs of this Christian empire and its people. In this course, we will examine a wide range of objects (including churches decorated in gold mosaics, lavishly illuminated manuscripts, panel-painted icons, richly crafted metalwork, and luxurious textiles) and consider the function of imagery and objects in specific historic contexts. We will begin with early Christian art in Rome, considering how Roman visual culture was transformed in the Christian context to meet the needs of new patrons. Moving forward in time, we will explore Byzantine art and architecture, paying particular attention to the ways the Byzantine Empire participated in an "international" court culture that included their Muslim neighbors, as well as the Christian kingdoms in Europe. Finally, a consideration of churches outside the empire (in Russia, Italy, and even Egypt) will provide insights into the wider reception of Byzantine art. Overarching themes of the course will include the transformation of the Roman tradition, orthodoxy, medieval theories of the image, visualizations of imperial authority and piety, and the cult of icons and relics.
Estimated cost of materials: less than $50. D. 2