Example research essay topic: Art – 1,722 words

A mixed style, i.e. a style composed of
Graeco-Roman and Oriental elements which, in
earlier centuries, cannot be clearly separated.
The form of the church used most in the west, a
nave supported on columns and an atrium (see
BASILICA), appears in many examples of the fifth
century in Byzantium as well as in Rome; the sixth
century saw such churches erected in other regions
outside Rome, at Ravenna, in Istria, and in
Africa. In the West this style of building
occasionally presents (in S. Lorenzo and S. Agnes
at Rome) peculiarities which are ascribed by some
authorities to Oriental origin — galleries over
the side aisles, spirally channelled columns, and
imposts between capitals and arches. Vaulted
basilicas are to be found at an early date in Asia
Minor, Syria, Africa and also at Constantinople.
But the early Etruscans and Romans were skilful in
the art of constructing vaults, even before that
time; for instance, the basilica of Constantine.
The domical style, with barrel-vaulted side aisles
and transepts is a favourite with the Orientals;
many of the oldest basilicas in Asia Minor, as
well as the Church of St.

Irene, Constantinople
(eighth century), carried one or more domes. This
type leads naturally to the structure in a
centralized — circular, octagonal, cruciform —
plan. That the Orient had, and still has, a
peculiar preference for such a type is well known;
nevertheless, Italy also possessed ecclesiastical
buildings so planned, of which the oldest examples
belong to the fourth and fifth centuries (Sta.
Costanza, a circular building; and the baptistery
of the Lateran, an octagonal building). In ancient
Roman times tombs and baths had this sort of plan.
The essential type of all these buildings cannot,
therefore, be regarded as purely Oriental, or even
specifically Byzantine. There are similar
objections in the case of subordinate
architectural details. Thus the apse, sometimes
three-sided, sometimes polygonal, the narthex (a
narrow antechamber, or vestibule, instead of the
large rectangular atrium, the invariable facing of
the church to the east, the sharp-cut acanthus
leaf of the capitals, and similar characteristics
of the Eastern churches cannot be definitely
ascribed to the East alone or even to Byzantium,
nor do they form a new architectural style.

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authorities, it is true, not only go so far as to
characterize the architecture of Ravenna
(exemplified in the two churches S. Apollinare and
S. Vitale) as Byzantine, but even include, without
further consideration, examples which in other
respects recall the favourite Eastern style, viz.
the central portions of S. Lorenzo at Milan and of
the round church of S. Stefano Rotondo at Rome.
Only this much is certain: that in those early
centuries local diversities are found everywhere;
and that, even although Italy may have received
the most manifold influences from the East, and
particularly from Byzantium, still, on the other
hand, the language, laws, and customs of Rome
prevailed in Byzantium, or at least were strongly
represented there. In the church, now the mosque,
of St.

Sophia (Hagia Sophia — “Divine Wisdom”),
built by Justinian, all the principal forms of the
early Christian churches are represented. A
rotunda is enclosed in a square, and covered with
a dome which is supported in the direction of the
long axis of the building by half-domes over
semicircular apses. In this manner a basilica, 236
feet long and 98 feet wide, and provided with
domes, is developed out of a great central
chamber. This basilica is still more extended by
the addition of smaller apses penetrating the
larger apses. Then the domical church is developed
to the form of a long rectangle by means of two
side aisles, which, however, are deprived of their
significance by the intrusion of massive piers. In
front of all this, on the entrance side, are
placed a wide atrium with colonnaded passages and
two vestibules (the exonarthex is practically

The stupendous main dome, which is
hemispherical on the interior, flatter, or
saucer-shaped, on the exterior, and pierced with
forty large windows over the cornice at its
spring, has its lateral thrust taken up by these
half domes and, north and south, by arched
buttresses; the vertical thrust is received by
four piers 75 feet high. The ancient system of
column and entablature has here only a subordinate
significance, supporting the galleries which open
upon the nave. Light flows in through the numerous
windows of the upper and lower stories and of the
domes. But above all, the dome, with its great
span carried on piers, arches, and pendentives,
constitutes one of the greatest achievements of
architecture. (These pendentives are the
triangular surfaces by means of which a circular
dome can be supported on the summits of four
arches arranged on a square plan.) In other
respects the baptistery of Sta. Costanza at Rome,
for example, with its cylindrical drum under the
dome, has the advantage that the windows are
placed in the drum instead of the dome.

architects of St. Sophia were Asiatics: Anthemius
of Tralles and Isodorus of Miletus. In other great
basilicas, as here, local influences had great
power in determining the character of the
architecture, e. g. the churches of the Nativity,
of the Holy Sepulchre, and of the Ascension, built
in Palestine after the time of Constantine. This
is still more evident in the costly decorations of
these churches.

The Oriental love of splendour is
shown in the piling up of domes and still more in
facing the walls with slabs of marble, in mosaics
(either opus sectile, small pieces, or opus
Alexandrinum, large slabs cut in suitable shapes),
in gold and colour decorations, and in the
many-coloured marbles of the columns and other
architectural details. Nothing, however, seems to
betray the essentially Oriental character of
Byzantine architecture so much as the absence of
work in the higher forms of sculpture, and the
transformation of high into low decoration by
means of interwoven traceries, in which the
chiselled ornaments became flatter, more linear,
and lacelike. Besides the vestibules which
originally surrounded St. Sophia, the columns with
their capitals recall the antique. These columns
almost invariably supported arches instead of the
architrave and were, for that reason, reinforced
by a block of stone (impost block) placed on top
and shaped to conform to the arch, as may
frequently be seen at Ravenna. Gradually, however,
the capital itself was cut to the broader form of
a truncated square pyramid, as in St.

Sophia. The
capitals are at times quite bare, when they serve
at the same time as imposts or intermediate
supporting blocks, at other times they are marked
with monograms or covered with a network of
carving, the latter transforming them into
basketlike capitals. Flat ornamentations of
flowers and animals are also found, or leaves
arbitrarily arranged. Much of this reminds one of
the Romanesque style, but the details are done
more carefully. The fortresslike character of the
church buildings, the sharp expression of the
constructive forms, the squatty appearance of the
domes, the bare grouping of many parts instead of
their organic connexion — these are all more in
accordance with the coarser work of the later
period than with the elegance of the Greek. Two
other types of Justinian’s time are presented by
the renovated church of the Apostles and the
church of Sts.

Sergius and Bacchus. Both churches
are in the capital. The latter somewhat resembles
S. Vitale in Ravenna. It is a dome-crowned octagon
with an exterior aisle. The former church (now
destroyed) was built on the plan of a Greek Cross
(with four equal arms) with a dome over the
crossing and one over each arm.

During the period
of the Macedonian emperors, Basil I (867-886) and
Leo VI (886-912), an upward trend in politics,
literature, and art set in. The Greek basilica,
which is a lengthened structure, barrel-vaulted
and provided with one or more domes, is also
widely represented in this period, while the
western form of basilica, with the wooden ceiling,
is completely discarded. A type appearing more
frequently is the domical church plan or the
Greek-cross plan. The Koimesis, or Dormitio, in
Nicaea (ninth century) has a clear basilica plan.
This is also true of the church of the Holy Mother
of God (Hagia Theotokos) at Constantinople, dating
from the tenth century, and of the churches of Mt.
Athos. The church at Skripu in Boeotia, of the
same period, has indeed three naves each ending in
an apse, but the dome crowns the middle of the
building as in the Greek- cross type. The
exteriors of these churches, which are usually
rather small, are treated with greater care and
are artistically elaborated with alternations of
stone and brick, smaller domes over the
vestibules, a decidedly richer system of domes,
and the elevation of these domes by means of

The interiors are decorated most
gorgeously. It seems that they could not do enough
in this respect. This can still be seen in the
church of St. Luke in Phocis, at Daphni, in the
Nea Moni at Chio, and others. In this period the
perfected art of the capital becomes the model for
the empire as well as for regions beyond its
borders: Syria, Armenia, Russia, Venice, Middle
and Southern Italy, and Sicily. For the West, it
is only necessary to mention the church of St.
Mark at Venice (978-1096).

After its occupation by
the Crusaders (1204), Constantinople partly lost
its character and at the same time the
far-reaching influence of its intercourse with
Western nations. There still remained four centres
of Byzantine art: the capital itself, Mt. Athos,
Hellas, and Trebizond. The architecture of Mt.
Athos presents the most faithful reflection of the
Byzantine style. The model of the church of the
monastery of Laura, belonging to the previous
period, is more or less faithfully reproduced. A
dome, supported on four sides by barrel vaults,
stands directly over the middle of the transept,
which is terminated at either end by a round apse.
A narthex, or rather two lead into the lengthened
main hall.

The real architectural ornaments are
forced into the background by the frescoes which
take the place of the costly mosaics and which
practically cover all available wall surface. The
architecture of this period remained stationary.
It continued unchanged in the countries of the
Greek Rite after the fall of Constantinople
(1453). Bibliography: G. GIETMANN.



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