Example research essay topic: Art – 1,722 words

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Last updated: May 15, 2019

A mixed style, i.e. a style composed ofGraeco-Roman and Oriental elements which, inearlier centuries, cannot be clearly separated.The form of the church used most in the west, anave supported on columns and an atrium (seeBASILICA), appears in many examples of the fifthcentury in Byzantium as well as in Rome; the sixthcentury saw such churches erected in other regionsoutside Rome, at Ravenna, in Istria, and inAfrica. In the West this style of buildingoccasionally presents (in S.

Lorenzo and S. Agnesat Rome) peculiarities which are ascribed by someauthorities to Oriental origin — galleries overthe side aisles, spirally channelled columns, andimposts between capitals and arches. Vaultedbasilicas are to be found at an early date in AsiaMinor, Syria, Africa and also at Constantinople.But the early Etruscans and Romans were skilful inthe art of constructing vaults, even before thattime; for instance, the basilica of Constantine.

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The domical style, with barrel-vaulted side aislesand transepts is a favourite with the Orientals;many of the oldest basilicas in Asia Minor, aswell as the Church of St.Irene, Constantinople(eighth century), carried one or more domes. Thistype leads naturally to the structure in acentralized — circular, octagonal, cruciform –plan. That the Orient had, and still has, apeculiar preference for such a type is well known;nevertheless, Italy also possessed ecclesiasticalbuildings so planned, of which the oldest examplesbelong to the fourth and fifth centuries (Sta.Costanza, a circular building; and the baptisteryof the Lateran, an octagonal building).

In ancientRoman times tombs and baths had this sort of plan.The essential type of all these buildings cannot,therefore, be regarded as purely Oriental, or evenspecifically Byzantine. There are similarobjections in the case of subordinatearchitectural details. Thus the apse, sometimesthree-sided, sometimes polygonal, the narthex (anarrow antechamber, or vestibule, instead of thelarge rectangular atrium, the invariable facing ofthe church to the east, the sharp-cut acanthusleaf of the capitals, and similar characteristicsof the Eastern churches cannot be definitelyascribed to the East alone or even to Byzantium,nor do they form a new architectural style.Someauthorities, it is true, not only go so far as tocharacterize the architecture of Ravenna(exemplified in the two churches S. Apollinare andS.

Vitale) as Byzantine, but even include, withoutfurther consideration, examples which in otherrespects recall the favourite Eastern style, viz.the central portions of S. Lorenzo at Milan and ofthe round church of S. Stefano Rotondo at Rome.

Only this much is certain: that in those earlycenturies local diversities are found everywhere;and that, even although Italy may have receivedthe most manifold influences from the East, andparticularly from Byzantium, still, on the otherhand, the language, laws, and customs of Romeprevailed in Byzantium, or at least were stronglyrepresented there. In the church, now the mosque,of St.Sophia (Hagia Sophia — “Divine Wisdom”),built by Justinian, all the principal forms of theearly Christian churches are represented. Arotunda is enclosed in a square, and covered witha dome which is supported in the direction of thelong axis of the building by half-domes oversemicircular apses.

In this manner a basilica, 236feet long and 98 feet wide, and provided withdomes, is developed out of a great centralchamber. This basilica is still more extended bythe addition of smaller apses penetrating thelarger apses. Then the domical church is developedto the form of a long rectangle by means of twoside aisles, which, however, are deprived of theirsignificance by the intrusion of massive piers. Infront of all this, on the entrance side, areplaced a wide atrium with colonnaded passages andtwo vestibules (the exonarthex is practicallyobliterated).The stupendous main dome, which ishemispherical on the interior, flatter, orsaucer-shaped, on the exterior, and pierced withforty large windows over the cornice at itsspring, has its lateral thrust taken up by thesehalf domes and, north and south, by archedbuttresses; the vertical thrust is received byfour piers 75 feet high. The ancient system ofcolumn and entablature has here only a subordinatesignificance, supporting the galleries which openupon the nave. Light flows in through the numerouswindows of the upper and lower stories and of thedomes.

But above all, the dome, with its greatspan carried on piers, arches, and pendentives,constitutes one of the greatest achievements ofarchitecture. (These pendentives are thetriangular surfaces by means of which a circulardome can be supported on the summits of fourarches arranged on a square plan.) In otherrespects the baptistery of Sta. Costanza at Rome,for example, with its cylindrical drum under thedome, has the advantage that the windows areplaced in the drum instead of the dome.Thearchitects of St. Sophia were Asiatics: Anthemiusof Tralles and Isodorus of Miletus. In other greatbasilicas, as here, local influences had greatpower in determining the character of thearchitecture, e.

g. the churches of the Nativity,of the Holy Sepulchre, and of the Ascension, builtin Palestine after the time of Constantine. Thisis still more evident in the costly decorations ofthese churches.The Oriental love of splendour isshown in the piling up of domes and still more infacing the walls with slabs of marble, in mosaics(either opus sectile, small pieces, or opusAlexandrinum, large slabs cut in suitable shapes),in gold and colour decorations, and in themany-coloured marbles of the columns and otherarchitectural details. Nothing, however, seems tobetray the essentially Oriental character ofByzantine architecture so much as the absence ofwork in the higher forms of sculpture, and thetransformation of high into low decoration bymeans of interwoven traceries, in which thechiselled ornaments became flatter, more linear,and lacelike. Besides the vestibules whichoriginally surrounded St. Sophia, the columns withtheir capitals recall the antique.

These columnsalmost invariably supported arches instead of thearchitrave and were, for that reason, reinforcedby a block of stone (impost block) placed on topand shaped to conform to the arch, as mayfrequently be seen at Ravenna. Gradually, however,the capital itself was cut to the broader form ofa truncated square pyramid, as in St.Sophia. Thecapitals are at times quite bare, when they serveat the same time as imposts or intermediatesupporting blocks, at other times they are markedwith monograms or covered with a network ofcarving, the latter transforming them intobasketlike capitals. Flat ornamentations offlowers and animals are also found, or leavesarbitrarily arranged. Much of this reminds one ofthe Romanesque style, but the details are donemore carefully. The fortresslike character of thechurch buildings, the sharp expression of theconstructive forms, the squatty appearance of thedomes, the bare grouping of many parts instead oftheir organic connexion — these are all more inaccordance with the coarser work of the laterperiod than with the elegance of the Greek. Twoother types of Justinian’s time are presented bythe renovated church of the Apostles and thechurch of Sts.

Sergius and Bacchus. Both churchesare in the capital. The latter somewhat resemblesS. Vitale in Ravenna. It is a dome-crowned octagonwith an exterior aisle. The former church (nowdestroyed) was built on the plan of a Greek Cross(with four equal arms) with a dome over thecrossing and one over each arm.During the periodof the Macedonian emperors, Basil I (867-886) andLeo VI (886-912), an upward trend in politics,literature, and art set in.

The Greek basilica,which is a lengthened structure, barrel-vaultedand provided with one or more domes, is alsowidely represented in this period, while thewestern form of basilica, with the wooden ceiling,is completely discarded. A type appearing morefrequently is the domical church plan or theGreek-cross plan. The Koimesis, or Dormitio, inNicaea (ninth century) has a clear basilica plan.This is also true of the church of the Holy Motherof God (Hagia Theotokos) at Constantinople, datingfrom the tenth century, and of the churches of Mt.Athos. The church at Skripu in Boeotia, of thesame period, has indeed three naves each ending inan apse, but the dome crowns the middle of thebuilding as in the Greek- cross type. Theexteriors of these churches, which are usuallyrather small, are treated with greater care andare artistically elaborated with alternations ofstone and brick, smaller domes over thevestibules, a decidedly richer system of domes,and the elevation of these domes by means ofdrums.

The interiors are decorated mostgorgeously. It seems that they could not do enoughin this respect. This can still be seen in thechurch of St.

Luke in Phocis, at Daphni, in theNea Moni at Chio, and others. In this period theperfected art of the capital becomes the model forthe empire as well as for regions beyond itsborders: Syria, Armenia, Russia, Venice, Middleand Southern Italy, and Sicily. For the West, itis only necessary to mention the church of St.Mark at Venice (978-1096).After its occupation bythe Crusaders (1204), Constantinople partly lostits character and at the same time thefar-reaching influence of its intercourse withWestern nations. There still remained four centresof Byzantine art: the capital itself, Mt. Athos,Hellas, and Trebizond. The architecture of Mt.

Athos presents the most faithful reflection of theByzantine style. The model of the church of themonastery of Laura, belonging to the previousperiod, is more or less faithfully reproduced. Adome, 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 lengthenedmain hall.The real architectural ornaments areforced into the background by the frescoes whichtake the place of the costly mosaics and whichpractically cover all available wall surface. Thearchitecture of this period remained stationary.It continued unchanged in the countries of theGreek Rite after the fall of Constantinople(1453).

Bibliography: G. GIETMANN.


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