Byzantium becomes Constantinople The city of Byzantium was a relatively unimportant harbor city before the arrival of Constantine, the first Christian ruler of the Roman Empire Emperor Constantine shifted his capital from Rome to Byzantium in 325 CE, which he renamed Constantinople Why was the capital relocated? – 330 CE, Roman Empire in severe economic and political decline, Rome was disease-ridden – The city was so weakened that it was sacked several times (first for 800 years) – Strategic military location and central, surrounded by water
Constantine’s capital Constantine’s empire focused on the eastern Mediterranean (modern-day Turkey, Israel, Lebanon, and Syria) but its influence extended as far west as Spain, across north Africa, large parts of Italy and all of Greece Constantinople had two roles: capital of the empire and center of the Christian church. How did these two roles affect the city itself? – As the capital of the empire, it was a city every bit as opulent as Rome: magnificent forums, elaborate baths – Great basilicas were built to signify the city’s role as the center of Christian culture in the early Middle Ages During the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe’s largest and wealthiest city Constantinople lasted as the capital until 1453 when the Ottoman Turks conquered the city
Byzantine art: a new standard of beauty A new standard of beauty replaced the physical ideal of Classical art with the representation of spiritual power
San Vitale: octagonal plan Santa Costanza: Circular plan Two types of centrally planned buildings in early Christianity:
San Vitale: -complex interior space -advantage of a central dome – creates a large covered space Disadvantage: visitor’s eye attracted up into the dome rather than toward the altar -Light enters on three levels -polished marble surfaces, glittering mosaics -why is there such a contrast between the interior and exterior?
Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome – visitor’s eye drawn towards the altar
San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy – How can we characterize the depictions of people?
Empress Theodora -typically Byzantine features: Larges eyes Small mouth Long nose Slender and weightless body Drapery of dress gives no idea of the body underneath Appears frozen Lack of concern for realism
Capitals designed to appear lace-like – masks the solidity and strength of the material