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A History of Art for Beginners and Students

The true ancient Byzantine order was developed


arose in Sicily in the eleventh century, and after the Norman Conquest, a remarkable style of architecture. It belongs to Christian art because it was used by Christians to construct places of Christian worship; but, in truth, it was a combination of Greek spirit with Roman form and Saracenic ornament. It makes an interesting episode in the study of architecture. I shall give one picture of a church built by King Roger for Christian use as late as 1132, which, except for the tower, might well be mistaken for a purely Oriental edifice (Fig. 93).


This term strictly belongs to the order which arose in the East after Constantinople was made the Roman capital. It is especially the order of the Greek Church as contrasted with the Latin or Roman Church. It would make all architectural writing and talking much clearer if this fact were kept in mind; but, unfortunately, wherever some special bit of carving in an Oriental design or a little colored decoration is used--as is frequently done in the modern composite styles of building--the term Byzantine is carelessly applied, until it is difficult for one not learned in architecture to discover what the Byzantine order is, or where it belongs.

We have spoken of its influence and partial use in Italy. Now we will consider it in its home and its purity. Before the time of Constantine the architecture used at Rome

was employed at Jerusalem, Constantinople, and other Eastern cities which were under Roman rule and influence. Between the time of Constantine and the death of Justinian, in A.D. 565, the true ancient Byzantine order was developed. The church of St. Sophia, at Constantinople, was the greatest and the last product of the pure old Byzantine style.

From that time the order employed may be called the Neo-Byzantine. This was a decline of art as much as the history of Greece and the Eastern Empire during the same period (about 600 to 1453) was the history of the decline and extinction of a power that had once been as great among governments as St. Sophia (Fig. 94) was among churches.

[Illustration: FIG. 94.--CHURCH OF ST. SOPHIA. _Constantinople. Exterior View._]

The chief characteristic of Byzantine architecture is the use of the dome, which is the most important part of its design. A grand central dome rises over the principal portion of the edifice, and just as in other orders courts and colonnades were added to the simpler basilica form in the ground plan of the churches, so in the Byzantine order lesser domes and cupolas were added above until almost any number of them was admissible, and they were placed with little attention to regularity or symmetry of arrangement.

[Illustration: FIG. 95.--LOWER ORDER OF ST. SOPHIA.]

As domes were the chief exterior feature, so the profuse ornamentation was most noticeable in the interior. The walls were richly decorated with variegated marbles; the vaulted ceilings of the domes and niches were lined with brilliant mosaics; the columns, friezes, cornices, door and window-frames, and the railings to galleries were of marbles, and entirely covered with ornamental designs (Figs. 95 and 96).

[Illustration: FIG. 96.--UPPER ORDER OF ST. SOPHIA.]

The historian Gibbon describes the building of St. Sophia and its decorations. He tells us that the emperor went daily, clad in a linen tunic, to oversee the work. The architect was named Anthemius; he employed ten thousand workmen, and they were all paid each evening. When it was completed and Justinian was present at its consecration, he exclaimed, "Glory be to God, who hath thought me worthy to accomplish so great a work; I have vanquished thee, O Solomon!"

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