Byzantine art was largely defined by its Christian character. A lot of its earlier artistic tradition was centred around icons and religious symbols. Byzantine artists used gold liberally – largely on account of its availability in the area and the immense wealth accumulated by the Byzantine Empire. This combination of religious imagery and a disposition towards gold has been extremely influential in terms of the modern religious iconography of the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Byzantine culture & religion
Religion was very much at the heart of Byzantine culture – politically, socially and artistically. It was an empire run as a theocracy – ruled by God working through the Emperor, and political ideals were largely informed by Christian values. This permeated visual culture as well, not only in terms of art that was explicitly religious in its purpose. Many smaller decorative items and wares also now bore religious symbolism, such as our Chi-Rho intaglio ring (AS-3189). These items of jewellery were often pure gold, and were worn in abundance – jewellery was as much a status symbol then as it is now – if not even more.
Byzantine jewellery to protect from evil
Extensive research has gone into finding out more about Byzantine jewellery, as it clearly was so much part of the empire’s cultural fabric. It is evident that jewellery was worn not only by adult women, but also often by men and children. Part of the reason behind the popularity for jewellery was the belief in certain pieces having amuletic functions as well as decorative – namely, the idea that they were apotropaic and could protect the wearer from evil.
Art & scultpure in Byzantium
Byzantine art was a development from the art of the Roman Empire, which was largely indebted to the artistic tradition of the Greek world. This was never forgotten, and classical sculpture adorned the centre of Constantinople, Byzantium’s capital. While remembering this heritage, however, Byzantine artists very much forged their own style, iconography, and tradition, a marked move away from the naturalistic works of their predecessors.e