Every picture tells a story – on how to read art. Part 4.

By the early 2nd Century AD, the great Roman Empire was in decline.  The Emperor Diocletian divided the Empire in to East and West; the western half succumbed to Germanic invasion and collapsed.  The East, however, evolved in to a new empire, Byzantium and what was then called Constantinople (Istanbul), based on Christianity, and with it a whole new art form was born.

Byzantium lasted for a thousand years.

Artist slowly, over time, turned away from the Roman/Roman-Greco style and developed a whole new style.  It was predominately Christian and was the base of a tradition in art that influenced the Middle Ages to the time of the Renaissance – ie several hundred years. A great deal of this art has survived because it was usually in the forms of mosaics or in the form of icons which were small and therefore preserved indoors.

This particular icon (an icon is a religious representation, usually worshipped) shows the Virgin and Child, dated 1577. It is fairly easy to “read”:-

Mary is very young.  She has a fresh, rosy face, full lips and big eyes. She is looking neither at us nor at her baby, but beyond us, as though she is wanting all the attention for her son.  In her lap sits the baby Jesus, holding a symbolic scroll in one hand – this reminds us of the Ten Commandments and of the law of faith.  Mary’s hands hold him there, really tenderly, on her knees.  On either side of her are two saints, St George (with neither dragon nor sword) and St Theodore. Both hold crosses, the main symbol of Christianity.  Behind there are two angels, both looking up in to the Heavens at things that only they, as angels, can see. Mary is sitting on a throne, for she is Queen of Heaven.  The whole thing is decorated with lush pattern and a lot of it is in gold, a favourite in Byzantium.  If you look carefully you can see that there are two olive branches at the top centre, a symbol of peace and (because the tree is evergreen) a symbol of everlasting faith.  It also reminds the “reader” of the story of Noah, when the dove carried an olive branch to the boat to show that the floods were receding.


 Click here for Part 5

Catherine Broughton is a novelist, a poet and an artist.  She is widely travelled and writes regularly for magazines and blog sites.  Her sketches are on her web site http://turquoisemoon.co.uk .  Her books are available from Amazon and on Kindle, or can be ordered from several leading book stores.

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Catherine Broughton is a novelist, a poet and an artist.  Her books are available as e-books on this site:-

https://payhip.com/b/tEva            “A Call from France”

https://payhip.com/b/OTiQ          “French Sand”

https://payhip.com/b/BLkF         ”The Man with Green Fingers”

https://payhip.com/b/1Ghq        “Saying Nothing”

They are also available on Amazon & Kindle, or can be ordered as paperbacks from most leading book stores and libraries.


Posted on 13/10/2012 by Catherine
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