Byzantine & Coptic Art

Byzantine Art

'Byzantine' is derived from Byzantium, which was the old name of the city of Istanbul, situated on the banks of the Bosporus in present-day Turkey. When Constantine the Great, the Emperor of Rome (274-337) converted to Christianity in 312, he made Christianity the state religion and moved his capital to Byzantium, which he renamed Constantinople in 330. After the War of Independence (between Greece and Turkey) Turkey was born in 1923 and Constantinople was renamed Istanbul.

The Art of Icon-Painting had its beginnings in the Roman Empire after Constantine the Great had converted to Christianity. Icons were painted throughout the then empire from at least the 4th century. Following the Iconoclasm (726-843) and the Great Schism (1054) the icon art came to flourish primarily in the Eastern Orthodox Church in the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire.

Early Christian and Coptic Art

With the creation of Alexandria in 332 BC, Hellenization came to Egypt, together with first the art of the Greeks, and then that of the Romans, which began to overlay that of the more ancient Egyptian styles. It was in this setting that Christianity arrived in Egypt and it was here that the rich flavor of Coptic (Egyptian Christian) art evolved. In these early periods most people were illiterate and many scenes, from ancient Egyptian Christian churches, might be better understood almost as graphic bibles, depicting famous topics in a manner suited to the common faithful of early Christianity.

The figures of saints display eyes and ears larger in proportion to the rest of the face and a smaller mouth, as well as enlarged heads, signifying a spiritual relationship with God and devotion to prayer. Coptic art is characterized by a high degree of stylization verging on abstraction. Forms are flattened out and individual motifs acquire bold simplicity and decorative character. Remains of wall paintings and icons reveal scenes from the Old and the New Testaments.