The first golden age of art began in the Minoan and Cycladic prehistorical civilization, the art of this period can be stylistically categorized into four eras namely; the Hellenistic, Classical, Geometric and Archaic. The Geometric age can be dated from the period around 1000BC, even though not much is known about art in the prior 200 years, around 7th century BC the Archaic style developed as illustrated by the black figure style used in vase painting. The dividing line between the classical and the Archaic periods can be traced to the beginning of the Persian wars between 480BC and 448BC. The classical era can be separated from the Hellenistic era in the period during the reign of Alexander the great. Actually there is no clear distinction from one period to another, the numerous forms of art were established at different rates in different areas of the Greece, and similar to any age some artists worked in better and more innovative styles than the rest.
Byzantine art refers to the artistic products that were created by the Byzantine empire during the period from 4th century up to 1453 during the fall of Constantinople. This form of art was founded on the art of the Roman empire that was based on ancient Greek art. Byzantine art incorporated the aspects of classical art and Constantinople the capital of Byzantine was decorated with numerous Classical sculptures, even though they in time became objects of perplexity for its residents. in as much as the art produced in this period faced revivals from the classical aesthetics, it was clearly the development of a new aesthetic. The most significant characteristics of this new aesthetic are portrayed in the anti-naturalistic and abstract character. The classical form of art was discernible by its attempt to produce art products that impersonated reality as much as possible; however Byzantine art was more focused on a symbolic approach. (Cormack, 2000)
Ancient Greek art has influenced the Byzantine art enormously and especially in the areas of architecture and sculpture and the culture of many nations. for instance in the west, the Roman empire art emerged from Greek models. in the east, Conquests by Alexander the Great initiated the exchange of cultures between Indian, central Asian and Greek cultures, this resulted in the Greco-Buddhist art that had impact to nations as far as Japan. After the Europe renaissance, the European artists were inspired by Greek art’s high technical standards and humanistic aesthetic. In the 19th century, there emerged the classical tradition that had originated from Greece and which dominated the western world’s art. (Whitley, 2001)
Byzantine as a form of art emerged from Ancient Greece; this form of art never abandoned its classical heritage until 1453 but was different from classical art in a number of ways. The clearest distinction was that the Ancient Greek art’s humanistic ethic was substituted by the ethic of Christians. The main purpose of Classical form of art was the adoration of man while the intention of Byzantine art was the adoration of God.
The Byzantine art replaced the nude sculptures of men and in their place, the figures of Jesus Christ, Virgin Mary, martyrs, saints and God the father became prominent and were elevated. One of the significant forms of this art is the icon; it is an image of Jesus Christ, virgin Mary, or saints that are normally used as items of veneration in private homes and orthodox churches. These icons were less aesthetic and more religious in nature and specifically the period after iconoclasm, the icons were seen as the manifestation of the presence of figure portrayed by means of a likeness of a person or figure by illustrating the well maintained principles of representation. (Cormack, 2000)
The focus of Byzantine monumental art was mainly imperial and religious. These two themes are in many cases combined like in the portraits of Byzantine emperors which were used in the interior decoration of the church of Hagia Sophia in the capital. Such obsessions can be associated with the autocratic and pious nature of the Byzantine community as wealth was mainly concentrated in the imperial office or the church.
The other difference with the ancient Greek art was in the elucidation of manuscripts which was another genre in the Byzantine art. The most familiar illustrated texts were mainly sacred, such as theological or devotional texts such as Gregory’s homilies and John Climacus’s ladder of divine ascent, and scriptures specifically the psalms. In addition, Byzantine art also illuminated secular texts that include John Skylitzes’s history and the Alexander romance. (Cormack, 2000)
During the Byzantine era unlike the ancient Greek art produced luxury or minor arts such as ceramics, metal work, enamels, ivories and steatites in large numbers. A majority of these works were mainly religious in nature, even though a big number of the objects produced had non-representational or secular decoration. For instance, ceramics with Akritic epics decoration and ivories having classical mythology themes.
Cormack, R. (2000): Byzantine art; Oxford history of art. Oxford university press, USA.
Whitley, J. (2001): The archaeology of ancient Greece. Pg. 286 Cambridge university press.