Byzantine Empire Furniture Art
Byzantine Culture & History
In the fifth century, the seemingly invincible Roman Empire fell to hordes of invading barbarians, and most of Europe was plunged into the Dark Ages. Art, architecture, education and craftsmanship were lost as the common man struggled for survival in a world of anarchy, warring tribes and plundering invaders. And yet a small bastion of civilization survived midway between Europe and Asia. Some years earlier, the Roman Empire had split into two, with the eastern half taking Constantinople (previously named Byzantium) as its capital. This became the Byzantine Empire, the only surviving link with the old civilization.
Byzantine religion was a strong factor in this culture, with the first imposing church structures being built during this era. Byzantine icons from this era are still in existence and are much prized today.
The Byzantine government was strong enough to withhold against the menace of the barbarian strongholds that surrounded the empire, and culture, art, mathematics and craftsmanship thrived and grew in the relative peace of this great empire. Byzantine furniture, architecture and art all flourished during this time with artists and craftsmen building on the skills and techniques of earlier civilizations.
Glass making techniques were refined to a fine art, and with the addition of gold to the mix, richly luminous stained glass was used to produce the famous Byzantine mosaics - works of outstanding beauty. Byzantine art moved away from the three-dimensional sculptures of Roman times to painting on flat surfaces. Byzantine paintings mainly depicted forms of humans and angels, and were usually religious in context.
Byzantine architecture was a mixture of Eastern and Western influences, with elements of Greek and Roman styles intermingled with the spires and domes of the East.
Byzantine Empire Furniture
Early Christian and Byzantine furniture was of two distinct types. The common people had very little furniture. The few items they had were lightly built and usually designed so that they could be easily folded and put away, leaving additional space in cramped environments. Church and palace furniture, however, was built of solid, heavy timber, designed to last, and designed for the space it was to occupy.
Byzantine palace furniture can still be seen in museums today. The throne of Queen Marie, for example, is skillfully turned and richly carved. The back is inlaid with silver embossed in an intricate design. Palace furniture included heavy, carved and pillared chairs, tables with inlaid worktops, cabinets and storage chests.
Chests, Stools, Tables & Beds
Chests were also used by the common people, and were often fitted with locks and keys. Folding stools were popular. These could be build entirely of wood, a combination of wood and fabric or, occasionally, from metal. Folding tables were also much used as they were portable and easily moved out of the way when not in use. Beds could be folding stretchers, simple sleeping platforms, frames strung with cords - or just a mattress on the ground.
The Byzantine Heritage
The later Romanesque and Gothic styles followed the furniture making techniques preserved by the Byzantine empire, and this made possible the Renaissance with its proliferation of art, architecture and furniture styles.