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Byzantine Decoration & Ornament

Interesting and instructive as it is to trace the derivation of these forms in the Byzantine style, it is no less so to mark the transmission of them and of others to later epochs. Thus in No. 1, Plate XXVIII. we perceive the peculiar leaf as given in Texier and in Salzenberg, reappear at Sta. Sofia; at No. 3, Plate XXVIII., is the foliated St. Andrew's cross within a circle, so common as a Romanesque and Gothic ornament. On the same frieze is a design repeated with but slight alteration at No. 17 from Germany. The curved and foliated branch of No. 4 of the sixth century (Sta. Sofia) is seen reproduced, with slight variation, at No. 11 of the eleventh century (St. Mark's). The toothings of the leaves of No. 19 (Germany) are almost identical with those of No. 1 (Sta. Sofia); and between all the examples on the last row but one (Plate XXVIII.) is to be remarked a generic resemblance in subjects from Germany, Italy, and Spain, founded on a Byzantine type.

Carved Byzantine Ornaments
Carved Byzantine Ornaments, Plate XXVIII.

The last row of subjects in this plate illustrates more especially the Romanesque style (Nos. 27 and 36), showing the interlaced ornament so affected by the Nortbern nation, founded mainly on a native type; whilst at No. 35 (St. Denis) we have one instance out of numbers of the reproduction of Roman models; the type of the present subject, - a common one in the Romanesque style, being found on the Roman column at Cussy, between Dijon and Chalons-sur-Saone.

Thus we see that Rome, Syria, Persia, and other countries, all took part as formative causes in the Byzantine style of art, and its accompanying decoration, which, complete as we find it in Justinian's time, reacted in its new and systemised form upon the Western world, undergoing certain changes in its course; and these modifying causes, arising from the state of religion, art, and manners in the countries where it was received, frequently gave it a specific character, and produced in some cases co-relative and yet distinct styles of ornament in the Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, Lombardic, and Arabian schools. Placing on one side the question of how far Byzantine workmen or artists were employed in Europe, there can be no possible doubt that the character of the Byzantine school of ornament is very strongly impressed on all the earlier works of central and even Western Europe, which are generically termed Romanesque.

Painted Byzantine Ornaments
Painted Byzantine Ornaments, Plate XXIX.

Pure Byzantine ornament is distinguished by broad-toothed and acute-pointed leaves, which in sculpture are bevelled at the edge, are deeply channelled throughout, and are drilled at the several springings of the teeth with deep holes; the running foliage is generally thin and continuous, as at Nos. 1, 14, and 20, Plate XXIX*., Plate XXIX. The ground, whether in mosaic or painted work, is almost universally gold; thin interlaced patterns are preferred to geometrical designs. The introduction of animal or other figures is very limited in sculpture, and in color is confined principally to holy subjects, in a stiff, conventional style, exhibiting little variety or feeling; sculpture is of very secondary importance.

Painted Byzantine Ornaments
Painted Byzantine Ornaments, Plate XXIX*.

Romanesque ornament, on the other hand, depended mainly on sculpture for effect: it is rich in light and shade, deep cuttings, massive projections, and a great intermixture of figure-subjects of every kind with foliage and conventional ornament. The place of mosaic work is generally supplied by paint; in colored ornament, animals are as freely introduced as in sculpture, vide No. 26, Plate XXIX*.; the ground is no longer gold alone, but blue, red, or green, as at Nos. 26, 28, 29, Plate XXIX*. In other respects, allowing for local differences, it retains much of the Byzantine character; and in the case of painted glass, for example, handed it down to the middle, and even the close of the thirteenth century.

One style of ornament, that of geometrical mosaic work, belongs particularly to the Romanesque period, especially in Italy; numerous examples of it are given in Plate XXX. This art flourished principally in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and consists in the arrangement of small diamond shaped pieces of glass into a complicated series of diagonal lines; the direction of which is now stopped, now defined, by means of different colors. The examples from central Italy, such as Nos. 7, 9, 11, 27, 31, are much simpler than those of the southern provinces and Sicily, where Saracenic artists introduced their innate love of intricate designs, some ordinary examples of which are to be seen in Nos. 1, 5, 33, from Monreale, near Palermo. It is to be remarked that there are two distinct styles of design coexistent in Sicily: the one, such as we have noted, consisting of diagonal interlacings, and eminently Moresque in character, as may be seen by reference to Plate XXX the other, consisting of interlaced curves, as at Nos. 33, 34, 35, also from Monreale, in which we may recognise, if not the hand, at least the influence, of Byzantine artists. Altogether of a different character, though of about the same period, are Nos. 22, 24, 39, 40, 41, which serve as examples of the Veneto-Byzantine style; limited in its range, being almost local, and peculiar in style. Some are more markedly Byzantine, however, as No. 23, with interlaced circles; and the step ornament, so common at Sta. Sofia, as seen at Nos. 3, 10, and 11, Plate XXIX.

Byzantine Mosaics
Byzantine Mosaics, Plate XXX.

The opus Alexandrinum, or marble mosaic work, differs from the opus Grecanicum, or glass mosaic work, chiefly from the different nature of the material; the principle (that of complicated geometric design) is still the same. The pavements of the Romanesque churches in Italy are rich an examples of this class; the tradition of which was handed down from the Augustan age of Rome; a good idea of the nature of this ornament is given in Nos. 19, 21, 36, 37, and 38.

Local styles, on the system of marble inlay, existed in several parts of Italy during the Romanesque period, which bear little relation either to Roman or Byzantine models. Such is No. 20, from San Vitale, Ravenna; such are the pavements of the Baptistery and San Miniato, Florence, of the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries; in these the effect is produced by black and white marble only; with these exceptions, and those produced by Moresque influence in the South of Italy, the principles both of the glass and marble inlay ornament are to be found in ancient Roman inlay, in every province under Roman sway, and especially is it remarkable in the various mosaics found at Pompeii, of which striking examples are given in Plate XXV.

Mosaics from Pompeii and the Museum at Naples
Mosaics from Pompeii and the Museum at Naples, Plate XXV.

Important as we perceive the influence of Byzantine Art to have been in Europe, from the sixth to the eleventh century, and still later, there is no people whom it affected more than the great and spreading Arab race, who propagated the creed of Mahomet, conquered the finest countries of the East, and finally obtained a footing even in Europe. In the earlier buildings executed by them at, Cairo, Alexandria, Jerusalem, Cordova, and Sicily, the influence of the Byzantine style is very strongly inarked. The traditions of the Byzantine school affected more or less all the adjacent countries; in Greece they remained almost unchanged to a very late period, and they have served, in a great degree, as the basis to all decorative art in the East and in Eastern Europe.

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