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Byzantine Art by Robin Cormack

Annie Labatt, 2012 Chester Dale Fellow, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters

Posted: Thursday, March 15, 2012

«For anyone hoping for a solid introduction to the major monuments of early medieval Byzantine art, Robin Cormack's Byzantine Art is a perfect place to start.» Cormack shows that it is important to understand Byzantium and Byzantine art as part of an international Roman empire and not about a "stark east-west polarity in culture." He provides an informative and jaunty account of San Vitale in Ravenna and Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. But his selection of objects and monuments emphasizes his point that major metropolitan capitals were not the only centers of artistic production. He discusses icons from Sinai, including the icon with King Abgar, which appears in the exhibition catalogue. Cormack also talks about works from Syria, such as a silver plaque with the image of Saint Symeon,1 and the Rabbula Gospels, which are on view in the exhibition.

Starting with headings such as "What is Byzantine Art?" and "The Beginnings of Byzantine Art," and then moving to "Islam" and "Iconoclasm," Cormack provides a balanced and insightful means of approaching the major themes and monuments of the period represented in the exhibition. The book also covers later periods of Byzantine history, concluding with the fall of Constantinople in 1453. A very helpful timeline at the end of the book juxtaposes the dates of the production of visual arts with historical events and Byzantine emperors.

About the Book
Robin Cormack, Byzantine Art (London: Oxford University Press, 2000) vii.

[1] There are many images of Saint Symeon in the exhibition: three Stylite vessels; a Relief of a Stylite Saint from Berlin; and a number of Stylite pilgrim tokens. See Brandie Ratliff, "The Stylites of Syria," Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition, 7th–9th Centuries, ed. Helen C. Evans (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012) 94–5.

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About the Author

Annie Labatt was the 2012 Chester Dale Fellow in the Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters. She recently defended her dissertation at Yale University. Her research focuses on eighth- and ninth-century Roman iconographies, as well as concepts of Byzantium in twelfth-century Spain.

About this Blog

This blog accompanied the special exhibition Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition, on view March 14–July 8, 2012.