Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

Frescoes and Wall Painting in Late Byzantine Art

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Fresco painting from the later Byzantine period reveals much about the mobility of artistic techniques and styles. The restoration and decoration of the Chora Monastery in Constantinople (1316–21), funded by the scholar Theodore Metochites, conveys the great skill and versatility of Byzantine artists. The church originally contained an extensive cycle of the Life of the Virgin and the Infancy and Ministry of Christ. An interesting feature of these designs, a resplendent mixture of mosaic and painting, is the use of perspective in the treatment of space, one reason that certain scholars call this period the "Westernization" of Byzantium. It is possible that the presence of Westerners during the Latin occupation had much to do with these new forms of painting. This spread of Western styles affected many areas within the Byzantine sphere. The fresco decorations of the Peribleptos Monastery (1350–75) in Mistra reveal an interest in the treatment of space and movement comparable to work by Western artists. This church possesses many relics, including those of Saint John the Baptist, who is depicted in the fresco showing the Baptism of Christ. Another relic at this church is the head of Saint Gregory of Nazianzos, which was popular with Western pilgrims.


Fresco painting from the later Byzantine period reveals much about the mobility of artistic techniques and styles.

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Cited Works of Art or Images (8)

  • Theodore Metochites presenting a model of the Church of the Chora to Christ, from the inner narthex, Church of the Chora.
  • Interior of the Parekklesion.  Monastery of the Chora, Constantinople, with frescoes, 1316-21
  • Fresco painting of procession, Church of the Peribleptos, Mistra, Greece, third quarter of the fourteenth century
  • Fresco painting of Baptism, Church of the Peribleptos, Mistra, Greece, third quarter of the fourteenth century
  • Fresco painting of the Birth of the Virgin, Church of Saints Joachim and Anna, Studenica Monastery, 1313-14
  • Interior view into dome, Church of Saints Joachim and Anna, Studenica Monastery, 1313-14
  • Fresco depicting King Sefan Uros II Milutin holding a model of the church and standing with his wife, Simonis, Church of Saints Joachim and Anna, Studenica Monastery, 1313-14
  • Fresco painting of John the Baptist, North Wall, Church of Saints Joachim and Anna, Studenica Monastery, 1313-14.

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From the early thirteenth century to the invasion by the Ottoman Turks, Serbia was extremely powerful, controlling most of the Balkans. Serbian prowess is evident in the frescoes that decorate the walls of the King’s Church at Studenica Monastery. This independent chapel was built in 1313—14 and dedicated by King Stefan Uros II Milutin. Portraits of the king and his wife Simonis are depicted on the south wall, while Saint Stefan Nemanja, Saint Sava of Serbia, and the Virgin and Child appear on the opposite wall. The placement of these saints across from the king and his wife suggests a parallel between Milutin’s ancestors and those of Christ. Christ appears as the Pantokrator in the dome surrounded by the symbols of the four Evangelists. The life of the Virgin Mary appears in the lower zone of the walls, while the upper zone shows the ten Great Feasts, an example of which is the Baptism.

Annie Labatt
Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Chora Monastery (Kariye Camii), Constantinople, mosaic of Theodore Metochites presenting a model of the Church of the Chora to Christ, from the inner narthex, 1316–21. Dumbarton Oaks Photo and Fieldwork Archives, Washington, D.C. Chora Monastery (Kariye Camii), Constantinople, interior of the parekklesion, with frescoes, 1316–21. Church of the Peribleptos, Mistra, Greece, fresco painting of procession, third quarter of 14th century. Church of the Peribleptos, Mistra, Greece, fresco painting of the Baptism, third quarter of 14th century. Studenica Monastery, Church of Saints Joachim and Anna, Kraljevo, Serbia, fresco painting of the Birth of the Virgin, 1313–14. Studenica Monastery, Church of Saints Joachim and Anna, Kraljevo, Serbia, interior view of dome, 1313–14. Studenica Monastery, Church of Saints Joachim and Anna, Kraljevo, Serbia, fresco depicting King Stefan Uros II Milutin (r. 1282–1321) holding a model of the church and standing with his wife Simonis, 1313–14. Studenica Monastery, Church of Saints Joachim and Anna, Kraljevo, Serbia, fresco painting of John the Baptist, north wall, 1313–14.