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Exhibitions/ Byzantium

Byzantium: Faith and Power (1261–1557)

March 23–July 5, 2004

Exhibition Overview

The third exhibition in a chronological series devoted to the art and influence of Byzantine civilization, this major international loan exhibition demonstrates the artistic and cultural significance of the last centuries of the state that called itself "the Empire of the Romans." The exhibition begins in 1261, when the capital Constantinople was restored to imperial rule, and concludes in 1557, when the empire that had fallen to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 was renamed Byzantium—the name by which it is still known today. The importance of the era is primarily demonstrated through the arts created for the Orthodox church and for the churches of other East Christian states that aspired to be the heirs to the empire's power. The impact of its culture on the Islamic world and the Latin-speaking West is also explored—especially the influence of the Christian East on the development of the Renaissance.

As the triumphant Byzantine general Michael VIII Palaiologos entered Constantinople on August 15, 1261, carrying aloft the famed icon of the Virgin Hodegetria, the city's eternal protector, he initiated an artistic and intellectual flowering in Byzantium, and among its East Christian rivals, that would endure for nearly three hundred years. The restoration of the "Empire of the Romans"—the basileia ton Rhomaion—just fifty-seven years after the fall of Constantinople to the knights of the Fourth Crusade in 1204, encouraged faith-inspired art of astonishing beauty and widespread influence.

This exhibition brings together more than three hundred and fifty masterpieces of Byzantine art from some thirty nations, including Greece, Bulgaria, Egypt, France, Italy, Romania, Russia, Turkey, Serbia and Montenegro, and FYR-Macedonia. These extraordinary works, some seen rarely and others never shown outside the churches and monasteries that have preserved them through succeeding centuries, are among those countries' most cherished artistic treasures. The exhibition includes magnificent frescoes, superb textiles, and monumental liturgical objects from throughout the world of Byzantium, as well as major works from European and Islamic traditions that reflect their influence. In addition, some forty magnificent icons from the Holy Monastery of Saint Catherine at Sinai join others now dispersed in leading museums across the world, resulting in a remarkable display of icons of the Late Byzantine era.

The exhibition was made possible by Alpha Bank.

Sponsorship was also provided by the J. F. Costopoulos Foundation, the A. G. Leventis Foundation, and the Stavros S. Niarchos Foundation.

Additional support was provided by the National Endowment for the Arts.

An indemnity was granted by the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.