Frescoes and Wall Painting in Late Byzantine Art

Works of Art


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.

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

October 2004


Labatt, Annie. “Frescoes and Wall Painting in Late Byzantine Art.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2004)

Further Reading

Chatzidakis, Manolis. Mystras: The Medieval City and the Castle. Athens: Ekdotike Athenon, 1990.

Cirkovic, Sima, Vojislav Korac, and Gordana Babic. Studenica Monastery. Belgrade: Jugoslovenska Revija, 1986.

Gerstel, Sharon E. J. Beholding the Sacred Mysteries: Programs of the Byzantine Sanctuary. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1999.

Hetherington, Paul. The "Painter's Manual" of Dionysius of Fourna. London: Sagittarius Press, 1974.

Naumann, Rudolf, and Hans Belting. Die Euphemia-Kirche am Hippodrom zu Istanbul und ihre Fresken. Berlin: Gebr. Mann, 1966.

Ousterhout, Robert G. The Art of the Kariye Camii. London: Scala, 2002.

Pantermales, Demetrios. Macedonia: The Historical Profile of Northern Greece. 2d ed. Thessalonike: Aristotle University, 1992.

Sinkevic, Ida. The Church of St. Panteleimon at Nerezi: Architecture, Programme, Patronage. Wiesbaden: Reichert, 2000.

Stephan, Christine. Ein byzantinisches Bildensemble: Die Mosaiken und Fresken der Apostelkirche zu Thessaloniki. Worms: Wernersche Verlagsgesellschaft, 1986.

Talbot, Alice-Mary. "The Restoration of Constantinople under Michael VIII." Dumbarton Oaks Papers 47 (1993), pp. 243–61.

Teteriatnikov, Natalia. "New Artistic and Spiritual Trends in the Proskynetaria Fresco Icons of Manuel Panselinos, the Protaton." In Manuel Panselinos and His Age, pp. 102–11. Athens: University of Athens, 1999.

Thompson, Daniel V. The Materials and Techniques of Medieval Painting. New York: Dover, 1956.

Todic, Branislav. Serbian Medieval Painting: The Age of King Milutin. Belgrade: Draganic, 1999.

Underwood, Paul A. The Kariye Djami. 4 vols. New York: Bollingen Foundation, 1966–75.

Additional Essays by Annie Labatt