72170 - History and Criticism of Byzantine Art

Course Unit Page


This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

Gender equality

Academic Year 2022/2023

Learning outcomes

At the end of this course students should be able to approach the study of Byzantine art, confront with a work of art and critically evaluate the historiographical literature.

Course contents

The course is structured in two parts, including a series of general lectures and seminar lectures. The first part will give a chronological overview of Byzantine art, from its late antique antecedents - starting from the foundation of Constantinople (330) - to the conquest of the capital by the Ottoman Turks (1453). It will focus on visual arts - overcoming today-inefficient distinctions between major and minor arts, but including sculpture, painting and objects. It will be shown that Byzantine artifacts reflected the historical development of thought and taste in the Eastern Roman Empire, not only in Constantinople but also in faraway areas, where Byzantine art found extraordinary acceptance and further growth. Starting with a reflection on the value of works of art and of images in Byzantium, monuments and artifacts will be observed as sources, replete with meaning, and as cultural evidence, with its specific ways of communication and expression.

The seminar lectures will explore the image of the emperor and the empress in Byzantium, on the different functions and meanings of imperial representations and their relationship to their geo-chronological environment


Reading list - for every student:

  • R. Cormack, Byzantine Art, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2018 (second edition) OR  N. Asutay Effenberger, A. Effenberger, Bisanzio. L'impero dell'arte, Torino, Einaudi 2019 OR E. C. Schwartz (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Art and Architecture, Oxford, Oxford University Press 2021.
  • L. Brubaker, Inventing Byzantine Iconoclasm, Liverpool, Bristol classical press, 2012.

Seminar lectures - readings:

  • M.C. Carile, “Imperial Icons in Late Antiquity and Byzantium. The Iconic Image of the Emperor Between Representation and Presence”, Ikon, 9 (2016), pp. 75–98.
  • M.C. Carile, “Imperial Bodies and Sacred Space? Imperial Family Images between Monumental Decoration and Space Definition in Late Antiquity and Byzantium”, in Perceptions of the Body and Sacred Space in the Medieval Mediterranean, edited by Jelena Bogdanović, London - New York, Routledge, 2018, pp. 59–86.

  • M.C. Carile, “Iconicità e potere nella tarda antichità: il principe cristiano nel suo spazio”, in Le Prince chrétien de Constantin aux royautés barbares (IVe-VIIIe siècle), Travaux et mémoires 22/2, éd. par Sylvain Destephen, Bruno Dumézil, and Hervé Inglebert, Paris, Association des Amis du Centre d’Histoire et Civilisation de Byzance, 2018, pp. 199–226.

Further readings related to the seminar will be provided during the course.


Additional readings (for students who have not attended classes):

  • E. Kitzinger, Byzantine art in the making: main lines of stylistic development in Mediterranean art, 3rd-7th century, Cambridge, Mass : Harvard University Press, 1995.
  • B. V. Pentcheva, Icons and Power: the Mother of God in Byzantium, University Park, The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006.
Pentcheva, Bissera V.
University Park, Pennsylvania : The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006
Pentcheva, Bissera V.
University Park, Pennsylvania : The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006

Teaching methods

Generally, lectures will take place in class with the aid of visual materials. Occasionally lectures may take place in situ, with a direct discussion of certain works of art and in collaboration with collaboration with other colleagues.

Assessment methods

The final examination will verify the fulfillment of the following learning objectives:

  • knowledge of the topics and of the critical methodology discussed in class or studied in the literature;
  • ability to use critical tools when examining a given image;
  • ability to understand one's own critical opinion in relation to the historiographical debate. This ability is based on the assumption that our critical opinion is inevitably conditioned by our cultural views.

The exam will be exclusively in the form of an oral examination, which is evaluated in %30. It will be based on the images discussed in the books provided in the reading list or in class.  Students should identify the works of art, demonstrate an understanding of their chronological, geographical and historical context, discuss their relationship with other works of art. For this reason, students are expected to bring their own books on the day of the exam.

Following the Alma Mater's guidelines, notably:

  • the demonstration of an organic vision of the themes addressed in class or in books indicated in the reading list as well as of the critical use, command of oral expression and specific vocabulary, will be assessed with marks of excellence (28-30).
  • mechanical and/or mnemonic knowledge of the subject, scarce ability of synthesis and analysis and/or the use of a correct but not always appropriate vocabulary will lead to discrete assessments (23-27).
  • training gaps and/or inappropriate vocabulary - even in conjunction with a minimal knowledge of the subject - will lead to marks that will not exceed the minimum grade (18-22).
  • training gaps, inappropriate vocabulary, lack of command of the bibliography discussed within the course will lead to negative evaluations.

Teaching tools

Further readings can be found at UNIBO - Virtuale.

Office hours

See the website of Maria Cristina Carile