00950 - History of Byzantine Art

Course Unit Page

Academic Year 2022/2023

Learning outcomes

This course addresses students to Byzantine Art (4th-15th century). At the end of this course students should possess the appropriate tools to read a work art from a stylistic and iconographic perspective, with particular attention to the historical context.

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 be dedicated to the colour, its meanings and functions within a work of art in relation to the geo-chronological context. In Byzantine Art colour was part of complex communication codes and should be considered as an element of the visual language.


Reading list - for every student:

  • R. Cormack, Byzantine Art, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2018 (2nd 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, Part 1 and 3.

Seminar lectures - Readings:

  • Vladimir Ivanovici, “Divine Light through Earthly Colours: Mediating Perception in Late Antique Churches”, In Colour and Light in Ancient and Medieval Art, edited by Chloë N. Duckworth and Anne E. Sassin, London, Routledge, 2017, pp. 79-91.
  • John Gage, Color and Meaning: Art, Science, and Symbolism, Berkeley - Los Angeles, University of California Press, 2000.
  • Liz James, Light and Colour in Byzantine Art, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1996.
  • Paolo Liverani, “Per una “Storia del colore”. La scultura policroma romana, un bilancio e qualche prospettiva”, inDiversamente bianco. La policromia della scultura romana, a cura di Paolo Liverani e Umberto Santamaria, Roma, Quasar, 2014, pp. 9–32.
  • Oddone Longo (a cura di), La porpora. Realtà e immaginario di un colore simbolico. Atti del Convegno interdisciplinare di studio dell’Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti (Venezia 24–25 ottobre 1996), Venezia, Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, 1998.
  • Maria Rosaria Marchionibus, “I colori nell’arte sacra a Bisanzio”, Rivista di Studi Bizantini e Neoellenici, 48 (2011), pp. 3–32.

Further readings (those about the seminar lectures) 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.
  • L. Brubaker, Inventing Byzantine Iconoclasm, Liverpool, Bristol classical press, 2012.
  • B. V. Pentcheva, Icons and Power: the Mother of God in Byzantium, University Park, 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 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

Exam materials and further readings can be found online on UNIBO https://virtuale.unibo.it.

Office hours

See the website of Maria Cristina Carile