About Byzantium 330–1453
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by curator Robin Cormack
Highlighting the splendours of the Byzantine Empire, Byzantium 330–1453
comprises around 300 objects including icons, detached wall paintings,
micro-mosaics, ivories, enamels plus gold and silver metalwork. Some of
the works have never been displayed in public before.
of the Archangel Michael, Constantinople, twelfth century. Silver gilt
on wood, gold cloisonné enamel, precious stones, 46.5 x 35 x 2.7 cm.
Basilica di San Marco, Venice, Tresoro, inv. no. 16. Photo per gentile
concessione della Procuratoria di San Marco/Cameraphoto Arte, Venice The exhibition includes great works from the San Marco
Treasury in Venice and rare items from collections across Europe, the
USA, Russia, Ukraine and Egypt. The exhibition begins with the
foundation of Constantinople in 330 AD by the Roman Emperor Constantine
the Great and concludes with the capture of the city by the Ottoman
forces of Mehmed II in 1453. This is the first major exhibition on
Byzantine Art in the United Kingdom for 50 years.
This epic exhibition has been made possible through a collaboration between the Royal Academy of Arts and the Benaki Museum,
Byzantium 330–1453 follows a
chronological progression covering the range, power and longevity of
the artistic production of the Byzantine Empire through a number of
themed sections. In this way the exhibition explores the origins of
Byzantium; the rise of Constantinople; the threat of iconoclasm when
emperors banned Christian figurative art; the post-iconoclast revival;
the remarkable crescendo in the Middle Ages and the close connections
between Byzantine and early Renaissance art in Italy in the 13th and
early 14th centuries.
Between 1204 and 1261, Constantinople was
in the hands of the Latin Crusaders, but the return of the Byzantine
Emperors to the city initiated a final period of great diversity in
art. Art from Constantinople, the Balkans and Russia show the final
phase of refinement of distinctively Orthodox forms and functions,
while Crete artists like Angelos Akotantos signed their icons and
merged Byzantine and Italian styles. Up to the end of the Byzantine
Empire, with the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453,
manuscripts, micromosaics and metalwork demonstrates the virtuosity of
The exhibition shows the long history of Byzantine
art and documents the patrons and artists and the world in which they
lived. Seeing themselves as the members of a Christian Roman Empire
they believed that they represented the culmination of civilisation on
earth. The art emits an intellectual, emotional and spiritual energy,
yet is distinctive for the expression of passionate belief and high
emotion within an art of moderation and restraint.
Antioch Chalice, Byzantine, from Syria, possibly Kaper Koraon or
Antioch, first half of the sixth century. Silver cup set in footed
silver-gilt shell, Height 19. 7 cm. Lent by the Metropolitan Museum of
Art, New York. The Cloisters Collection, 1950 (50.4). Photo © The
Metropolitan Museum of Art Byzantium 330-1453 showcases the
Antioch Chalice (left), on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art,
New York. After its discovery in c.1911, the silver gilt artefact was
believed to have been the Holy Grail, the cup used by Christ at the
Last Supper. Major works from the Treasury of San Marco, Venice have
been loaned to the Royal Academy including the ornate Chalice of the
Patriarchs, c. 10th–11th century. Other highlights include a two-sided
icon of Virgin Hodegetria (obverse) and the Man of Sorrows (reverse),
12th century, from the Byzantine Museum, Kastoria, an impressive
10–11th century imperial ivory casket from Troyes cathedral depicting
hunting scenes and riders and the Homilies of Monk James Kokkinobaphos,
a manuscript from 1100–1150AD on loan from the Bibliothèque Nationale
de France, Paris.
Byzantium 330–1453 has been
organised by the Royal Academy of Arts and the Benaki Museum, Athens.
The exhibition has been curated by Professor Robin Cormack, Courtauld
Institute, London, Professor Maria Vassilaki, University of Thessaly at
Volos and the Benaki Museum and Dr Adrian Locke, Acting Head of
Exhibitions, Royal Academy of Arts.
Learn more about the exhibition with our education guide:
‘Byzantium 330–1453’ Education guide (3.3 MB)
Younger visitors can also learn more with our illustrated guide:
‘Byzantium 330–1453’ Junior guide (2.3 MB)
Costopoulos Foundation, the A.G. Leventis Foundation, and the Stavros
Niarchos Foundation are very proud to support the exhibition Byzantium
The three Foundations are committed to promoting and
preserving Hellenic culture and heritage in Greece and abroad.
Furthermore, the Foundations aim to express their active support for
collaborative projects between acclaimed international institutions,
realised in this case by the Benaki Museum in Athens and the Royal
Academy of Arts in London.
The J.F. Costopoulos Foundation, the
A.G. Leventis Foundation, and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation have a
long tradition of supporting major exhibitions of Byzantine Art and
hope that, through their collaboration with such renowned cultural
organisations, they will enhance the audience’s understanding of a very