Looking East

‘Byzantium' at the Met

In 1997, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art hosted an exhibit called “The Glory of Byzantium.” It covered the period from 843 to 1261, the time stretching from just after the resolution of the iconoclastic crisis until the restoration of the authority of the Eastern Roman Empire, following its fall to the Fourth Crusade in 1204. It was a wonderful selection of icons, fabrics, metalwork, mosaics, and illuminated manuscripts. When I saw it (I went twice) I thought that it would be the last time I would ever see so much magnificent Byzantine art in one place.

It’s nice to know that I was wrong. Until July 4, the Metropolitan offers an equally glorious exhibition, this one called “Byzantium: Faith and Power (1261- 1557).” The Metropolitan, over three exhibits, has been responsible for the most comprehensive display of Orthodox religious art (in its many forms) ever presented anywhere. In 1977, it presented “The Age of Spirituality,” which surveyed early Christian art, from the third through the eighth century. The 1997 exhibit carried the story forward, and the present exhibition covers what might be called the rest of the story-the period from the restoration until the final fall of Byzantium to the Ottoman Empire in 1453, when what was Constantinople morphed into Istanbul, and more than a century following the fall. In that time, the influence of Byzantine arts and the presence of Byzantine artists in diaspora...

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About the Author

John Garvey is an Orthodox priest and columnist for Commonweal. His most recent book is Seeds of the Word: Orthodox Thinking on Other Religions.