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Heaven and Earth: Byzantine Illumination at the Cultural Crossroads

Heaven and Earth: Byzantine Illumination at the Cultural Crossroads explores the tradition of illumination in Byzantium as well as its role in both Eastern and Western Christianity.

 

The glittering courts of the Byzantine Empire (A.D. 330–1453) have long been admired for their rich tradition of manuscript illumination. The prominent use of gold, a striking sense of naturalism, and a distinctive spiritual character were among the widely celebrated aspects of Byzantine art in the Middle Ages. These qualities inspired artists and patrons in other Christian locales, including western Europe, Armenia, and Ethiopia.

The exhibition Heaven and Earth: Byzantine Illumination at the Cultural Crossroads explores the tradition of illumination in Byzantium as well as its influential role in both Eastern and Western Christian cultures. Six masterpieces on loan from Greece are shown alongside works drawn from the Getty Museum's collection.

Primarily drawn from the Getty Museum's collection, this exhibition also features important loans in partnership with Heaven and Earth: Art of Byzantium from Greek Collections, on view at the Getty Villa from April 9 through August 25, 2014.


The Heaven and Earth: Art of Byzantium from Greek Collections exhibition was organized by the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports, Athens, with the collaboration of the Benaki Museum, Athens, in association with the J. Paul Getty Museum and the National Gallery of Art, Washington. The exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. The U.S. tour was made possible by major funding from OPAP S.A. Financial support was also provided by the A. G. Leventis Foundation.

The Byzantine Empire (A.D. 330—1453) was greatly admired for its courtly splendor and rich visual arts. Inspired by the legacy of Greco–Roman antiquity, Byzantine manuscript painters in Greece and Asia Minor focused on the human figure while creating a deeply spiritual art form.

The Christian Middle Ages is often conceived of as divided between East (including Byzantium, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Armenia) and West (churches that looked to Rome and the pope for authority). Although Western Christianity differed from Eastern Christianity—theologically, linguistically, and politically—the circulation of ideas among artists, patrons, and audiences in the two halves of the Christian world had a fundamental impact on manuscript painting. Trade, intermarriage, and military expeditions allowed for the dissemination of images and techniques across the expanse of the empire and beyond.

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