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By Charles Bayet

For greater than a millennium, from its production in 330 A.D. till its fall in 1453, the Byzantine Empire was once a cradle of inventive effervescence that we're in simple terms commencing to rediscover. Endowed with the wealthy background of Roman, jap and Christian cultures, Byzantine artists built an architectural and pictorial culture, marked by means of symbolism, whose impression prolonged a long way past the borders of the Empire. this day, Italy, Northern Africa, and the close to East look after the vestiges of this refined inventive culture, with all of its mystical and luminous attractiveness. The beauty of the palaces, church buildings, work, enamels, ceramics and mosaics from this civilisation promises Byzantine art's robust effect and timelessness.

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30 Among the churches of Ravenna, the most famous and most important is that of San Vitale. [See p. 26] Its construction had begun before the Byzantine conquest, in the year 526, but it was only completed in 546, and the decoration of the structure attests to the fact that Justinian and Theodora enriched it with their gifts. According to various inscriptions, the labour of San Vitale, as well as that of several other churches of Ravenna, was allegedly directed by a man named of Julian, who fulfilled the duties of treasurer (argentarius).

5 cm. Biblioteca Mediceo Laurenziana, Florence. Rabbula Gospels, the Ascension, 586. 2 cm. Biblioteca Mediceo Laurenziana, Florence. qxp 11/6/2008 8:54 AM Page 49 These few observations are indicative of how complex the decoration of these manuscripts is. Sometimes they take us further into the past: even in the eighth or ninth century, painters had used ancient manuscripts whose images they repeated. But the artists whose works were being reproduced had by no means themselves created all these compositions: more akin to the third and fourth centuries, they knew those monuments, were inspired by them, so certain illuminations of the more recent edge of the Byzantine Empire can give a sense of the frescos that had decorated the most ancient churches.

Qxp 11/6/2008 8:56 AM Page 62 of a diptych representing an angel standing upright under a richly decorated arcade. A few steps separate him from the ground; with one hand, he leans on a long scepter and with the other, he holds a globe, surmounted by a cross. His wings, widely spread, are painstakingly crafted; his raiment, consisting of a tunic and an outer cloak, displays a drapery of excellent taste and rare elegance. As for his head, framed in thick curls, it is an exemplary representation of perfect regularity.

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