As I’m in London only a few more days and given how passionate I am (and hopefully you are too!) about all things Greek, ancient and modern, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit the ‘Byzantium 330-1453’ exhibition which is currently showing at The Royal Academy of Arts. It was organised in collaboration with the Benaki Museum, Athens and is supported by the J.F.Costopoulos foundation, the A.G. Leventis Foundation and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.
Off I set, this bright sunny morning, eagerly striding across Hyde park (where the carpets of crocuses are already heralding the start of spring) on the brisk, half hour walk to Piccadilly.
What an awe-inspiring exhibition it is! The extensive collection charts the Byzantine Empire’s thousand year history from its rise at the end of the Roman Empire with its first Emperors, Constantine the Great (306-37) and Justinian I; its growth in power and influence as it stretched from Central and Eastern Europe to Asia and Africa; through the Crusades (to reclaim control of the Holy territories that had fallen under Muslim rule and the sacking of Constantinople), the establishment of the Orthodox church, the Iconoclast and on to it’s eventual defeat, when it was conquered by the Ottoman Turks on May 29th 1453. It reveals the real nature of Byzantium and the intellectual, emotional and spiritual energy of its art,
It is truly a fabulous collection of over 340 priceless artifacts, on loan from museums and private collections all across modern-day Europe and Asia. There are also great works on display from the San Marco Treasury in Venice, demonstrating the enduring power of Byzantium and its contribution to world art
Amongst the many important and unique objects (all beautifully displayed) including paintings, enamels and manuscripts are:
Exquisite objects in metalwork, silver and gold:
The Antioch Chalice, from Syria, possibly Kaper Koraon or Antioch, first half of the 6th century. Silver cup set in fotted silver gilt shell,height 19.6cm. Lent by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The Cloister collection, 1950. Photo ©The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Fine examples of early minted coins and dazzling jewelery in precious metals inlaid with rare and priceless gems:
Pectoral Cross, 13th-14th century. Gold and lapis lazuli. 4×0.7cm. Benaki Museum, Athens, inv. no.1853. Photo © 2008 Benaki Museum Athens
Marble sculptures, reliefs and architectural elements:
Closure panel with 2 peacocks, Thebes 12th century. Marble, 57×60.5×9.5cm. The Hellenic Ministry of Culture, 23rd Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities, Chalkis, inv. no.x314. Photo ©Hellenic Ministry of Culture, Archaelogical Receipt Funds, Athens
Beautifully preserved frescoes, mosaics and micro mosaics:
Wall mosaic with head of an angel,Torcello, second half of the 11th century. Mosaic 31.6×24.6cm.Musee du Louvre, Paris, Dept.des Objets d’Art, 0A6460.PhotoRMN-M/beck-Coppola, Paris
Woven textiles and tapestries:
Embroidered icon with the miracle of Hodegetria. Moscow(?), 1498(?). Taffeta and damask embroidered with gold and silver threads. 95.1x98cm.State Historical museum, Moscow(GM 15455 shch/RB,-5).Photo©The State Historical Museum, Moscow.
Intricately hand-carved ivories:
The ‘Harbaville’ triptych with Deisis and saints, Constantinople, mid 10th century.Elephant ivory with traces of gilding and red paint(not original). 24(max)x14.3(the centre) and 28cm (open). Musee du Louvre, Paris, Dept. des Objets d’Arts, OA 3247.Photo RMN/Arnaudet,Paris
and, my particular area of interest, scores of breathtakingly beautiful icons:
Angelos Aketantos (d.before 1457).Icon with the Virgin Kardiotissa and Child, first half of the 15th century. Egg tempera on wood 121×96.5cm. The Hellenic Ministry of Culture. Byzantine and Christian Museum, Athens.BMX 1552 (T.1582).Photo©Hellenic Ministry of Culture, Archaeological Receipts Fund, Athens.
many of which, are fine examples of the work of one of the very first icon painters, Angelos Akotantos of Crete and I was surprised to see so many of the icons were on loan from the Holy Monastery of St. Catharine, Sinai – as I have already planned a visit there on a trip to Egypt next month, over Easter.
The Byzantium exhibition will run at the Royal Academy of Arts, on Piccadilly (www.royalacademy.org.uk/) until March 22nd so if you are in London (or planning to be) be sure to put this on your list of things to see – it really is one not to be missed!