What are the unique features of Byzantine art and architecture?

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The art and architecture of the East Romans span over a thousand years. Some unique features include the dematerialization of capitals and the cushions above capitals that support the architrave. These move away from previous Classical Greek and Roman orders (Tuscan, Doric, Corinthian, Ionic, and Composite). These marble or stone basket capitals have overall lace-like geometric or vegetal patterns, as do the cushions above them.

Although the classical Romans had used marble revetments, the East Romans of late antiquity made even greater use of lavish figured and brightly colored marbles as wall coverings combined with rich gold and colored mosaics and frescoes in the vaults and domes of their palaces and churches. This, in combination with the architectural innovations in buttressing, squinches, pendentives, domes, half domes, and fenestration combined to make far more complex interiors. Light would reflect off of the rich surface materials and complex geometry, which gives a magnificent display of dematerializing splendor. The strict geometry and order of Classical architecture was partly abandoned for a more disorienting and otherworldly effect.

Images of humans and nature in art became more stylized, although their high quality remained despite their less realistic style. The textiles and metalwork of Constantinople were in many cases unsurpassed in pattern and quality and remained in high demand among Western Europe elites and beyond. East Roman architecture had a unique and profound influence on the architecture of Islam, which adopted the domed East Roman church as a model, adding minarets and Persian-style interiors. Compare the Blue Mosque to the earlier Hagia Sophia, for example.

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Although Byzantine art evolved from the traditions of the Roman Empire and never totally lost sight of its classical heritage, Byzantine painting and architecture tended to shy away from Rome's realistic roots, instead developing its own abstract forms that were more anti-naturalistic. Byzantine art took on a symbolic aesthetic that was at least somewhat influenced by the Orient. Religious and imperial themes predominated, and the image of Christ became a major figure in both art and sculpture. In addition to church architecture, religious frescoes, mosaics, decorative silks and the illumination of manuscripts were also important genres. Byzantine architecture also developed from traditional Roman styles, combining Eastern and even Greek influences while adding a geometric complexity not found in earlier forms. Brick and plaster were added to the classic stone structures, and piers and domes were also important elements.

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