The Beginnings of Christian Art

By D. Talbot Rice | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIII
BYZANTINE ART IN ITALY IN THE ELEVENTH AND TWELFTH CENTURIES

IT so happens that quite a number of the surviving Byzantine mosaics and even a few of the large-scale paintings of the twelfth century are to be found on Italian soil; they were the work either of Greek craftsmen loaned from Constantinople itself or of pupils whom they took on and taught in the locality where they were being employed. These works are to be distinguished from those of a basically Italian character, done by masters who had been born and who had learnt in Italy. Even if the latter show Byzantine influence, as they very often do, the influence is a deep-seated one, going back to an earlier date, and witnesses either the common origin of Byzantine and mediaeval Italian art or the close contacts that existed between the two areas right down to the time of the Turkish conquests. It must not be forgotten that when Byzantine power began to wane, the coastal cities of Italy took up the maritime trade, and Venice, Genoa, Pisa and other towns had their own quarters in Constantinople even before the time of the fourth crusade ( 1204). The results of these contacts will be considered in a subsequent chapter; here we are concerned with works that are essentially Byzantine, but happen to be on Italian soil.

We may begin with the earliest of them, on the extreme fringe of the country, namely the Cathedral of St. Just at Trieste. In the apse of the northernmost of the two parallel aisles that constitute the Cathedral is a mosaic showing the Virgin and Child flanked by St. Michael and St. Gabriel; below are figures of the Apostles, divided into two groups by a palm tree. The work was probably done in the eleventh century, but follows an earlier model fairly closely. The mosaics were restored in 1863, and the ensemble is to-day not of the very first quality. In the apse of the southern church our Lord is shown treading on the Asp and Basilisk, with St. Just on one side and San Servolo on the other. The work is Byzantine

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