Sculpture     Architectural sculpture     Mosaic     Painting

The religious painting
  What little has survived of Early Byzantine monumental painting, comes mainly from funerary monuments, such as catacombs, or from churches in marginal areas where climatic conditions favoured the preservation of the medium. The former category of monuments shows a variety of abbreviated religious representations and symbols in a naturalistic style largely dependent on pagan imagery. The latter category is best illustrated by the wall paintings of Bawit and Saqqara in Egypt, which exemplify the rich provincial style of Coptic art.
  More typical of the Early Byzantine metropolitan style are the portable icons. These are panels of wood painted in encaustic, a method in which pigments are mixed with wax. Icons with portrait busts or standing figures of Christ, the Virgin and Child, saints, prophets, and archangels, were important in both public and private worship. Some were credited to have prophylactic and healing powers, or to have been miraculously created. The iconoclast reaction of the eighth-ninth centuries resulted in the destruction of a great number of them, but several pre-iconoclast examples have been preserved in the remote monastery of St Catherine on Mount Sinai, where they were brought by pilgrim visitors from around the empire or sent as gifts from the capital (the monastery being an imperial foundation). The Sinai icons of St Peter and the Virgin enthroned have been attributed to Constantinople because of their classical conception and high quality. The former icon shows a naturalistic portrait of the saint, placed against a niched wall bellow three bust-medallions representing Christ, the Virgin and St John the Evangelist. The type may have developed from the pagan Roman custom of placing portraits in funerary contexts; similar portraits are known from the burials of Roman colonists at Fayoum, Egypt. The second icon pictures a solid three-dimentional Virgin and Child in a similar architectural setting, enthroned between two saints (possibly Theodore and George) and two angels. The static frontality of the saints contrasts with the averted gaze of the Virgin and the Child or the sharp mouvement of the angels glancing upwards at the hand of God with its band of light. The type of the enthroned Virgin (or Christ) also derives from Roman portraiture, particularly from the representations of the emperor and other dignitaries.