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Art and Architecture During the Age of Byzantium

June 29, 2011

Lorenzo Ghiberti, the great Renaissance sculptor famous for his Sacrifice of Isaac design for the Florence Baptistry door competition of 1401, described the art produced during the Byzantine era as follows:  “The Greeks of this age (the Byzantine) were as coarse and rude as the ancient Greeks were skilled.”  What are your thoughts on Ghiberti’s assessment of Byzantine art?  Do you agree that Byzantine artisans and their creative imagery were “coarse and rude” or were they responding to a different time and place in their work which accounts for their figural interpretations?

Christ Pantokrator


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  1. Randee Oh permalink

    I am not sure if I would discribe their art as “coarse and rude” but it did make me laugh when I first read it. So was that the truth coming out. I think it had to be a little bit.

  2. Julie Dickinson permalink

    To describe work as being “course and rude,” does not seem to be a reasonable representation of the work itself. Time was changing as were the views and interpretations of religious figures. Artists were given the ability to broaden themselves, and express their creative interpretations towards painting religious figures how they please. The painting, “Christ Pantokrator,” has a halo around, “Christ,” which results in the viewers attention being directed towards the figure. The background and surroundings of “Christ,” are plain and almost empty. The figure is looking to the side which gives him a more humanistic quality.

  3. Victoria Brown permalink

    Each viewer is going to react to any piece differently, it’s in our biology, in our psyche. I think it’s fair for him to say. I can understand this interpretation. I see many of the expressions as harsh and spiteful even. However, as a whole I would not call the art “coarse and rude”. I think it was just the expression of the time. I think it was something that the artists felt, and the images often portrayed dire emotions, but the art itself is very symbolic and methodically arranged.

  4. Joshua Stewart permalink

    I do not view their are as “coarse and rude” merely they had different skills and styles of art .for example if you were to compare to different types of art such as pop art , or art deco to say Gothic or Roman art you would find totally different styles of art no one being better then the other simply people may favor one over the other.

  5. Ngoc Le permalink

    I don’t think that Byzantine artisans and their creative imagery were “coarse and rude” as the ancient Greeks were skilled. I think this mosaic is beautifully done by the Byzantine artist because they modeling in light and shade and how they depicted the clothed figure by the clingy of the drapery to the body. Which I think very different from the Greek’s flat color painting.

  6. Christina Lopez permalink

    The art during that time i wouldn’t describe it as “coarse and rude.” The time was difficult when this style of art came to be so it is only natural for the art to convey how people felt during that time. But some of the art it is just not so artistic, in my opinion, I feel like the artist is not even trying to create a “work of art.” I’m probably trying to compare to Roman art or Greek art but I don’t really like the style. The paintings and depictions are hard to perceive as great accomplishments.

  7. Bryan Yim permalink

    I believe Ghiberti was comparing the art of this time to the art of ancient Greek. It seems to me that the understanding of art and architecture at this time has not recovered to the ancient Greek’s level yet. People were trying to make art, but they are just not as good. Their understanding of basic proportion is still shallow to be notable.

  8. Diana Cosio permalink

    To the Renaissance artists, their Byzantine counterparts had lost the needed skill to accurately illustrate figures. But more importantly, the goal of the Byzantine artists was not to highlight their mastery of the golden ratio or to portray how beautiful the human body is- their main concerns were Christian values. They emphasized stories from the Old and New Testament, along with giving the main characters a meaningful presence. Perhaps their “coarse and rude” finishes were done out of fear of idolatry?

  9. Danielle Nazareno permalink

    I can understand why Ghiberti could have stated Byzantine art as coarse and rude considering his own style and artistic abilities. Ghiberti was a very skilled artist, his sculptures were well made and crafted. After looking at paintings during the Byzantine era, one can not compare the two. The art found within that particular era is not as refined and natural as the art that was seen during Ghiberti’s time. The paintings do not hit its fullest potential when it comes to representing realism. Although the paintings were used more to symbolize a story or depict figures, Ghiberti’s style in replicating life perfectly can some how correlate to why he might have called the Byzantine’s creative imagery coarse and rude.

  10. Cally Vaurs permalink

    I think that they were responding to a different time and place in their expressions. I think that at the time, the artisans were supposed to created a “fear” or looming presence. The only way to portray that type of ideal is to be “coarse and rude”. Christ the Pantokrator was not supposed to be a friendly figure or your buddy.

  11. Chase Menaker permalink

    I think that the Byzantine artists were simply coming from a different time and culture. I can certainly see how some could view it as “coarse and rude” in comparison to the Greeks, but their goals were not the same. During this era there was not a great sense of proportion or refinement, but the symbolism, intricacies, and presence of their art was very forward.

  12. silvia G permalink

    I dont consider Byzantine artisans and their creative imagery were “coarse and rude” because at that era that was consider art and a way of telling their own story.

  13. It’s not fair to describe the artwork “coarse and rude” everyone today just like throughout all of history is entitled to their own opinion. I think when judging art this is always an ongoing case because art is so subjective. Some people like certain art pieces and some people don’t. It is in their own opinion that they call the work of the Byzantine artist’s “coarse and rude” but the times were changing and they were merely acting in a way in which artists very commonly act and that is to express their feelings by means of art works.

  14. Lindsey Paige permalink

    Art is subjective. It has always been subjective, and will always be subjective. That is the nature of art. Describing this artwork as “coarse and rude” is akin to calling a Jackson Pollock “something a child could have done”; it is an opinion that people hold, but holding an opinion does not make it accurate. The message that the artist was trying to convey came across, and I feel that that is more important than how proportionately accurate the image was.

  15. Cristine LIm permalink

    One opinion cannot account for an entire civilization’s work. Everyone’s outlook varies and the Byzantine Empire just created what they saw fit. I personally believe the colors are interesting in some paintings and dull in others. My opinion doesn’t make it any less or more skillful or attractive, because skill cannot be judged based on style.

  16. Maryann Floren permalink

    Art is timeless. Art is opinionated. Differences in art work is subjective to what the artist is trying to portray. Certain artists see what they may and make their art based on the time and opinions do not make art right or wrong. Art; is unique. If it was not it would not be art!

  17. Ed Goodman permalink

    I believe that he is entitled to his own opinion on their art but i don’t believe that it is accurate. Obviously everyone will have different reactions to different works of art but to compare them to Greek or Roman is like comparing apples and oranges.

  18. Kellilyn Monar permalink

    I can see how this image of Christ the Pantokrator could be seen as “coarse or rude” his face does not depict happiness. However, this image represents him as a judge, and decider of your fate. Sinners will go to hell and saints will go to heaven. These people lived during a rough period of time and in fear, so their artwork might express that. They were not interested in the beauty and preciseness of the human body like the Greeks were. Their artwork lacks realism and beauty and doesn’t compare to the artwork of the Golden mean. I believe any art compared to that of the Greeks and the Golden section would be considered not as good or not as developed; but not necessarily “coarse or rude.”

  19. Irene Webber permalink

    I can see why Ghiberti said Byzantine artisans and their imagery were “coarse and rude”. When you’re not used to something being represented in a certain way, in a way you like, the odds of you caring for it are minimal. I personally don’t agree with Ghiberti. They had a completely different style than what Ghiberti favored, but I’m sure many people appreciated it.

  20. Brook Haller permalink

    I think it is a little of both. Without a doubt they did not have the skill set found in the Greek era. There were not able to capture movement, proportion, or weight in any way close to the Greeks. It looked almost as if the Greek era and skill learned during that time had never happened. That being said, they were, without a doubt, responding to the needs of their era. They were responding to the needs of a new religion. They were trying to separate themselves from the Greeks and Romans…and their art certainly accomplishes this goal. No one will mistake the Byzantine art for Greek or Roman art. They were able to use these images to communicate their faith and narrative to the illiterate. They were able to express their burgeoning ideals…and really, wasn’t that the point?

  21. Alex Trimble permalink

    I think his assessment was somewhat unfair, and mostly based on his opinion. The Renaissance had a bias in favor of the revival of Classical art so I think that affected his view. I personally think that Classical art is beautiful, but I don’t think that makes Byzantine art less valuable just because it lacked the realism and humanism of ancient Greece and Rome. Also, I think the Byzantines had some really beautiful architecture. And I find the stylization interesting, even though they are not realistic. Their art wasn’t based on a depiction of something real; they wanted to tell a story. It was different intentions for their artwork.

  22. Jason Carrara permalink

    This type of art is very easy to distinguish because of the stark expressions and rigidity of the early Christian iconography. I think Ghiberti’s assessment is fairly accurate because the people of the time period were attempting to depict Christ as a judge who had been wronged by the people of the Earth, and in that process, created a harsh and unwelcoming image of Jesus Christ. Relatively speaking, Christianity was still in its development and understanding of the masses. It has taken hundreds of years for the image of Christ we see today to be created.

  23. The Byzantines were doing according to their time and age. Their paintings are obviously painstakingly crafted but they were just a different style. Ghiberti was speaking from the perspective of the Italian Renaissance which had rediscovered the proportions and perspectives of classical Greek and Roman art and sculpture.

  24. Alex Kereczman permalink

    I agree with “course and rude” to a point of style, rather than subject matter of the art itself. The lines are harsher and more abrupt than the fluidity present in earlier artwork. Byzantine art was finding its perfect form, while still conforming to societies expectations of art. This just happens that the style of Byzantine art is focusing more on symbolism and storytelling, rather than the perfection of the human form.

  25. Mike Bautista permalink

    Viewing Byzantine art, I don’t get that sense of “coarse and rude” that Ghiberti claims. Perhaps this is something one would notice if he lived during that time. To me, it’s just art. A style that I’ve grown accustomed to seeing. I don’t see the history behind it as much as I just see it. Maybe Ghiberti was referring to how this art looks when compared to early Greek art. I can see one making that comparison. But a style is a style to me. Comparing one distinct style to another is like comparing apples to oranges.

  26. Lucy Glover permalink

    Renaissance art is completely different than Byzantium art.
    For Ghiberti to say that art from the Byzantium Era was
    “coarse and rude” is probably because he came from a different
    time period. However, art is subjective and can be interpreted
    in many way. Everyone has their own opinions.

  27. “I don’t believe that the artists during the Byzantium era were being “coarse of rude,” but that they were able to be more blunt and realistic, which is one of the most unique parts of this period of art. The artists were able to express themselves the way that they wanted to.

    Devin Cook

  28. S.W. permalink

    I agree with his opinion of (course & rude) But….. we ALL have our OWN WAY of describing our opinions in words. His mention of course and rude are simply my words of Strait To The Point of Honesty, and Blunt Fact. So, Yes, I agree with him, they were Very upfront and honest. I believe the Byzantine era was absolutely More realistic and depicted More Truism with their art.

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