CULTURE

Byzantium explored at major exhibition

Following the two large exhibitions on the art and culture of Byzantium held in 1997 at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the third part of this chronologically structured trilogy opens at the museum’s premises on March 23. «Byzantium Faith and Power, 1261-1557» picks up the continuation of Byzantine civilization in the year 1261 (which was where the preceding exhibition «The Glory of Byzantium» ended). This was when Michael VIII Palaiologos entered Constantinople carrying aloft the famed icon of the Virgin and Hodegetria and liberated the city from Frankish rule. The exhibition covers nearly 300 years after that historical event, continuing more than a century after the siege of Constantinople by the Turks. The year 1557 is, according to the organizers, when the so-called «basileia ton Romaion» (the kingdom of the Romans) was first called «Byzantium» and other western states sought to inherit the mantle of the New Rome, Constantinople, by adapting its art and culture. The exhibit, therefore, extends beyond the decline of Constantinople to examine the influence that Byzantium exercised on emerging cultures. Curated by Helen C. Evans, a specialist on early Christian and Byzantine art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, this landmark exhibition seeks to reveal the cultural splendor of a period often considered in terms of its political decline. According to Philippe de Montebello, the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art for 26 years who briefly visited Athens on the occasion of the forthcoming exhibition (the sponsorship is Greek), this «is the first major museum exhibition to focus solely on the artistic flowering of the Palaiologan period and the subsequent appropriation of this culture by rival claimants to power.» «Faith and Power» brings together more than 350 masterpieces of Byzantine art from 30 nations, including Greece, Bulgaria, Egypt, France, Italy, Romania, Russia, Serbia and Montenegro and Lebanon. This is also the first time that many institutions have lent items of their collections to a US museum. Structured thematically, the exhibition will include sacred icons (40 of them are from the Holy Monastery of Saint Catherine at Sinai), frescoes, textiles, monumental liturgical objects, embroidered silk textiles, gilded metalwork, miniature mosaic icons of glass, precious metals and gemstones, and illustrated manuscripts. Through these works, the exhibition hopes to reveal the splendor of the Palaiologan period as well as examine the significance of Byzantine culture for the Latin West and the Renaissance but also its influence on the world of Islam. Following the closing of the exhibition (July 4), a selection of objects illustrating Byzantium’s influence on the Latin West will travel to Thessaloniki for an exhibition to coincide with the 2004 Summer Olympic Games. «Faith and Power» is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalog published by the Metropolitan Museum and distributed by Yale University Press. The catalog will be made available in Greece. In addition to this catalog, the museum, in collaboration with the Monastery of Saint Catherine at Sinai, will publish «Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai, Egypt: A Photographic Essay.» The exhibition is to be featured on the Metropolitan Museum’s website (www.metmuseum.org). To complement the exhibition, the museum has also organized an academic symposium of Byzantine scholars from Europe and America to take place in mid-April. The exhibition is made possible by Alpha Bank and is sponsored by the J.F. Costopoulos Foundation, the A.G. Leventis Foundation and the Stavros S. Niarchos Foundation.