Metropolitan Museum of Art holds Byzantium exhibition

New York – The Metropolitan Museum of Art has mounted its third exhibition on Byzantium in 27 years, presenting icons, manuscripts and other works from the final three centuries of a religious empire whose art and culture influenced the world for more than a millennium. «Byzantium, Faith and Power, 1261-1557,» features some 350 Orthodox Christian masterpieces gathered from 30 countries, many of them never before shown outside the churches and monasteries that own them. Philippe de Montebello, director of the Met, said the exhibition covers the «great artistic flowering» of Byzantium after Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos’s 1261 reconquest of Constantinople from crusaders who had sacked it in 1204, and «the subsequent appropriation of this culture by rival claimants to power.» The capital of the eastern Roman Empire was seized by the Ottomans in 1453, but its Greek-based culture and art endured for another century, not only spreading the Orthodox gospel but influencing Islam and other cultures. As the successor to previous Met exhibits in 1977 and 1997, the latest presentation of Byzantine art «will enhance public appreciation of the exceptional artistic accomplishments of an era too often considered primarily in terms of political decline,» de Montebello said at a preview Monday. «When (Edward) Gibbon described the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, he set an image of the last centuries… as one of failure and sadness, and I hope this exhibition will make people understand the optimism with which the empire regained its capital in 1261 and the cultural exuberance that went with that optimism,» said Helen Evans, curator of the exhibit. The items include more than 40 icons, manuscripts and liturgical treasures including from a sixth-century monastic outpost of Christianity on the purported Biblical site where Moses witnessed the Burning Bush. Stunning both in beauty and preservation, the collection includes many handwritten and illustrated manuscripts dating from the 13th and 14th centuries, textiles, painted icons that survived or postdate the iconoclasm (726-843) that saw the destruction of images as objects of veneration, and other relics. A centerpiece is the «Virgin Pafsolype with Feast Scenes and Crucifixion with Prophets,» a large, painted wood icon from the late 14th century, described as a «powerful evocation of Christ as the savior of mankind,» on loan from the Ecumenical Patriarchate located in Istanbul. Other noteworthy items include a 13th-14th century copper chandelier made of 1,100 pieces, loaned by a Munich museum, and a 20-centimeter (8-inch)-diameter mosaic of St George slaying the dragon, from the Louvre. The exhibition, sponsored by Greece’s Alpha Bank and three foundations, will run from March 23 through July 4. Along with a 3-kilogram (7-pound) catalog, the museum published a 96-page photographic essay book on St Catherine’s Monastery.

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