Department of Art History

Byzantine Mosaics

Byzantine Mosaics – Professor Liz James

Funded through a Leverhulme Trust Major Research Grant

Mosaics were the most elaborate and probably most expensive form of wall decoration used in Byzantium. They survive in churches and mosques across the Mediterranean world from Spain, Italy and Greece in the west, to Syria and Israel in the east, taking in the Ukraine and Georgia to the north and Egypt to the south. No single synthetic study of Byzantine mosaics exists, examining mosaic as an art form and creating a coherent narrative of the development and nature of Byzantine mosaic art. This project aims to bring together a wide range of material in order to discuss Byzantine mosaics by taking into account as many different angles, from style and iconography to technique and materials to function and patronage, as possible. The research is divided into three major sections: How much mosaic was there and where was it? How was it made? How was it used?

How much mosaic was there in the medieval world?
What patterns in terms of location, chronology and function of building are apparent in the use of wall mosaic as an art form? Based on the Leverhulme-funded Byzantine Mosaics Database, evidence of surviving mosaics can be mapped both by century and cumulatively to reveal patterns of distribution over time.

How were mosaics made?
This has to be considered in terms of the raw materials from which mosaics were made and the question of how mosaics were actually put on the walls of buildings. By using data from the chemical analysis of glass tesserae, a picture of the manufacture of the basic materials for mosaics can be constructed. By using evidence from restoration and conservation work on mosaics, a picture can be pieced together of the stages of how the mosaic was put on the wall. A series of hypothetical calculations can also be made about cost.

In what ways were mosaics used?
The style and iconography of mosaics has usually formed the basis of art historical debate. How valid are the models used by art historians: is it true that all the best mosaics were Byzantine? And how did mosaic function within buildings to increase the effect of that building? Why did people want mosaics?

My intention is to produce a book that will provide a context for the general study of Byzantine mosaics and will make comprehensible the meaning and importance of technical data for understanding how individual images were produced and why they appear as they do. Wish me luck.

Sussex research:
Building a new picture of Byzantine art

Professorial Lecture:
Byzantine Art: all that glitters is gold

         liz lecture