Back - List of Pavilions

Byzantine - Expo Paris 1889

Byzantine at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1889

While Romanesque art was being born and developed in the West, Constantinople was the centre of a brilliant civilisation. Byzantine art is one of those that has been most discussed, that has been disparaged with the least obliging epithets. Fortunately, this discredit has no other cause than the ignorance of those who have propagated it, and the critics who have taken the trouble to study the monuments of the Neo-Greek Empire on the spot have succeeded in modifying an opinion that was thought to be inveterate. The formative period of Byzantine art extends from Constantine to Justinian. Under the latter prince, it is constituted in its essential elements, some of which are original, others of Hellenic origin. The work par excellence which he produced is St. Sophia, with its bold dome and sumptuous decoration; but it could not enter into M. Garnier's mind to give us in reduction either this religious monument or the great palace of Constantinople. The honourable architect has simply restored a house which, by the almost exclusive use of the flowerbed, recalls the Greek tradition. Massive pillars with a square cross-section form an inner portico which supports a platform on which more elegant columns with ornamented capitals are supported. The decoration is based on the Greek cross and the sacred monogram in geometric form. The characteristic dome was reserved for large buildings.

Byzantine art made its influence felt in some parts of Italy, particularly in Venice, where the famous church of St Mark is neo-Greek in both decoration and construction. In Eastern Europe, this influence was crucial. In Russia, in the 10th and 11th centuries, Byzantine artists built the churches of Novgorod and Kief. But if Russian art has its roots in Byzantine art, it does not copy it slavishly, but rather modifies it according to the inspiration of the national genius. Hard stone is rare in Russia and difficult to transport. The construction therefore borrows its main elements from wood. The ground floor has a rustic appearance; on the first floor, bays reign around the entire perimeter, separated by moulded posts and ending in flared ogives surmounted by a richly ornamented frieze. The roof is particularly noteworthy with its ogives, whose profile recalls the bulbous domes of religious architecture and which frame a small square window; it has a high chimney made of glazed bricks. The first floor is reached by an external wooden staircase which leads to an elegant corner pavilion.

© L'exposition de Paris - 1889