Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Grove Art Online. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy).

Subscriber: null; date: 27 September 2020

Byzantine influence in Western medieval artlocked

  • Rebecca W. Corrie

Updated in this version

updated, 28 May 2015

In the 20th century, discussion of the relationship between Byzantine art and the art of the Latin West evolved in tandem with scholarship on Byzantine art itself. Identified as the religious imagery and visual and material culture of the Greek Orthodox Empire based at Constantinople between ad 330 and 1453, studies of Byzantine art often encompassed Post-Byzantine art and that of culturally allied states such as Armenian Cilicia, Macedonia, and portions of Italy. As such fields as Palaiologan family manuscripts and wall paintings, Armenian manuscripts, and Crusader manuscripts and icons emerged, scholars identified new intersections between Western medieval and Byzantine art. Subtle comparisons emerged with the recognition that Byzantine art was not static but changed over time in style and meaning, although most analyses identified Byzantine art as an accessible reservoir of the naturalistic, classicizing styles of antiquity. Scholars considering the 7th-century frescoes at S Maria Antiqua and mosaics at S Maria in Cosmedin, both in Rome, and the 8th-century frescoes at Castelseprio and Carolingian manuscripts such as the Coronation Gospels of Charlemagne (Vienna, Schatzkam. SCHK XIII) used formal comparisons with works such as pre-iconoclastic icons at St Catherine’s Monastery on Sinai, along with the history of Byzantine iconoclasm, to argue for the presence of Greek painters in the West. Similarly, Ottonian and Romanesque painting and luxury arts, such as ivories, provided examples of the appropriation of Byzantine imperial imagery. Yet the study of works such as the great 12th-century Winchester Bible (Winchester Cathedral Lib.) and related frescoes (c. 1180–1200) at Sigena, Spain, and frescoes and manuscripts at Salzburg, Austria, revealed that even when concrete formal comparisons could be made with Byzantine mosaics in Sicily and Venice, the means of transmission remained elusive.

Although the Byzantine question had been raised earlier, it was a series of crucial publications, such as the 1964 exhibition and subsequent symposium, Byzantine Art: An European Art, the 1966 Dumbarton Oaks Papers, which included work by Byzantinists Ernst Kitzinger and Kurt Weitzmann, and the duecento scholar, James Stubblebine, and finally Otto Demus’s seminal book Byzantine Art and the West in 1970 that brought the question of how much Byzantium contributed to Western art to the fore. Although Demus protested that he would not overstate the importance of Byzantine art for the development of Western medieval art, he identified what many had called the perennial classicism of Byzantine art as its leading attraction for the West. Kitzinger and Demus, who had already explored the mosaics of Norman Sicily and Venice, brought their backgrounds in Western European medieval art to the question. And with Weitzmann publishing the Sinai icons and Hugo Buchthal working on Byzantine and Crusader manuscripts and the Wolfenbüttel Model Book (c. 1230; Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bib., Cod. Guelf. 61.2 Aug. 8°), scholars began to ask whether the presence of Constantinopolitan artists or works in Europe or itinerant Western Europeans bearing sketchbooks were responsible for the transmission of iconographic formats, ornamental motifs, and facial and drapery types. Within a decade, scholars such as Hans Belting expanded the basis for considering the reception of Byzantine images in the West. Although Belting traced types of images of the Virgin venerated in both the East and the West, perhaps his most important contribution to the discussion was his controversial argument that the 13th-century Byzantine style was a Mediterranean lingua franca, a correction of Demus’s similarly contested concept of ‘colonial’ art.

As concepts drawn from anthropology and literary theory filtered into the history and criticism of art, scholars including Anthony Cutler began to question the use of the term ‘influence’ for this transmission on the grounds that it implied an unconscious absorption of Byzantine elements by Western artists. Conceptual refinements that recognized conscious choices by Western artists and patrons including ‘appropriation’ and ‘hybridity’ were proposed especially for the era of the Crusades. Heide Grape-Albers convincingly identified 13th-century South Italian manuscript illuminators who purposely Byzantinized their images. Rebecca Corrie and Anne Derbes deepened contextual analysis as they identified specific elements in images of the Virgin and the Passion in 13th-century Tuscan painting appropriated from Byzantine art. They argued that Byzantine style and iconography could be marshalled for political and theological purposes, asserting local civic power, while providing images ideal for changing Western religious sensibilities. Exhibitions including those mounted by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1997 and 2004 brought together Byzantine and Western works and allowed even more precise analysis. Anne Derbes and Amy Neff convincingly identified icons of the Byzantine saint John Chrysostom as the source of Italian images of St Francis, and Maryan Ainsworth explained Byzantine sources for later medieval Northern European images of the Virgin in terms of the icon trade of the era. International symposia and work by scholars such as Paroma Chatterjee, Holger Klein, and Michele Bacci continued the process of bringing economic, social, and theological evidence to bear on established visual and formal evidence, while other publications underlined both the chronological and geographical extent of the exchange.


  • P. Buberl: Die romanischen Wandmalereien im Kloster Nonneburg in Salzburg und ihre Beziehungen zur salzburger Buchmalerei und zur byzantinischen Kunst (Vienna, 1910)
  • Byzantine Art, An European Art/L’Art byzantin, art européen (exh. cat., Athens, 1964)
  • Byzantine Art, An European Art: Lectures (Athens, 1966)
  • E. Kitzinger: ‘The Byzantine Contribution to Western Art of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries’, Dumbarton Oaks Papers, vol. 20 (1966), pp. 25–48
  • J. H. Stubblebine: ‘Byzantine Influence in Thirteenth-century Italian Panel Painting’, Dumbarton Oaks Papers, vol. 20 (1966), pp. 85–102
  • K. Weitzmann: ‘Various Aspects of Byzantine Influence on the Latin Countries from the Sixth to the Twelfth Centuries’, Dumbarton Oaks Papers, vol. 20 (1966), pp. 1–24
  • O. Demus: Byzantine Art and the West (New York, 1970)
  • W. Oakeshott: Sigena: Romanesque Painting in Northern Spain and the Winchester Bible Artists (London and Greenwich, CT, 1972)
  • H. Grape-Albers: Spätantike Bilder aus der Welt des Artztes. Medizinische Bilderhandschriften der Spätantike und ihre mittelalterliche Überlieferung (Wiesbaden, 1977)
  • H. Belting: ‘Zwischen Gotik und Byzanz. Gedanken zur Geschichte der sächsischen Buchmalerei im 13. Jahrhundert’, Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte [merger of Z. Bild. Kst with Repert. Kstwiss. & with Jb. Kstwiss.], vol. 41 (1978), pp. 246–57
  • H. Buchthal: The ‘Musterbuch’ of Wolfenbüttel and its Position in the Art of the Thirteenth Century (Vienna, 1979)
  • H. Belting, ed.: Il Medio oriente e l’Occidente nell’arte del XIII secolo (Bologna, 1982), pp. 1–11
  • G. Cavallo, ed.: I Bizantini in Italia (Milan, 1982)
  • C. R. Dodwell: The Pictorial Arts of the West 800–1200 (New Haven and London, 1993)
  • H. Belting: Likeness and Presence: A History of the Image before the Era of Art (Chicago and London, 1994)
  • R. W. Corrie: ‘Coppo di Marcovaldo’s Madonna del bordone and the Meaning of the Bare-legged Child in Siena and the East’, Gesta, vol. 35(1) (1996), pp. 43–62
  • A. Derbes: Picturing the Passion in Late Medieval Italy: Narrative Painting, Franciscan Ideologies and the Levant (Cambridge and New York, 1996)
  • The Glory of Byzantium: Art and Culture of the Middle Byzantine Era A.D. 843–1261 (exh. cat., ed. H. C. Evans and W. D. Wixom, New York, Met., 1997)
  • Tra le due sponde dell’Adriatico: La pittura nella Serbia del XIII secolo e l’Italia (Ferrarra, 1999)
  • A. Cutler: ‘Misapprehensions and Misgivings: Byzantine Art and the West in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries’, Byzantium, Italy and the North: Papers on Cultural Relations (London, 2000), pp. 474–509
  • Oriente en Occidente: Antiguos iconos valencianos (exh. cat., ed. N. Blaya Estrada; Valencia, Fundación Bancaja, 2000)
  • M. Ainsworth: ‘“À la façon grèce”, The Encounter of Northern Renaissance Artists with Byzantine Icons’, Byzantium: Faith and Power (1261–1557) (exh. cat., ed. H. C. Evans; New York, Met., 2004), pp. 544–5
  • A. Derbes and A. Neff: ‘Italy, the Mendicant Orders, and the Byzantine Sphere’, Byzantium: Faith and Power (1261–1557) (exh. cat., ed. H. C. Evans; New York, Met., 2004), pp. 448–61
  • H. A. Klein: ‘Eastern Objects and Western Desires: Relics and Reliquaries between Byzantium and the West’, Dumbarton Oaks Papers, vol. 58 (2004), pp. 283–314
  • M. Bacci: ‘The Legacy of the Hodegetria: Holy Icons and Legends between East and West’, Images of the Mother of God: Perceptions of the Theotokos in Byzantium, ed. M. Vassilaki (Aldershot and Burlington, VT, 2005), pp. 321–36
  • J.-P. Gaillet and F. Joubert, eds: Orient et Occident méditerranéens au XIIIe siècle: Les programmes picturaux (Paris, 2012)
  • A. Lymberopoulou and R. Duits, eds: Byzantine Art and Renaissance Europe (Farnham and Burlington, VT, 2013)
  • P. Chatterjee: The Living Icon in Byzantium and Italy: The Vita Image, Eleventh to Thirteenth Centuries (New York, 2014)