Splendour and Everyday Life

26 February to 13 June 2010

An exhibition of the Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany, in cooperation with the Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum / Forschungsinstitut für Vor- und Frühgeschichte, Mainz

Antiquity has left its mark on Europe. In which way this happened clearly distinguishes Western from Eastern Europe. The upheavals of the Migration Period with the subsequent foundation of the barbarian kingdoms largely brought the development of the Mediterranean civilisation to a standstill in the Roman West. It was the church that managed the inheritance of the Greeks and Romans. Both the Carolingeans and agents of the powerful 14th century Renaissance consciously reached back to the time of Constantine the Great and carried the achievements of Antiquity forward.

The situation in the East was different: In Constantinople, the Greco-Roman world in its Christian version remained vibrant for centuries. The members of ruling circles regarded themselves as the heirs of Greece and Rome; they were conscious of the ancient past and could draw from it. Naturally, over the course of centuries adaptations were made to meet new conditions as they arose. Almost parallel to the rise of the Ottonian kings, Byzantium became a medieval state. Yet, substantial elements of Roman civilisation endured: The literary and scientific inheritance of Rome was preserved in scholarly circles and monastic scriptoria; the Empire likewise remained urban and centralised in its structure. Even in difficult periods of Byzantine history, the uniform system of taxation and finance continued to function and interregional trade ensured the supply for the cities. High-quality goods like silk textiles and masterful enamelled works were appreciated internationally. The contribution of the Byzantine Empire to modern Europe is far more important than we are aware of. Because Constantinople resisted Arab expansion, the medieval West could continue developing. The christianisation of all of Southeastern and Eastern Europe, the Balkan countries, Ukraine and Russia was conducted by Byzantium; Cyrillic script was developed by Byzantine missionaries. The European legal system is based on the Corpus iuris civilis promulgated in Byzantium under the emperor Justinian I. The Italian Renaissance received substantial impulses from Byzantine erudition, not least from the classical Byzantine painting. Even Turkish culture is likewise partly based on Byzantine antecedents: for example, the typical architecture of the mosques developed from the Byzantine domed churches.

I. The problem of the sources
The extant sources from the Byzantine Empire are modest in comparison with their significance for European history. Historians must do with relatively few written sources since only fragments of the once rich archives survived today. Of the magnificent palaces and public buildings almost nothing remains. In essence, a few churches and their furnishings inform us about the size of the last ancient state in the Middle Ages. For this reason archaeological research is even more important, since its potential is nearly unlimited and its methods, in part due to the contributions of natural sciences, continue to develop. Only in the last decades special attention has been given to daily life of the general population of Byzantium, and there are new results from all regions of the Byzantine Empire that can be placed in a larger context. German and Austrian institutions are leading or involved in many of these undertakings.

II. The planned exhibition
The exhibition will make use of magnificent and historically meaningful exhibits and important artefacts from collections and archaeological excavations to shed light on many aspects of the history, archaeology and art of the Byzantine Empire. It will offer an overview of the “Byzantine Millenium” (from the foundation of Constantinople by Constantine the Great in 324 A.D. to the conquest by the Ottomans in 1453), but will concentrate above all on the prospering of the Empire from the time of Justinian I (527–565 A.D.) until the plundering of Constantinople by western crusaders in 1204. The main questions of the Byzantine state, Byzantine art and culture, society, economy, the Byzantine military, as well as daily life, etc., are to be discussed on the basis of “scenes”, by means of which these themes can be made highly accessible. The “scenes” will be reconstructed and animated with the help of computer graphics; archaeological finds will thus “speak”. Animated films will introduce the respective sections of the exhibition. The planned exhibition will also illustrate the achievements of the various disciplines that have contributed to our understanding of Byzantine culture, and thus have enabled an understanding of the present: above all Byzantine studies, art history and archaeology, along with few other related


Splendour and Everyday Life

Format: 24,5 x 28 cm
408 pages with 438 colour illustrations
German edition only
Museum edition: 32 EUR
Trade edition: 42 EUR
Hirmer Publishers, Munich
ISBN: 978-3-7774-2531-3

Cataloguecover: Byzanz
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  1. Image from ExhibitionPhoto: Mark Brandenburgh © Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland GmbH

Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland

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