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Glories of gold: The art of Byzantium

Economist Magazine

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"Byzantium's icon painters were the Mel Gibsons of their day--and more."

New Yorkers are assaulted by thousands of images every day. In recent days, scenes from the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ--all of them images designed to make people think harder about the relationship between spiritual authority and earthly power--have had an unaccustomed impact.

Thus far, at least, we might be speaking of Mel Gibson's blockbuster film, "The Passion of The Christ"--or of another, rather more rarefied event that will nonetheless make a deep impression on American consumers of high culture: the opening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art of a wonderfully rich selection of the artistic and spiritual achievements of late Christian Byzantium, and its imitators in the Slavic world.

Inevitably, comparisons will be made. For better or worse, Mr Gibson's film is probably the most ambitious attempt to recreate on film the 2,000-year-old story in whose light more than a billion people alive today believe themselves to be living. At least in theory, every drop of historical knowledge and technology available to a modern cinematographer has been deployed to make the film as "realistic" as possible, in terms of landscape, architecture and even language.

The icons, manuscripts, embroidered vestments and other religious objects on show at the Met do not set out to achieve that sort of verisimilitude. But they are among the supreme achievements of another era's effort to describe the same narrative through an entirely different medium, that of formal sacred art or iconography

Read this article on The Economist website.

Posted: 3/28/04



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