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Studying for a test? Prepare with these 4 lessons on Byzantine (late Roman Empire).
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Video transcript
(upbeat piano music) Female: We're in the British Museum looking at a very large ivory panel. Usually ivories are very small. Male:This is huge and apparently it's actually one half of a diptych. Now what's interesting is even though it's in the British Museum, it actually comes originally from Constantinople. This is a Byzantine object. Female: It looks like the other half of a diptych would have been on the left side. The angel who's in this ivory and let me just say this ivory is probably about what, 18 inches? Male: Yes, I would say so. Probably by about five and a half or six. Female: Right. The other panel would have been on the left and the Arch Angel, who we see, seems to be looking in the direction of what would have been the other figure that would have been in the other panel. Male: You can further tell that the panel would have been on the left because you can see you can actually see three holes that would have been functioning as part of the hinge. Female: Right and a diptych of course means a work of art made out of two panels, as opposed to a triptych which is three panels. Male: We can assume that there would have been another saint on the other side; another angel perhaps. Female: Another angel or perhaps the angel giving this orb to a king or an emperor. Male: We see Greek text up at the top and below that we see this incredibly ornate arch with a cross above that and the cross is surmounting an orb. There seems to be almost a kind of sunburst behind it; very decorative, beautiful carving of a kind of ribbon or banner just below the wreath and then some broad open areas under some dentils. These are just architectural elements. We see Corinthian plasters framing the figure. Female: It actually reminded me of an apse in a church with an archway behind and those columns in maybe perhaps a kind of recessed space. Male: Even though this is carved, it's such a shallow relief carving; it's so flat. You do get a sense of real architectural space there and the figure himself is so interesting because it's so classisizing in some ways. This is though very much a Byzantine rendering. Look at the size of the Arch Angel in reationship for instance to the staircase. Female: He is very large. Is that what you mean? He very much takes up that whole space as kind of a hierarchy of scale so that his size matches his divine nature. Male: This is very interesting because this is very classisizing. Look at the drapery... Female: Yes, that's very classical. Male: That he wears. Even up against the wings of; he's an angel, he's an Arch Angel. Female: He has his classical toga on. Male: Yes and it's actually getting fairly late to see that kind of synthesis, right? Female: Even his hair, the curls in his hair look like a Roman sculpture, Roman portrait bust. Male: It's true. If you stripped away the wings, if you stripped away the cross and the orb, you could be looking at a Roman portrait. Female: The detail here in the carving is remarkable. The lines that make up each of the feathers in the angel's wings or the little circular swirling decorations in his cuff to the delicacy of his hand as he holds the staff, the other hand holding the orb with a cross on it, that symbol of power, but we know that we're not in the classical world anymore and the way that I know that is by not only his size in relationship to the architecture, but when I look down at his feet. Male: How so? Female: He doesn't really stand on the ground. His feet sort of flatten out and hang over those stairs. He doesn't really make contact with the ground in a meaningful way and that suggests to me a weightlessness, a kind of spirituality that reminds me of Byzantine and Medieval art. Male:The handling of the body, which by the way really is transparent behind the cloth, the body really does swell that cloth. It's not that later Medieval rejection of the body below, but this is still coming out of the classical. Female: Look at his toes. Male: They're great toes. Female: Aren't they? Male: They are great. Female: I mean this is such a strange combination of the spiritual and the human that is a very funny moment in early Christian and Byzantine art. Male: There is a kind of awkwardness with the synthesis; it hasn't been worked out yet. Female: Right. Male: It really is clash of traditions. Female: Of Pagan and Christian. Male: Absolutely. (upbeat piano music)