Byzantine Regained

Jerry Saltz at Vulture: In the year 286, Emperor Diocletian began to formalize a division of the Roman Empire into two parts. The Western Roman Empire would go on to become something of a decaying backwater, while the eastern half of the empire — known by historians as the Byzantine Empire — flourished for another thousand years and more. It was never utopia. It was centered on an estuary, where commerce, philosophy, and art flowed into the capital, Constantinople. At times, the Byzantine Empire grew to include areas of present-day Italy, Syria, Tunisia, Spain, and beyond. It died in 1453, when Constantinople’s gigantic guarding walls were breached by the Ottomans.

To walk the remains of these walls today is a humbling reminder of how powerful this empire was. Since then, Byzantium has become a repository of romantic dreams, particularly for those who look at history and its cultural riches through a Western-centric lens. For many in the art world, Byzantium remains what Yeats called an “artifice of eternity” — a dream of civilization that was lost.

The Met’s recent show “Africa & Byzantium” situated itself differently: not in Constantinople and Europe, but in the African regions of the empire, which in turn cast the whole of Byzantium in a new light.

More here.