The style that characterized Byzantine art was almost entirely concerned with religious expression; specifically with the translation of church theology into artistic terms.Byzantine Architecture and painting (little sculpture was produced during the Byzantine era) remained uniform and anonymous and developed within a rigid tradition.
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Between Emperor Constantine I's Edict in 313, recognizing Christianity as the official religion, and the fall of Rome at the hands of the Visigoths in 476, arrangements were made to divide the the Roman Empire into a Western half (ruled from Rome) and an Eastern half (ruled from Byzantium).
Thus, while Western Christendom fell into the cultural abyss of the barbarian Dark Ages, its religious, secular and artistic values were maintained by its new Eastern capital in Byzantium (later renamed Constantinople after Constantine).
So beautiful was the effect of these mosaics that the form was taken up in Italy, especially in Rome and Ravenna.
A less public art form in Constantinople, was the icon (from the Greek word 'eikon' meaning 'image') - the holy image panel-paintings which were developed in the monasteries of the eastern church, using encaustic wax paint on portable wooden panels.
[See: Icons and Icon Painting.] The greatest collection of this type of early Biblical art is in the monastery of St Catherine in Sinai, founded in the 6th century by the Emperor Justinian.
Along with the transfer of Imperial authority to Byzantium went thousands of Roman and Greek painters and craftsmen, who proceeded to create a new set of Eastern Christian images and icons, known as Byzantine Art.
Exclusively concerned with Christian art, though derived (in particular) from techniques and forms of Greek and Egyptian art, this style spread to all corners of the Byzantine empire, where Orthodox Christianity flourished.
Particular centres of early Christian art included Ravenna in Italy, and Kiev, Novgorod and Moscow in Russia.
For more detail, see also: Christian Art, Byzantine Period.