Exhibition, Art Institute of Chicago, U.S.A

Heaven and Earth: Art of Byzantium from Greek Collections

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Monday 29 December 2014, by Icon Network

Open until February 15, 2015.

A new exhibition, Heaven and Earth: Art of Byzantium from Greek Collections, opened at the Art Institute of Chicago, and showcases more than 60 superb artworks of the Byzantine era, from the 4th to the 15th centuries.

This exhibition, already shown at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, includes major artistic holdings from Greece consisting of mosaics, sculptures, manuscripts, luxury glass, silver, personal adornments, liturgical textiles, icons, and wall paintings. Heaven and Earth began in late September and runs through February 15, 2015.

The Art Institute of Chicago already has a strong collection from this period, and in 2012 they had exhibition of Late Roman and Early Byzantine Treasures from the British Museum in 2012 that featured artworks from the 4th-7th centuries.

Douglas Druick, President and Eloise W. Martin Director of the Art Institute, commented “Through our collaborations with the organizing institutions of Heaven and Earth, we are fortunate to explore the next chapter of Byzantine art history as we welcome singular and beautiful artworks—many of which have never been shown outside of Greece—that span the history of this powerful empire.”

Heaven and Earth explores the rich legacy of the Byzantine Empire through five main themes: the transition from the Classical to the Byzantine world, spiritual life, intellectual life, the pleasures of life, and cultural exchange in the waning years of the empire in the 15th century. The exhibition opens with the Head of Aphrodite, a Roman marble sculpture of the Greek goddess Aphrodite that had later been altered with a cross carved on her forehead, presumably to Christianize it or reuse it as an image of a saint. From its beginning in the 4th century the Byzantine Empire would embrace its Classical origins while forging a new spiritual aesthetic to outfit the ceremonies and interior of the Christian church.

Icons of holy persons, saints, important theologians, and sacred events were painted to be channels for the devoted to the heavenly realm while mosaics and silks embroidered with gold and silver reflected the glimmering candle light of the church. Jewelry, resplendent with precious and semi-precious gems—including a personalized engagement ring—perfume flasks, and silver and ceramic dinnerware that reveal the spectacle of the banquet, all allow visitors a glimpse into the individual lives of the Byzantines.

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