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COURSE NAME: "Early Christian and Byzantine Art"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2023

INSTRUCTOR: Nicole Constantina Paxton
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: MW 10:00 AM 11:15 AM
PREREQUISITES: Partially on-site; mandatory trip to Ravenna; activity fee: €25 or $33


This course traces the developments in architecture, painting, sculpture, and mosaic of the Early Christian and Byzantine periods, from the art of the catacombs in the 3rd and 4th centuries to the monuments of Italo-Byzantine art of the Middle Ages. Students are introduced to the early Christian art and architecture of cities such as Rome, Ravenna and Constantinople. The mandatory field trip may require a fee.

Satisfies "the Medieval World" core course requirement for Art History majors


This upper-level survey investigates the art and architecture of the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire from the time of Constantinople’s foundation as the “New Rome” in 330 until its fall to the Ottomans in 1453. The course introduces key works in a variety of media, from monumental mosaics and frescoes to portable icons, illuminated manuscripts, metal- and enamelwork, and textiles. Special emphasis is placed on cross-cultural interactions across the medieval Mediterranean from western Europe to the Islamic world.

Proceeding chronologically, this course takes a long view of the art and architecture produced within and around the Byzantine Empire. We begin with the nascence of the earliest Christian art in the second and third centuries, followed by an examination of the Early Byzantine period, from the transference of the Roman Empire’s capital to Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) in 330 to the eighth century. Attention is given to the Iconoclastic controversies of the 700s and 800s before turning to the flourishing of art and architecture in the Middle Byzantine period (843–1204). We will consider the political fragmentation of the empire caused by the Fourth Crusade, during which Constantinople fell under Latin rule from 1204–61. Following this period of rupture, we consider shifts in artistic production in Late Byzantium through the empire’s final fall to the Ottomans in 1453. We conclude with an exploration of the afterlives and echoes of Byzantium, from Ottoman architecture to the Russian avant-garde.


Topics and themes to be addressed include: the transition from ancient Roman artistic traditions to the visual culture of early Christianity; theories of the icon and the iconoclast controversies; the cult of the saints, relics, and pilgrimage; intertwined ideas of religiosity and secularism; and the dual concepts of continuity and innovation; notions of empire and the politics of the visual. Group discussions will focus on visual analysis and critical readings of primary textual material.


This course requires a field trip to Ravenna (estimated cost per student around €25 plus travel costs). Please see provisional course schedule.


- Recognize key works of Byzantine art and architecture.

- Analyze the visual material within its social and historical contexts.

- Acquire an understanding of the chronology of important historical events related to the Byzantine Empire.

- Demonstrate awareness of significant primary source texts.

- Evaluate secondary literature critically and individuate various scholarly approaches.

- Identify and interpret key themes, and how these relate to individual works of art.

- Cultivate oral communication skills by discussing art in situ and within the classroom.

- Develop writing skills that include: the formation of clear arguments; effective organization and structuring of material; visual analysis; and the incorporation and evaluation of primary and secondary sources.


ParticipationOn-time attendance at all class sessions; careful study of assigned readings; contribution to discussions10%
Short PaperShort comparative visual analysis paper (~500–1000 words)10%
Midterm ExamImage comparisons20%
Research Paper ProposalProposal (~250–500 words) & provisional bibliography10%
Research PaperThesis-driven research project (~2000–2500 words, inclusive of footnotes)25%
Final ExamImage comparisons & short essay questions25%

AWork of this quality directly addresses the question or problem raised and provides a coherent argument displaying an extensive knowledge of relevant information or content. This type of work demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate concepts and theory and has an element of novelty and originality. There is clear evidence of a significant amount of reading beyond that required for the course.
BThis is highly competent level of performance and directly addresses the question or problem raised.There is a demonstration of some ability to critically evaluatetheory and concepts and relate them to practice. Discussions reflect the student’s own arguments and are not simply a repetition of standard lecture andreference material. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions and provides evidence of reading beyond the required assignments.
CThis is an acceptable level of performance and provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings.
DThis level of performances demonstrates that the student lacks a coherent grasp of the material.Important information is omitted and irrelevant points included.In effect, the student has barely done enough to persuade the instructor that s/he should not fail.
FThis work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question. Most of the material in the answer is irrelevant.


You cannot make-up a major exam (midterm or final) without the permission of the Dean’s Office. The Dean’s Office will grant such permission only when the absence was caused by a serious impediment, such as a documented illness, hospitalization or death in the immediate family (in which you must attend the funeral) or other situations of similar gravity. Absences due to other meaningful conflicts, such as job interviews, family celebrations, travel difficulties, student misunderstandings or personal convenience, will not be excused. Students who will be absent from a major exam must notify the Dean’s Office prior to that exam. Absences from class due to the observance of a religious holiday will normally be excused. Individual students who will have to miss class to observe a religious holiday should notify the instructor by the end of the Add/Drop period to make prior arrangements for making up any work that will be missed.

As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
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