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Paper: Cosmological Symbolism in the Decorative Cycles of Mid-Byzantine Churches
Volume: 501, Inspiration of Astronomical Phenomena VIII
Page: 103
Authors: Shrimplin, V.
Abstract: Fundamental links between theology and astronomy are widely reflected in the Judaeo-Christian tradition. From Genesis to Revelation, the great mysteries of the beginning and end of the universe, and the cycles of birth and death of individuals, are explained in terms of cosmological concepts. These are in turn reflected in art and architecture and nowhere more broadly, perhaps, than in Byzantine architecture and decoration. Following the Iconoclast prohibition of images in the Orthodox church (726–843), the mid-Byzantine period (843–1204) witnessed the primacy of the representation of the heavens in art and architecture. Reinforced by such writers as Cosmas Indicopleustes and Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, not only were individual images reflective of the heavens (nativity and rebirth at the winter solstice, and rebirth/resurrection at the spring equinox) but entire cycles of church decoration were devised so as to reflect the ordering of God's universe. The architecture and decoration of the quintessential mid-Byzantine cross-in-square church was symbolic itself of the universe, as at Hosios Loukas and Daphni (eleventh century). From the location of the Pantocrator in the central celestial dome, to the descending zones of squinches and pendentives and the lowest earthly zones, decorative schemes are used to reflect the view of the sky/heavens above earth. Hierarchical systems depicting the life of Christ and ascending/descending ranks of saints and angels were rigorously adhered to, with Mary in the apse as bridge between heaven and earth.
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