Monday, 23 December 2013

The Art of Eternity: The Glory of Byzantium

Above is a good BBC documentary from 2007, The Art of Eternity: The Glory of Byzantium, presented by art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon, which looks at the meaning, purpose, technique and changing nature of Byzantine art and iconography. In his quest to understand Greek Orthodox art, Graham-Dixon visits Constantinople, Thessaloniki, Ravenna and the Osios Loukas monastery in Boetia and correctly points out that the Byzantine artistic tradition is not just a historical phenomenon but a living cultural (and spiritual) experience.

*ADDENDUM: After posting the above, I watched a film Andrew Graham-Dixon made in 2004 on the dispute between Greece and Britain over the return of the Parthenon Marbles.

The film – provocatively called The Elgin Marbles – contains all the usual pathetic and specious arguments against the Marbles’ return; such as, the Marbles are not just part of Greek culture, they’re a part of world culture; the sculptures don’t have a national identity; Greek attachment to the Marbles is contrived, a product of Hellenic jingoism.

Indeed, Graham-Dixon suggests at one point that Greece’s desire to have the Marbles returned reflects an unhealthy nationalistic obsession with the fifth century BC.

‘There is a danger,’ Graham-Dixon says, ‘of plucking this one moment, this fifth century BC moment, out of the vast multicultural continuum of the history of the Greek lands and elevating it to canonical status. By wiping out the intervening two thousand years of history, there is a risk of disenfranching all sorts of modern Greek citizens – Jews, Muslims – whose cultures have also made a contribution to the history of modern Greece.’

After that nonsensical outburst, it’s hard to take Graham-Dixon’s film on Byzantine art seriously.

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