Mostly religious in function, but preserving the classicism of Greco-Roman art, Byzantine buildings and art objects communicate the purity and certainties of the public face of early Christian art. Focusing on the art of Constantinople between 330 and 1453, this book probes the underlying motives and attitudes of the society which produced such rich and delicate art forms. It examines the stages this art went through as the city progressed from being the Christian center of the Eastern Roman Empire, to its crisis during attack from the new religion of Islam, to its revived medieval splendor and then, after the Latin capture of 1204 and the Byzantine reoccupation after 1261, to its arrival at a period of cultural reconciliation with East and West.
Because Byzantine art portrays a society in change, defining the period and its contributions is a big undertaking. The author of several books on iconography and Byzantine art, Cormack (history of art, Univ. of London; deputy director, Courtauld Inst. of Art) only partially meets the challenge of making his subject understandable. The book's organization lends to its accessibility; Cormack breaks down the era's political and social developments, revealing their complexity, and time lines and sidebars make the topic more approachable. The trade paperback size (standard for this series) means smaller illustrations, which is a shortcoming. But the list of Internet links to museums with Byzantine art collections will be very useful for students. Despite the book's strengths, Cormack is not writing for the beginner, and some of this material will be over the heads of most readers. A respectable but not necessary addition to public and academic libraries that need the subject coverage. Karen Ellis, Nicholson Memorial Lib. Syst., Garland, TX Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.