Dictionary of Art and Artists


that Changed the World


  Lascaux Caves Manesse illuminated Massys Callot Friedrich Picasso
  Tutankhamen's tomb Lorenzetti Grunewald Rembrandt Constable Matisse
  Europa and Minotaur Karlstein Castle Baldung Claude Lorrain Delacroix Marc
  Banquet Tomb Limbourg brothers Altdorfer Velazquez Turner Kandinsky
  Pompeii Van Eyck Cranach Vermeer Ingres Monet
  Birth of Christianity Della Francesca Holbein Rigaud Manet Chirico
  Hagia Sophia Uccello Titian Watteau Burne-Jones Modigliani
  Book of Kells Mantegna Bruegel Canaletto Seurat Chagall
  St Benedict Botticelli Vicentino Boucher Van Gogh Kahlo
  Bayeux Tapestry Anonymous Arcimboldo Fragonard Toulouse-Lautrec Dali
  Donizo manuscript Durer El Greco Gainsborough Munch Ernst
  Liber Scivias Bosch Theodore de Bry John Trumbull Cezanne Hopper
  Carmina Burana Da Vinci Caravaggio David Gauguin Bacon
  Falcon Book Michelangelo Rubens Gros Degas Warhol
  Giotto Raphael Brouwer Goya Klimt  

From Lascaux to Warhol

Supreme art is a traditional statement of certain heroic and religious truth,
passed on from age to age, modified by individual genius,
but never abandoned.

William Butler Yeats




From Brothel to Court

Masterpieces of art and architecture



Theodora had a beautiful face and was in every way a graceful woman; not very tall and with a rather pale complexion, and when she looked at you her eyes were feral and penetrating. Were I to narrate her many adventures on and behind the stage, my story would never come to an end.

Procopius, Anecdota, sixth century AD



Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, erected bv Empress Theodora and Emperor Justiman



Theodora's father was a bear-keeper at the Hippodrome of Constantinople, where the Roman crowd went to enjoy the spectacles of chariot and horse racing, circus performances and gladiatorial combats. Growing up among jugglers and gladiators, Theodora ran with a dubious crowd. When she was a girl she stood out among the capital's actresses, dancers and hetaerae (female companions and courtesans) for her wit, her charm, her beauty and her shamelessness. The Byzantine historian Procopius said of her: "She bared her body front and back, inviting men to look at charms that are supposed to remain unseen, and became an expert in the techniques of exciting lust so as to hold worldly men in her thrall." Among her admirers were judges, scholars and statesmen — and a young Senator named Justinian. Roman law forbade the marriage of a Senator to an actress, but the ardent aristocrat persuaded the Emperor Julian to revoke the law so that he could marry her. Justinian's mother is said to have died of grief.

Justinian became ruler of the Eastern Roman Empire in AD 527 and the one-time courtesan became an empress, reigning jointly with her husband. We hear that priests who did not bend to her will were persecuted and that she had a secret police which spied on and tortured the thousands of people whom she considered her enemies. Her ladies-in-waiting, with whom she is depicted in a mosaic in the church of San Vitale at Ravenna, which was then a Byzantine outpost in Italy, are all supposed to have been former courtesans. In the same church, Emperor Justinian is portrayed with his attendants in another mosaic on a wall directly opposite Theodora. The two rulers were to be seen analogously to Christ and the Virgin, symbolizing the union of earthly and spiritual authority and "divine kingship".

Procopius seems to have taken a leering delight in writing Anecdota, an historical expose about an Emperor and Empress, whom he held in contempt. But others considered Theodora to be generous, compassionate towards the poor and a devout Christian. Together with the Emperor she had churches and monasteries built, most importantly Hagia Sophia (The Church of Holy Wisdom in Constantinople), 532—37, which remains the most important achievement of Byzantine architecture. Contemporary historians are kindly disposed towards Theodora. They admire her unusual erudition and intelligence and credit her with doing much to strengthen the will of her indecisive husband and inspiring him in the work of defending the Empire.


Anonymous, Byzantine
Empress Theodora and Her Attendants

c. AD 547
Detail from the apse of San Vitale, Revenna


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