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The Byzantine Art Of Komnenos

'The Lamentation of Christ' (1164), a fresco from the church of Saint Panteleimon in Nerezi near Skopje. It is considered a superb example of 12th century Komnenian art.

It has recently been argued that a '12th century renaissance' occurred in Byzantium. Although the term does not enjoy widespread usage, it is beyond doubt that 12th century Byzantium witnessed major cultural developments, which were largely underpinned by rapid economic expansion.

The 12th century was a time of significant growth in the Byzantine economy, with rising population levels and extensive tracts of new agricultural land being brought into production. Archaeological evidence from both Europe and Asia Minor shows a considerable increase in the size of urban settlements, together with a ‘notable upsurge’ in new towns.

In Athens the medieval town experienced a period of rapid and sustained growth, starting in the eleventh century and continuing until the end of the twelfth century. Thessaloniki, the second city of the Empire, hosted a famous summer fair which attracted traders from across the Balkans and even further afield to its bustling market stalls. In Corinth, silk production fuelled a thriving economy.

In Asia Minor, some areas had become depopulated due to Turkish raiding in the late eleventh century. Yet as the Komnenian emperors built up extensive fortifications in rural areas during the twelfth century, repopulation of the countryside took place.[15]

Overall, given that both population and prosperity increased substantially in this period, economic recovery in Byzantium appears to have been strengthening the economic basis of the state. This helps to explain how the Komnenian emperors, Manuel Komnenos in particular, were able to project their power and influence so widely at this time.

The new wealth being generated during this period had a positive impact on Byzantine cultural life. In artistic terms, the twelfth century was a very productive period in Byzantine history. There was a revival in the mosaic art, and regional schools of Architecture began producing many distinctive styles that drew on a range of cultural influences.

According to N. H. Baynes in Byzantium, An Introduction to East Roman Civilization

Such was the influence of Byzantine art in the twelfth century, that Russia, Venice,

southern Italy and Sicily all virtually became provincial centres dedicated to its production.