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Courtyard Gallery

The permanent displays encountered in the Courtyard Gallery cluster mostly along the walls, with much of the central courtyard space reserved for temporary exhibitions. The majority of objects in this gallery predate the Byzantine Empire. The space is one of broadened geographic spaces and deepened timelines, representing the variety of artistic traditions and the diverse cultures from which the Byzantine Empire inherited its artistic vitality.

The Courtyard Gallery was designed in 1987 by George Hartman of the Washington, DC, architectural firm Hartman and Cox.

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Understanding the Gallery: Themes

The broad geographical spread of influences that gave rise to Byzantine art find expression here, from the rearing bronze horse from South Arabia to limestone reliefs from an Achaemenid palace at Persepolis. A Roman copy of a Greek portrait head, a wall mural fragment, a stone urn, and several floor mosaics from Antioch (modern Antakya in Turkey), demonstrate the many ways in which the traditions of the Roman Empire influenced and endured within the Byzantine Empire. Alongside geographical connections, the Gallery highlights connections through time. Several cases, for instance, display similar objects from different time periods side by side in order to illustrate the enduring links between ancient and medieval Greek civilizations. Another case devoted to Byzantine pottery brings the last centuries of the Byzantine Empire’s long life to light.

Visitors are also given a brief introductory glimpse into ancient religion and spirituality with a display case that highlights the diverse ways in which ancient artists brought divine figures into the earthly realm. Another case displays ancient jewelry, addressing personal adornment as a means of expressing complex messages about the wearer’s social identity and status. Both of these themes are explored in more depth in the adjacent Byzantine Gallery.

Two wall cases puncture the space between the Courtyard Gallery and the Byzantine Gallery. A case devoted to light displays standing and hanging lamps. These bronze lamps, practical in function and imaginative in form, occupied a place between the far more numerous terracotta examples known from the ancient and Byzantine worlds and the deluxe, silver lamps, far fewer in number, encountered in the later Byzantine Empire. The second case addresses ideas of value in the Byzantine Empire, presenting both materials that were considered precious (such as amethyst and ivory) as well as the weighing measures used to determine their value in the ancient world.