The most salient feature of Byzantine art was that it existed as an adjunct to Christianity. The Church Fathers commissioned the art, including illustrations, mosaics and frescoes, to reveal the truths they believed. Byzantine artists did not create their art as a form of individual expression. Rather, they created their art to enrich the mind. Byzantine artists strove to produce art as close to divine as possible. Most of them were anonymous. The Church dictated not only what subjects the artists must use, but also how they must arrange the whole composition. Because the emperors considered themselves divinely chosen, Byzantine art often shows the monarchs being crowned by Christ and other similar scenes. The art was highly decorative, especially as compared to, say, the simplistic nature of the art of the ancient Romans and Greeks.
Christian art had undergone a major transformation between the beginning of the first three centuries A.D., in that it started out having to be full of allegory due to the persecution of Christians. However, by the end of the third century and the beginning of the fourth century, persecution was no longer rampant against Christians; the Church had triumphed. It was in this spirit that Byzantine art really started. Constantinople was not only the capitol city, but it was also the city where the emperors made their homes and a vibrant commercial center, as well. Constantinople housed the university, giving it an intellectual atmosphere, along with its other functions. Between the start of the fourth century and the end of the sixth century, Byzantine art reached its pinnacle. In the beginning of the seventh century, the art began a decline in importance. The prior period was the first age of Byzantine art. The second golden age started during the reigns of the Macedonian emperors. That second age lasted until the twelfth century. The third and last golden age started in the fourteenth century. The emperor Constantine played a very significant part in the form that architecture took. He contributed to the design of many buildings, especially the Hellenistic basilicas in churches in Rome and many other cities. The basilica was a complicated building, featuring the atrium with a fountain for holy rituals. A long gallery (narthex) separated the atrium from the main part of the basilica. The basilica proper, consisting of an oblong hall divided into rows of columns, had a nave. It also had two side aisles and a semicircular apse. Brick was the major material used because wood was rare. Sculpture in the round was not a common art form; however, reliefs were often done and many have survived. Architectural ornamentation was also common, often consisting of stone lace work, pierced backgrounds which let light in, and other forms.
Ivory was often used by the Byzantines to make carvings. Multi-colored tiles were also used as part of mosaics and as part of the decoration of upper windows and lower walls. Miniatures have also survived the ravages of time and are found in large numbers in European libraries and Eastern monasteries.
Manuscripts were done in both papyrus rolls and parchment books and often appear with lavish illustrations. Sometimes the manuscripts were written in silver and gold letters with colored parchment backgrounds. Textiles were richly done, too, using brilliant colors in the fabrics themselves, as well as embroidery which was timesakeingly created. Gold and enamel were used on flasks, plates, vases, chalices, plaques and many other items. Although one might expect a strong and lasting influence from the variety and creativity of Byzantine art, the influence was mainly exerted in the Slavic countries. Although travelers carried different types of Byzantine art to many countries, its' influence in other countries was not significant.