The Royal Academy – London presents its truly extraordinary exhibition of “Byzantium 330-1453” in co-operation with the Benaki Museum, Athens. That was an unusually mild winter day in London when we arrived there – a group of Fine Art students and tutors from Ireland. The subway wagons and the streets were as feverishly busy as, I suppose, they always are in this modern metropolis; but also – to our sincere surprise – there were even biggest crowds inside the RA building, everyone heading for the exhibition. One could overhear the anxious curators voices considering if some sort of an access restriction shouldn’t be introduced. And the fears were fully justified, since once you found yourself in those dark, small rooms completely packed both with priceless artifacts and excited people swinging around them their ants-like dance, you could hardly distinguish the space between the ‘art’ and the ‘viewers’ – so painfully vast and dividing in some of the galleries.
But one had to also immediately admit that the show was prepared with an admirable passion and professionalism, armed in detailed, general history and art history-based introductions/descriptions, yet loosing nothing from its considerable spiritual impact. And when I wandered endlessly around those cabinets and walls, listening both to the lively comments of those around me and to the ‘voice of the ancient past’ present in the artworks, when I allowed myself to be completely mesmerised both by an absolute mastership of the Byzantian art and my contemporaries admiration of it, I thought that is the sheer power of the human spirit in its long pilgrimage throughout the centuries and continents, that gives this exhibition the miraculous wings of the Phoenix, rising from the ashes.
One doesn’t have to be a believer to be reduced to his ‘kneels’, neither you are expected to have a degree in esoteric-sounding disciplines like, for example – ‘History of the Ancient East’ to get the message at all – there is something so profoundly universal and timeless about the art presented, something so gloriously soul-commanding that one just has to surrender admitting the superiority of that long-dead civilization. I must write I felt privileged in a sense having strong roots in the East and in the Christian tradition – I was at home there reading icons with some knowledge and previous experience or appreciating the richness of the palette and symbols – again well-known in my part of Europe. Yet, nothing could have prepared me for the splendour, genius and a challenge of that art – the Sublime in its purest, most profound form, especially in such a number displayed in one place.
What else can be written without getting too esoteric – I believe this exhibition just has to be seen and experienced (and re-experienced, re-thought again and again) to make any sense at all. It’s a fantastic honor just to be able to go there and to see it…
Well-written, beautifully printed and quite reasonably priced (in a paperback) catalogue of the exhibition is highly recommended to buy/save for future inspirations/ references.