The art developed in Constantinople (Byzantium) after it had become Constantine's capital (A.D. 328) and the center of European and Eastern culture.
Combining the elements of Greek and early Christian art with oriental love of color and lavish decoration, imported from Syria and Persia, it was characterized by formal rigidity in the angular figures, elaborate costume, and rich backgrounds of gold or blue.
Devoted at first to expressing religious truths it followed laws strictly laid down by the Church.
At the same time it was protected by the Church from the deadening influence of the Iconoclasts of the 8th and 9th centuries, and lived to inspire the art of Italy through such centers as Ravenna, Palermo, and Venice, and to influence all European art after the Crusades had made its treasures known.
The forms of Byzantine art embraced painting on wood and plaster, miniatures, mosaic work which has never been surpassed, and a multitude of lesser arts such as the illumination of missals, metalwork, jewelry, ivory-carving, and the production of beautiful vestments.
In sculpture, through the revulsion of feeling against the pagan gloriflcation of the human form, it was limited to the carving of flat surfaces and intricate openwork capitals.
New Catholic Dictionary