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The Metropolitan Museum of Art is currently hosting an Africa & Byzantium exhibition, which began on November 19, 2023, and will continue until March 3, 2024. The showcase features nearly 200 medieval Byzantine artworks, spanning the 4th to the 15th century, including illuminated manuscripts and polychrome mosaics.
Highlighting a previously understudied connection, the exhibition explores the multicultural Christian communities of northern and eastern Africa constituting the Exarchate of Africa.
Established in the late 580s by Emperor Maurice, this Byzantine division governed territories in the Western Mediterranean, particularly the Maghreb, until the Muslim conquest in the late 7th century.
The exhibition delves into the tradition of Byzantine art and culture in Africa during this period. It unveils works never before exhibited in the United States, ranging “from monumental frescoes, mosaics, and panel paintings to metalwork, jewelry, ceramics, and illuminated manuscripts” – as noted by Medievalists.net.
One of the most impressive displays includes rarely-seen loans from the Holy Monastery of St. Catherine at Sinai.
While focusing on the Exarchate’s era, the exhibition also addresses the enduring impact of religious and artistic traditions in Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia from the 8th to the 15th century. Faith, politics, and commerce fostered a vibrant exchange of arts and beliefs with Byzantium.
The richness of North African Byzantine art is exemplified by the exquisite mosaics, with artists having easy access to the region’s colored limestones and marbles. Notably, the exhibition features remarkable Tunisian mosaics from the Carthage Museum and the Louvre, offering a glimpse into the artistic legacy of this fascinating historical intersection.