Life and works
What little that is known about the master sculptor called Byzantios is all knowledge inferred from his works; no written sources exist about him. Even the name Byzantios is only a label, chosen in the 20th century by art historian Johnny Roosval and intended to highlight the sculptor's stylistic qualities as he was evidently influenced by Byzantine art (albeit probably only second-hand).
Byzantios was possibly from, or at the very least received his training in, north-eastern Italy. It was probably in that environment he acquired and developed his artistic style, which is heavily influenced by Byzantine art. Such influenced were strong in north-eastern Italian art at the time. He most probably worked on the building site of either Lund Cathedral or the Holy Cross Priory, Dalby, or both. Other sources speculate that he may have received his training in Novgorod, where merchants from Gotland were active. Eventually he moved to Gotland and was active there as a sculptor of baptismal fonts and architectural details on church building sites at a time when church building was very active on the island.
Eleven baptismal fonts has been ascribed to him or his workshop, as well as four bases of fonts whose upper parts have been lost. All are located on Gotland, notable examples can be found in Atlingbo, Garde, Vamlingbo, Mästerby and Källunge churches. A frieze at Vänge church is also attributed to Byzantios.
Byzantios was the first of a series of stone sculptors working on Gotland during the Romanesque period of Scandinavian art history. Several others would eventually follow in his footsteps, e.g. Majestatis, Hegvald and Sigraf. His style is easily recognisable in comparison. The basins of his fonts are always octagonal (as opposed to other masters' circular basins), and his imagery is clearly influenced by Byzantine art in a rather unusual way, e.g. through his treatment of the subject of the Annunciation. Here he depicts Mary spinning yarn for the veil at the temple, a typically Byzantine way of representing the scene. In addition, animals and legendary creatures (including the first depictions of both elephants and camels in Swedish art history) are also popular subjects. Byzantios was furthermore the first artist in the Nordic countries who portrayed human beings in a reasonably correct anatomical way. The pictures on either of the eight sides of the fonts seems to have been executed without any particular connection, although an overarching theme is the conflict between good and evil. Two of the fonts attributed to him, at Garde and Hejde churches, retain traces of original paint.
- Roosval, Johnny (1916). "Byzantios eller en gotländsk stenmästare på 1100-talet" (PDF). Swedish National Heritage Board (in Swedish). Journal of Swedish Antiquarian Research). Retrieved July 21, 2013.
- Svanberg, Jan (1995). Signums svenska konsthistoria. Den romanska konsten. (in Swedish). Lund: Signum förlag. pp. 182–189. ISBN 91-87896-23-0.
- "Gotländska stenmästare, skulptur, Gotland" (in Swedish). guteinfo.com. Retrieved July 21, 2013.
- "Mästerby" (in Swedish). Svensk uppslagsbok (1955). Retrieved July 21, 2013.
- Media related to Byzantios at Wikimedia Commons