French Illustrator Revives the Byzantine Empire with Magnificently Detailed Drawings of Its Monuments & Buildings: Hagia Sophia, Great Palace & More

The Byzan­tine Empire fell in the mid-15th cen­tu­ry, but some­thing of its spir­it still lives on. A great deal of it lives on in the work of the French illus­tra­tor Antoine Hel­bert. “This pas­sion was kin­dled by a birth­day gift from his moth­er,” writes a blog­ger named Herve Ris­son in a post about it. “This gift was a book about Byzan­tium. Hel­bert was 7 years old.” Like many an inter­est instilled ear­ly and deeply enough in child­hood, Hel­bert’s fas­ci­na­tion turned into an obses­sion — or any­way, what looks like it must be an obses­sion, since it has moti­vat­ed him to cre­ate such mag­nif­i­cent­ly detailed recre­ations of Byzan­tium in its hey­day.

“Attract­ed by the archi­tec­ture,” Ris­son writes of Hel­bert, “he has also a strong pas­sion for the his­to­ry of the Byzan­tine Empire, much maligned and despised, in com­par­i­son with the his­to­ry of the ‘real’ Roman Empire.”

That’s not to say that the Byzan­tine Empire, also known as the East­ern Roman Empire, has received no atten­tion, but undoubt­ed­ly it has received less than the West­ern Roman Empire it sur­vived in the fifth cen­tu­ry. Still, few his­tor­i­cal empires of any kind receive such an exquis­ite degree of atten­tion from any sin­gle liv­ing artist.

You can see some of Hel­bert’s work on his site, which is divid­ed into two sec­tions: one for scenes of Byzan­tium, and one for the archi­tec­ture of Byzan­tium. The lat­ter cat­e­go­ry, images from which you see here, includes such world-famous land­marks as Hagia Sophia, Boukoleon Palace, and the Great Palace of Con­stan­tino­ple — the city now known as Istan­bul, Turkey. The intact Hagia Sophia con­tin­ues to attract tourists in huge num­bers, but those who vis­it the Great Palace, or what remains of it, have to use their imag­i­na­tion to get a sense of what it must have looked like in the Byzan­tine Empire’s hey­day.

Hel­bert, who only made his first vis­it to Istan­bul at the age of 35, has put in that amount of imag­i­na­tive work and much more besides. “Since then,” writes Ris­son, Hel­bert “has tak­en great care to res­ur­rect the city of the emper­ors, with great atten­tion to details and to the sources avail­able. What he can’t find, he invents, but always with a great care for the his­tor­i­cal accu­ra­cy.” Indeed, many of Hel­bert’s illus­tra­tions don’t, at first glance, look like illus­tra­tions at all, but more like what you’d come up with if you trav­eled back to the Con­stan­tino­ple of fif­teen or so cen­turies ago with a cam­era. “The project has no lucra­tive goal,” Ris­son notes. “It’s a pas­sion. A byzan­tine pas­sion!”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Map­ping the Sounds of Greek Byzan­tine Church­es: How Researchers Are Cre­at­ing “Muse­ums of Lost Sound”

The His­to­ry of Byzan­tium Pod­cast Picks Up Where The His­to­ry of Rome Left Off

How Ara­bic Trans­la­tors Helped Pre­serve Greek Phi­los­o­phy … and the Clas­si­cal Tra­di­tion

Hear the Hagia Sophia’s Awe-Inspir­ing Acoustics Get Recre­at­ed with Com­put­er Sim­u­la­tions, and Let Your­self Get Trans­port­ed Back to the Mid­dle Ages

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Comments (4)
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  • Jana says:

    Well, this is cer­tain­ly fan­tas­tic. But, are the images copy­right­ed or can they be down­loaded for free?

  • Gary Gaines says:

    I would seri­ous­ly buy an illus­trat­ed book by this artist! It would be fas­ci­nat­ing

  • 1d30 says:

    I’m no coun­try chick­en lawyer, but it looks like the site and its mate­r­i­al is copy­right­ed. But of course you can down­load it! The copy­right means you don’t have the right to use the mate­r­i­al for a com­mer­cial pur­pose, but there are exclu­sions to copy­right like edu­ca­tion­al or satir­i­cal use. These are called “fair use” and don’t require per­mis­sion from or pay­ment to the own­er of the intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty.

    So, if you want it for a desk­top image, you’re prob­a­bly safe. The artist did put it up for view­ing after all. But if you want to use the images for some oth­er project, you should get per­mis­sion from the artist. If you don’t want to get per­mis­sion, or he declines, you might want to have a pro­fes­sion­al tell you whether your use counts as “fair use”.

  • Bengi says:

    Me too. Have searched ama­zon but no result unfor­tu­nate­ly. I would like to get a book or at least some place I can buy high res­o­lu­tion images.

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