Founded in 330 CE by Emperor Constantine at a time when the Roman Empire stretched from the Straits of Gibraltar to the Sinai Peninsula, Constantinople would remain the center of the Byzantine Empire for the next thousand years until it was captured by Ottoman forces in 1453. The new Byzantium exhibition at London's Royal Academy brings together hundreds of objects from Constantinople and elsewhere around the Empire, including rare icons like the one at right portraying a likeness of Christ with saints Sergios and Bacchos. Many of the pieces come on loan from the Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko Museum of Arts in Kiev and also from the Monastery of Saint Catherine in the Sinai desert, whose monks have sent art that had never previously left the building. Curator Maria Vassilaki spoke to Maev Kennedy about how the monastery is the one place in the world where Byzantine Christianity is still practiced:
My favorite of the monastery icons that I've seen is that of the heavenly ladder of St John Klimakos, where winged demons are lassoing some unfortunate souls and dragging them off the rungs to certain spiritual doom. You can see that bizarre image and some other objects from the exhibition in the gallery here.