One of the main things I saw from the early christian artwork, especially in light of the ‘graven images’ post, is that much of the early christian art was biographical in nature, depicting the people and the events at the heart of the Christian narrative. It seems to me like the Byzantine iconography was an extension of this trend. It’s notable that where for instance ancient Greek art is depicting the actual deities, Byzantine icons focus on Saints – real people – and their stories. I think that this is at least one way people sought to create art that did not violate the Second Commandment. It wasn’t an image of God, it was the history of real people. Of course the saints are imbued with holy power and the whole issue becomes muddled, which probably plays a factor in why the art style changed so drastically. It hard to deny that the art style of iconography probably took less technical skill that photorealistic marble sculpture. I would guess that the ‘iffy’ legal status of the artwork lead to a decline in the profession of master artist.
Sorry this post is late 🙁