The »Reallexikon zur byzantinischen Kunst« was founded in the 1960s by Klaus Wessel (1916–1987) and Marcell Restle (1932–2016). Subsequently, Birgitt Borkopp, Barbara Schellewald, Thomas Steppan and Lioba Theis were actively involved in the editing the final contributions. Since 2017, Andreas Pülz has been responsible for editing the volumes.
The aim of the encyclopaedia was and is to collect the rich material of the artistic legacy of the Byzantine Empire, which has been growing rapidly for decades and is widely scattered, to make it accessible to as broad a readership as possible and to enable further studies through detailed bibliographical information.
The first volume of the encyclopaedia, published with Anton Hiersemann Verlag in Stuttgart, appeared in 1966 and began with the lemma »Abendmahl« (Last Supper). In the meantime, about 280 lemmas on more than 4000 pages (c. 8300 columns) have been compiled. According to current planning, about 150 entries are still missing, which will have to be created within the coming years.