Mosaics, Ravenna

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  • Battistero Neoniano, Mosaics, Ravenna, June 2010
    Battistero Neoniano, Mosaics, Ravenna,...
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    alabaster window
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    Theodora offering a golden chalice
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    Basilica di San Vitale, Part VI

    by von.otter Updated Dec 30, 2010
    Basilica di San Vitale, Floor Mosaics, May 2010
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    “To visit the Ravenna churches is to follow a simple thread which imbeds jewels and pearls of great price: it is to contemplate gem by gem a perfect necklace, one portion of the clasp of which is the Basilica of San Vitale.”
    — from “Tchay and Chianti or Wanderings in Russia and Italy” 1887 by Welbore St. Clair Baddeley

    Not only are the walls and ceilings decorated with stunning mosaics, the floors too are beautifully worked with tiles and stone in various patterns throughout the Basilica di San Vitale.

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    Basilica di San Vitale, Part V

    by von.otter Updated Dec 30, 2010
    Basilica di San Vitale, Mosaics, Ravenna, May 2010
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    “The magnificent Basilica of San Vitale (in a small square, near the Porta Adriana) exhibits the octagonal form with all the accessories of Eastern splendour.”
    — from “Handbook for Travelers in Northern Italy” 1866

    Unlike San Vitale’s apse mosaics, where Christ the Redeemer is shown as a clean-shaven youth, at the very top of the arch that leads to the apse, Christ is shown with a beard (see photo #1).

    Cascading down the arch, on either side of Jesus, are his twelve apostles; we even found Our Saints’ namesakes, Philip and Thomas (see photo #2).

    On the vaulted ceiling of the presbytery shows four angels standing, with arms raised in praise, amid intertwined vines and wild animals calling attention to the Lamb of God, circled in a medallion (see photo #4).

    St. Luke can be seen with his Gospel and his sacred cow (see photo #3).

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    Basilica di San Vitale, Part IV

    by von.otter Updated Dec 22, 2010
    Basilica di San Vitale, Mosaics, June 2010
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    “The most notable subjects enjewelling the walls are: on the right, the purple-mantled Empress Theodora standing crowned among her maidens, resplendent in various costumes, and bearing a vase with offerings; on the left stands the Emperor Justinian, in purple and gold, with statesmen, soldiers, and priests, also holding a bowl.”
    — from “Tchay and Chianti or Wanderings in Russia and Italy” 1887 by Welbore St. Clair Baddeley

    The mosaics of San Vitale’s vault and apse are rendered in rich colors with great action. They date from between AD 526 and AD 547. A young, clean-shaven Christ the Redeemer (see photos #1 and #2), seated on the globe of the world, hands a martyr’s crown to San Vitale. Two angels and Bishop Ecclesius, who founded the church, complete the grouping.

    To the left of the apse is a mosaic of Emperor Justinian (see photos #4 and #5), who reigned from AD 527 to AD 565, and his entourage. Justinian stands in the center of the mosaic, wearing imperial purple and holding a large gold paten, the plate on which the bread is placed for Mass. Maximian, Archbishop of Ravenna, stands to his left, holding a jeweled cross.

    To the of the apse is a mosaic of Empress Theodora (see photos #3), wife of Justinian, with her court. Corresponding to Justinian’s paten, the empress holds the challis.

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    Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Part III

    by von.otter Written Dec 22, 2010
    Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Ravenna, May 2010
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    The mosaics at the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia have awed millions of visitors over the centuries, including the American songwriter Cole Porter. In the 1920s he was honeymooning in Ravenna; he wrote “Night and Day” remembering the beauty of the starry sky mosaics of Mausoleum of Galla Placidia.

    With a floor plan matching a Greek cross, measuring 40 feet by 30 feet, the small brick chapel has blind arches on its walls and a square tower at the intersection. The building has dropped 4.5 feet into the ground over the centuries.

    Entrance is through a small door, originally 4.5 feet taller, on the north side. The north façade, now plain, was once covered in marble; all that survives of that marbled façade is a lintel (see photo #3), carved with vegetation and lions, over the door.

    Each of three niches of this building, originally built as an oratory, house marble sarcophagi (see photos #4 and #5), traditionally thought to be those of Galla Placidia, her second husband Constantius III (d. 421) and her son Valentinian III (d. 455). As romantic as this idea is, it is false. The tombs are ancient, but were brought from elsewhere between the 9th and 14th century.

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    Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Part II

    by von.otter Updated Dec 21, 2010
    Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Ravenna, May 2010
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    Galla Placidia was briefly married to Ataulf, a Visigoth king (414-16) and the co-emperor of Rome, Constantius III (417-21). For 12 years (AD 425-AD 437) Galla Placidia was a powerful empress, ruling the western world as regent for her young son Valentinian III.

    With a floor plan matching a Greek cross, measuring 40 feet by 30 feet, the small brick chapel has blind arches on its walls and a square tower at the intersection. The building has dropped 4.5 feet into the ground over the centuries.

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    Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Part I

    by von.otter Written Dec 20, 2010
    Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Ravenna, May 2010
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    “I have not decided anything about remaining at Ravenna. I may stay a day, a week, a year, all my life; but all this depends upon what I can neither see nor foresee. I came because I was called, and will go the moment that I perceive what may render my departure proper. My attachment has neither the blindness of the beginning, nor the microscopic accuracy of the close to such liaisons; but ‘time and the hour’ must decide upon what I do. I can as yet say nothing, because I hardly know anything beyond what I have told you.”
    — Baron George Gordon Byron (1788-1824)

    At Ravenna Lord Byron carried on a passionate love affair with Teresa, contessa di Guicciolo (1800-1873). It was she who had called him to Ravenna as he says above.

    This mausoleum is an excellent example of Ravenna’s most visited sights. The plain, reddish-brown brick exterior houses stunning colorful mosaics on the inside.

    Galla Placidia, daughter of Emperor Theodosius I (AD 379-AD 395) and half-sister of Honorius (AD 393-AD 423), died at Rome on 27.November AD 450; contrary to popular belief, it is unlikely she was ever buried in Ravenna. This rotunda was the mausoleum of the family of Theodosius. Just a few months before her death, Galla ordered that the body of her father, Theodosius II be sent from Constantinople to be buried there.

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    Galla Placidia's Mausoleum

    by Bunsch Updated Nov 19, 2010

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    My favorite doves (not my pic)
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    Ravenna's fortunes took a major turn for the good when, in 402 AD, Onorio transferred the capital of the western Roman Empire from Milan to Ravenna. Unfortunately, it wasn't long before the Visigoths invaded Italy. Rome was sacked by Alaric in 409 (Ravenna was untouched), and Galla Placidia, Onorio's sister and niece of Theodosius, emperor of the eastern Roman Empire, was captured. A few years later, Alaric's successor married Galla Placidia. When that gentleman died, Galla P. returned to her brother Onorio in Ravenna, who married her off to one of his generals; when he, too, died, Galla was back to living with her sibling, who apparently followed the happy Roman tradition of incest. She escaped to Uncle Theo's in Constantinople, and after Onorio's death, when Galla was named protector of her son Valentinian III, he permitted her to return to Ravenna. Ravenna then had twenty-five peaceful years under Galla Placidia's guidance. She died on November 27, 450, having years earlier prudently prepared a mausoleum for her ultimate resting place. (No one is sure whether she's actually buried within, however. The central sarcophagus generally thought to be hers was broken into in the sixteenth century -- you can still see the hole where the intruder tried to get a peek. The sarcophagus to the left is that of her second husband, the general; the one to the right may be Valentinian's or possibly Onorio's.)

    When you get to Ravenna, you're certain to see various posters and books prominently featuring bits of mosaic. It took me awhile to realize that many, many of these archtypal images were taken from Galla Placidia's Mausoleum. From the outside, it looks deceptively like a squat storage building. But inside -- though the light filtering through the thin alabaster windows is hardly robust -- you can experience the oldest and most complete mosaics in this mosaic-rich city. (In naming Ravenna a World Heritage Site in 1996, UNESCO cited the mausoleum as one of the greatest pieces of mosaic art in the world.) I could make the attempt to describe them here, but I would fail to do them justice. It's really quite overwhleming, and individual elements capture the eye and the imagination. My favorite was the doves driving at the fountain, but the abundant flowers, the stylized starry heavens, and the rich, deep blue of the patterned barrel vault at the entrance were all in close competition for that honor.

    Entrance is part of the combination ticket for 7.50 euros (9.50 from March to mid-June). Open from 9:00 AM to 7:00 PM.

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    Mausoleo di Galla Placidia - Interior

    by MM212 Updated Oct 24, 2010

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    mausoleo di Galla Placida - Apr 2010
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    The sapphire blue colour that dominates the 5th century mosaics of the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia gives the interior a serene nocturnal feeling. These mosaics, which cover the entire vaulted ceilings, dome and lunettes, are the oldest mosaics in Ravenna to have survived largely intact, with minimal later-period restorations. Immediately above the entrance, a lunette depicts The Good Shepherd in incredible detail and a barrel vaulted ceiling projects the famous Starry Night Sky mosaic. From the dome, 900 golden star mosaics glisten against a sapphire blue sky, while the tower underneath it contains images of the apostles. The three other lunettes depict various saints, all separated by a variety of colourful mosaics of floral and geometric motifs. Three ancient sarcophagi can be seen in the interior of the mausoleum, supposedly belonging to Galla Placida, her husband Constantius III and her son Valentinian III, but there is no historical proof any one of them was actually buried here.

    For more detailed photos of the mosaics, check out the travelogue: "Mosaics of the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia."

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    Basilica di San Vitale - Justinian & Theodora

    by MM212 Updated Oct 8, 2010

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    Combined photos of Justinian & Theodora
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    Located opposite each other on the walls flanking the apse, the mosaic panels of Emperor Justinian and Empress Theodora are the most celebrated in la Basilica di San Vitale. Emperor Justinian, who reigned from 527 to 565 AD, is considered one of the greatest Eastern Roman (Byzantine) emperors. Although he and his wife Theodora were not present at the inauguration of San Vitale, these mosaic panels offered a symbolic substitute. To the left of the apse is the panel depicting the Emperor and his entourage, including Archbishop of Ravenna, Maximian, while on the right hand wall, the Empress in her imperial dress and jewellery is also shown with her court. Both the Emperor and Empress are offering liturgical vases. These mosaic panels are of Byzantine workmanship, thought to be the last among the mosaics of San Vitale to be completed, around 548 AD.

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    Ravenna - City of Mosaics

    by MM212 Updated Sep 27, 2010

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    Mosaic Tower - Apr 2010
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    Ravenna boasts the world's most incredible collection of intact mosaics from the Paleo-Christian and Byzantine periods. This form of art, which flourished in the Graeco-Roman and early Christian eras, reached its zenith just as Ravenna saw its golden age. The presence of these mosaics in Ravenna is a source of pride and inspiration to the local community, which continues to keep the tradition of mosaic art alive. This is evident from simple souvenirs to some street signs in the historic centre (see third photo attached) to elaborate mosaic designs used in architectural projects worldwide. To commemorate this form of art, a round tower of mosaics was erected in 2003 near the railway station. Its creator, Enzo Pezzi, was inspired by the round bell towers of Ravenna and by designs within the mosaics of San Vitale (see second photo).

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    Mausoleo di Galla Placidia

    by MM212 Updated Sep 26, 2010

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    Mausoleo di Galla Placidia - Apr 2010
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    One of Ravenna's foremost monuments, this red-brick structure, built in 430 AD on a Greek-cross plan, is known as the Mausoleum of Empress Galla Placidia. She was the daughter of the Roman Emperor Theodosius I, and she herself became the de facto ruler of the Western Roman Empire from 425 until 437 AD, while her Emperor son Valentinian III was a child. Although tradition claims that she was buried in this mausoleum, there has never been any historic proof of such claim. In fact she died in Rome and was probably buried there with the rest of her family. She did commission the construction of this small, but magnificent structure, along with the non-extant church of Santa Croce. The two were attached and some historians believe the mausoleum was built as a chapel within the church rather than a mausoleum. Although modest on the outside, the mausoleum is covered in exquisite mosaics on the inside (see next tip). It is located next to the Basilica of San Vitale and is one of eight monuments in the Ravenna area listed as a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO.

    For detailed photos of the mosaics, check out the travelogue: "Mosaics of the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia."

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    Basilica di San Vitale - Mosaics

    by MM212 Updated Sep 26, 2010

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    Four Angels surrounding Mystic Lamb
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    Completed between 522 and 547 AD, the mosaics of la Basilica di San Vitale are the best preserved and most beautiful we have left from early Christian world. Starting with the large arch that separates the centre of the church from the presbytery to the walls of the presbytery and the vault of the apse, glistening mosaics depict a variety of Biblical and religious scenes. The large arch is decorated with a total of 15 mosaic medallions containing the images of the 12 Apostles and Saints Gervasius and Protasius, culminating with an image of a bearded Jesus at the centre of the arch. The vaulted ceiling above the presbytery shows four angels converging upon an image of the Mystic Lamb, all surrounded by colourful floral and animal motifs. The walls below depict the Four Evangelists and scenes from the Old Testament. The half dome of the apse contains an image of Christ the Redeemer, young and beardless, flanked by two angels, Saint Vitalius (San Vitale) and Bishop Ecclesius who commissioned the church. The walls on either side of the apse contain the most celebrated mosaics of Emperor Justinian and Empress Theodora (see next tip).

    For more detailed photos, click on the Travelogue: "Mosaics of la Basilica di San Vitale."

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    Arian Baptistery, a theological curiousity

    by Bunsch Written Sep 22, 2010

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    Centerpiece of the Arian Baptistery

    Theodoric, an Arian Gothic king, constructed this small building towards the end of the 5th century or the beginning of the 6th, in roughly the same period as the Basilica of S. Apollinare, Nuovo. The reason the place is fascinating for students of theology is that Arianism was one of the major heresies of the early church (so declared by the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD); yet at the time of its construction, the Arian Baptistery repeated both the architectural and decorative schemes of the orthodox baptistery, suggesting that -- at least then -- there was little tension between the two expressions of faith.

    Given the number of leaning towers one sees across Italy, it might be supposed that the land upon which these structures were built was somewhat porous, leading to settlement over the course of many centuries. However, the elaborate book on Ravenna mosaics which I brought home with me claims that, in keeping with several other structures, the Arian Baptistery was originally built underground. (It is entered by walking down a series of steps, which might be difficult for someone with mobility challenges.) The building is shaped in an octagon, and inside has four large apses, but the eye is drawn instantly upwards to the great mosaic of Jesus Christ being baptised by St. John in the Jordan River, as a dove (representing the Holy Spirit) sprays water from its beak. The third figure in the central mosaic is a personification of the River Jordan -- see if you can spot the crabs on his hoary head! These figures are surrounded by the Apostles. You need to have fairly keen eye-sight as the building is rather dim.

    Nothing remains of the mosaics and frescoes which apparently covered the walls when the Baptistery was originally built; at the time of its restoration, the Ravenna guide claims that more than 350 pounds of tesserae (mosaic tiles) were found on the floor, the remnants of a vanished glory.

    Admission is free. The building is open daily from 8:30 AM-7:30 PM.

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    Chiesa di Sant'Apollinare Nuovo - Mosaics

    by MM212 Updated Sep 2, 2010

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    Mosaics of the Virgins - Apr 2010
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    The magnificent mosaics of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo speak of the splendour of Ravenna in the 5th and 6th centuries AD. Theodoric the Great built the church around 500 AD for his royal palace, from which he ruled the Ostrogothic Kingdom whose ruling class and Gothic inhabitants practised Arianism. The original mosaics thus reflected Arian beliefs and glorified Theodoric and his court, but Ravenna fell to the Eastern Roman Empire in 540 AD leading to the transfer of the church to orthodoxy by 560 AD. In the process, certain mosaics were either effaced or replaced with images that conform to the orthodoxy. What has remained today is therefore a mix of the original Ostrogothic mosaics from 500 AD and Byzantine mosaics from 560 AD, with minor restorations in later periods. Three rows decorate each wall in the central nave; the upper rows are mostly unaltered from 500 AD and depict scenes from the Bible, while the middle rows contain images of 16 prophets on each side and date from the 560 AD modification. The bottom rows are a mix of both Arian and Catholic mosaics: the right side depicts 26 male martyrs in a procession heading towards Christ enthroned, while the left side shows 26 virgin martyrs in a procession behind the Three Magi who are presenting the Virgin and Child with gifts. The mosaics of male and female saints, as well as Virgin and Child, are all Catholic work, but Christ enthroned is Arian, except for the halo, which was added in 560 AD. Preceding the virgin martyrs on the left is an original mosaic depicting the port of Classe, south of Ravenna, while on the opposite side is another original showing the palace of Theodoric. Both, however, originally contained images of Theodoric and his court, but these images were replaced with curtains or plain mosaics when the church was transferred to orthodoxy in 560 AD. The hands of some of those figures can still be seen on the columns of the mosaic of the palace of Theodoric! (see attached photos.)

    For a more detailed look at the mosaics, check out the Travelogue: "Mosaics of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo."

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    il Battistero degli Ortodossi (Neoniano)

    by MM212 Updated Aug 23, 2010

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    Baptism mosaic - April 2010
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    One of Ravenna's most celebrated monuments, il Battistero degli Ortodossi, is also its oldest standing structure. It was built on a section of the Roman baths of Ravenna in the late 4th century AD by the Bishop Ursus (il vescovo Orso) as part of his great cathedral, la Basilica Ursiana. Although the cathedral was demolished in 1733, the Baptistry was fortunately spared. The construction of the octagonal baptistry and its stunning interior mosaic work were not completed until the 5th century under Bishop Neon, hence its other name, il Battistero Neoniano (Neonian Baptistry). The name, Battistero degli Ortodossi (Orthodox Baptistry), emerged after the Arian baptisry (il Battistero degli Ariani) was built some 50 years later under the Ostrogothic King, Theodoric the Great. Splendid mosaics cover the interior dome and depict a naked, bearded Jesus being baptised by John the Baptist to his right hand side, while a personification of the River Jordan stands to his left hand side. Surrounding this central scene are the Twelve Apostles in a circle and an outer ring of thrones and gardens. The arches supporting the dome are decorated with mosaics of floral motifs and carved stucco of Biblical scenes, and below them, the upper walls contain additional mosaics with floral motifs and images of prophets. Except for some restoration work over the centuries, most of the mosaic and stucco decorations are original 5th century works. The polychrome marble designs covering the lower walls predate the baptistry and belong to the Roman baths that had existed on the site. The original floor, however, lies some 3 metres below the current floor due to the rise in ground level in Ravenna.

    The baptistry is one of eight structures in the Ravenna area included in the list of World Heritage Sites by the UNESCO. For more detailed photos of the mosaics, take a look at the Travelogue: "Mosaics of il Battistero degli Ortodossi."

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