Friday, September 12, 2008

Ravenna - Byzantine mosaic treasure trove

Next stop on our itinerary was the ancient city of Ravenna. Ravenna served as the seat of the Western Roman Empire, the capital of the Ostrogothic Kingdom, and the Exarchate, or capital of Byzantine Italy under the Byzantine Emperor Justinian. Because of this it has been enriched with many historically significant sites, and is on the UNESCO list as a World Heritage site. Ravenna is most famous for its mosaics, created by Byzantine artists to adorn its churches, mausoleums and monuments.

This is the Neonian Baptistry. It was originally (fittingly enough) a Roman bathhouse. It was converted to a baptistry in the fifth century and adorned with mosaics in the year 452. As you can see, it is a plain enough building on the outside.

The interior is a completely different story! (I encourage you to click these pictures to enlarge them to appreciate the mosaics better!)
This is the dome of the baptistry. It shows Christ being baptized by St. John the Baptist in the Jordan. The twelve apostles and St. Paul encircle the scene. Keep in mind this image is created of stone and glass pieces less than a centimeter in size.

This is one of the many pillars which support the roof. They are all decorated with pictures of Old Testament prophets. I'm not sure who this one is.

A pagan basin which was converted into a holy water font.

A closer shot of the dome mosaic. Look at how the artist(s) created the illusion of Christ's legs being under water!

After leaving the baptistry we walked along the streets for a little bit. Here's Andrew obviously enjoying himself.

Ravenna is a beautiful city, very quiet, clean, with palm and pine trees all over. This is a traffic circle right in the center of town.

This is the tomb of the great literary figure Dante Alighieri. Although a son of Florence, he was exiled and died in Ravenna, his adopted hometown in 1321.

The Florentines have a tomb ready-made for him in the basilica of Santa Croce and have cajoled, begged, threatened, and whined to get his remains transferred back to their city. Ravenna has remained firm however. Dante remains in Ravenna. The only concession given to the Florentines is the fact that they are allowed to supply a lamp which burns Tuscan olive oil in front of Dante's tomb. Here's the famous lamp.

And here's the tomb itself.

This pile of rubble(now overgrown with Ivy) marks the spot where Dante's remains were hidden for safekeeping during WWII.

Next we visited St. Apollinare Nuovo, the royal chapel of Theodoric, king of the Goths. It dates back to the fifth century. After the conquest of Italy by the Byzantine armies under Belisarius, it was decorated and became a part of the Byzantine legacy in Ravenna. The portico is constructed entirely out of Greek marble.

Dad, Alex, and Augustin admiring some of the mosaics, which you haven't seen just yet.

And now you do. Both walls and the apse are completely covered in mosaics. Thousands and thousands of square feet! This one depicts martyrs on top, and below, the city of Ravenna with Theodoric's palace in the background.

Christ sitting between 4 angels.

The marble pulpit beneath the arches.

This picture is the famous scene of the three Magi presenting their gifts to the Child Jesus (not pictured).

We stepped outside the basilica to admire the courtyard. Andrew got his picture taken next to this monstrous grape vine which was one of many providing shade along the portico.

The leaves and grapes....

And here's a picture of the courtyard looking through one of the arches, with a statue of an unidentified pope in the center.

After continuing around the courtyard we exited and approached the basilica of San Vitale. It was built on the ruins of a temple dedicated to the martyr St. Vitale, and finished in 548. Although I don't have a close-up picture of it, the brickwork is a distinctive pattern personally invented and used by the Emperor Justinian. (I found the fact that the Emperor Justinian had time to think of a brickwork scheme very interesting....)

We were speechless after entering the basilica. You might be able to guess why.

The dome mosaics showing the lamb of God in the center, supported by four angels, on a background of gruit, grapes, vines, pomegrantes, peacocks and celestial figures. Some of the plants and vines are identified as only existing in Asia Minor, an interesting contribution from the Byzantine artists.

A scene on one of the arches showing on the left, Abraham feeding the three angels disguised as strangers, and on the right, Abraham preparing to sacrifice Isaac.

The famous panel of the Emperor Justinian with his retinue of advisors and court officials.

A shot of the arch with Christ in the center, and descending down the arch around him, lunettes depicting the 12 apostles, St. Vitale, and St. Vitale's two sons, St. Gervase and Protese.

The very interesting exterior of the basilica, with buttresses to support it.

Our last stop of this amazing day was the mausoleum of Galla Placidia.

This is the entryway ceiling, a quilt of glass designs in blue, orange, and gold.

It continues up to this mosaic of the Good Shepherd.

On another side of the small building we find this mosaic of St. Peter and St. Paul. Between them is the famous scene of the two doves drinking from the fountain.

A shot of the arched ceiling so you can see the stars.

Another pair of Apostles, although I'm not sure which ones these are. Below them, you can see the depiction of St. Lawrence's martyrdom.

Last picture as we left town was of this statue of the Queen of Heaven on a pillar, surrounded by trees.

1 comment:

Mitko said...

I just love Ravenna Early Christian art!!! Thanx for the beautiful images !
Best regards