Friday, 19 August 2016

The Basilica of San Vitale - Byzantine Mosaics


Today, I will not be covering just one mosaic, but a series of them in one of the most beautifully mosaiced places in the world - the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy. As a basilica it is a deeply Christian building and that is reflected in the wonderful artwork on the walls, which is some of the best early Byzantine art in the world. Work was started on the church in 525 AD and took 21 years to complete, and cost up to 26,000 gold pieces, which shows the magnificence and scale of this building!

The basilica has something known as a triforium, which is an shallow gallery with arches that is embedded within an inner wall. Mosaics within the arches depict the sacrifices from the Old Testament, such as the sacrifice of Isaac. They also show Abraham and Melchizedek, Moses and the Burning Bush, the story of Abel and Cain, Jeremiah and Isaiah and representatives of the twelve tribes of Israel.

This one shows Abraham giving offerings to three angels on the right, and on the left God stopping him from sacrificing Isaac since he showed obedience to his will. 

This mosaic shows Moses, Isaiah, Abel and Melchizedek, as well as two angels holding a cross which decorated the top of each arc.

Moving into the presbytery becomes even more colourful and detailed. Hellenistic-Roman tradition involves bright colours and natural imagery such as flowers, birds (including peacocks), animals and stars, and all of these can be found in the vault of the presbytery. The leaves, fruits and flowers surround a crown encircling the Lamb of God.

As you can see in the above picture there is an arch above the windows on each side of the presbytery. Above that arch, two angels are holding a disk and to either side of those are representations of Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Bear in mind this is all mosaic, it is incredibly detailed and the amount of work that must have gone into it is awe inspiring!

Moving on around the basilica then we come to the triumphal arch, which is decorated with images of Jesus and his twelve apostles.

 It is also decorated with two disks showing the sons of Saint Vitale: Saints Gervasius and Protasius.

As you can see, the artists ran out of space on poor Protasius' name, and had to drop an S to the line below! Very unprofessional indeed!

Now, there are a fair few other mosaics in this basilica, but I want to do a separate blog post for those as they are even more spectacular historically than these, if that seems possible! Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed it!

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