Saturday, January 5, 2013

Early Christian Art (pt. 11)

Justinian was the Byzantine Emperor from 527 to his death in 565.  Wanting to be like the early Roman emperors, he decided to build a great church in Ravenna that would be the greatest in the world.  The church, San Vitale, became the most important church in that time period.  Inside San Vitale, artisans made two mosaics (among others); they are breath-taking.  One shows the Emperor with the archbishop, deacons, soldiers, and attendants.  The bodies of the more important people overlap those of lesser ones, but the archbishop's leg is in front of a part of Justinian's cloak, symbolizing that the church was supreme.
On the other wall of San Vitale, facing Justinian and his attendants, is Justinian's wife, the empress Theodora, and her attendants.  The empress is dressed in magnificent robes and wears the imperial crown.  She is shown to be equal to any saint in Heaven and also wears a halo.

The figures seem to float in space before a gold background (used to add a supernatural, heavenly glow to the scene).  A feeling of weightlessness is heightened by the lack of shadows and by the position of the feet, which all hang downward limply as if they really were suspended in the air.  But, if you ask me, most striking of these mosaics are the eyes.  Deep, penetrating eyes they are, n'est-ce pas?

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