Saturday, July 4 - Ravenna
San Vitale was begun by Ostrogoths in 527, and finished twenty years later by Byzantines. It's the only major Justinian church to have survived intact, and on its walls are some of the most beautiful mosaics in the world. The elegant, wise-eyed woman looking back at you through your monitor is the Empress Theodora, who was a dancer and a courtesan before she became the wife of the most powerful man in the world. I'm constantly amazed by the character and majesty the mosaicist was able to convey with little irregular chunks of glass — stepping back, the image dissolves from cartoon to humanity. 1500 years! It's humbling.
We stayed a long time in San Vitale. It was quiet — full of tourists, but respectful ones, thoughtful ones. Part of me is still there, I think, in the color and the peace.
Inside the church, the mosaics are overwhelming. This is the right wall of the presbytery. If you're in the mood for a hidden picture search, you can click through to the large version and look for Saint Andrew with Einstein hair, a ferocious lion, and a tiny turtle. Those Byzantine capitals in the ambulatories threw us for a loop when we first saw them.
adfamiliares walks in the ambulatory.
Opposite the image of Theodora, above, her husband Justinian sports a five-o-clock shadow, with the military on his right hand and the clergy on his left. Note the chi-rho on the soldier's shield, and the curious trick of outlining the figures' hands in red. Here's a slighly blurry wider view of Theodora with her full entourage:
Fans of Kay's Sarantine Mosaic may see echoes of Crispin's final project in these two mosaics. "Embroidered" on the hem of Theodora's robe you can see two of the Three Magi. (Merry Christmas!)
Angels hold up the Lamb of God — which looks a bit vampiric — in the vault overhead. The angels are surrounded by dozens of detailed little animals.
This is the first time I saw my two namesakes — Jeremiah and Thomas — together in the same work. I made sure to take some shots of the two of them. It looks to me like Saint John (below the eagle) has written his first "S" backwards.
Exterior view of the church. Note the flying buttresses, presumably a medieval addition. The National Museum of Ravenna is also on the grounds, but only exterior photography was permitted:
Little problem with restoration here — that's Jesus giving the Sermon on the Mount on the front, and Mithras with his lions on the side.
Not sure who this fellow was, but I know what he sounded like: "Myeh!"
Next door is the little Mausoleum of Galla Placidia. The low-light problems were even more pronounced here, so my shots didn't come out as well as I might have hoped. This doesn't do justice to the starry sky on the dome. We were also intrigued by the modern-seeming 3D maze in one of the arches:
Back inside San Vitale, this is the mosaic in the dome of the apse. Bishop Ecclesius, on the right, is carrying a little model of the church. All of the gold you see is gold leaf backing transparent glass tiles. And here's how it all fits together:
The two cities on the back wall are Jerusalem and Bethlehem, representing the Jews and the Gentiles.
The full San Vitale set is here. This is my last big photo post (alas!), but I will post a thing or two about hotels before I shut up for good.