Basilica of San Vitale - Architecture Basilica of San Vitale. The Mosaics

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Basilica of San Vitale. The Mosaics

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San Vitaleís mosaics are from different times but altogether belong to the 6th Century. The oldest, from Bishops Ecclesiusí time, is the one depicting the Theophany in the apsidal semi-dome.

Two mosaics can be found on the apse sidewalls: one depicting the Justinian Procession and another the Theodora Procession. Mosaics can be seen in all available spaces (lunettes, extrados of arches, walls, etc.) with scenes of the Holy Scriptures.


Theophany = appearance of God. It is a symbolic image, abstract and full of religious meanings.
At the centre, a young Christ, beardless, is sitting between two angels on a blue globe, symbol of the universe.
To the left, San Vitale is receiving the martyrís crown from Christ, his hands covered by a mantel.
Itís worth noticing the figureís elegant clothes. San Vitale is dressed in military garments, in fact in dress uniform (white garb, gold embroidery, shoulder pads with ranking and embroidered mantel) instead of the ordinary one.

To the right, Bishop Ecclesius is offering a model of the church that he founded.
On the background, stylised landscape aspects can be seen: a flowery meadow, with roses and lilies, which have particular religious meanings (wild rose = blood of Christ; lily = truth and faith). The four springs by the feet of Christ symbolise the four Gospels.
It is a metaphorical and conceptual image and shows an altogether imaginary situation. It doesnít refer to the reality. The abstraction of this style is therefore totally suitable to this concept.
Justinian Procession

The emperor procession shows several aligned figures. However, the figures in the centre are very different from the soldiers. The soldiers all look the same, they look like each other. The others instead, have very distinguished features and are in fact portraits. These characters were portrayed by artists from Constantinople. The drawings were transferred to cardboard and then sent directly from Constantinople to Ravenna.

Being in the centre, the emperor stands out. He wears striking, rich clothes. He is in front of everybody, nothing is hiding him and he has a halo (edict of Constantine). He is carrying a gold patera (1)  as an offering for the mass.
From the inscription we can also identify Bishop Maximian.
Julius Argentarius can be seen on the background, between the bishop and the emperor.
The bearded general is Belisarius, Ravennaís conqueror.

The abstract process in this mosaic is very strong. The depth is completely eliminated; the figures are motionless and lacking relief, like cut out profiles; the shapes have a tendency to geometry.
It is not a narration or a story, but a celebratory scene, a symbolic ceremony.

Theodora Procession

The positioning of the figures is the same as in the other procession. These two scenes represent the imperial offer to the city of Ravenna. It is about symbolic ceremonies that never happened in real life.
This scene is livelier than the other because the female clothes are more varied in style and colour.
The empress can be identified for being taller, for wearing richer clothes and jewellery and for having a halo. She is carrying a gold chalice for the mass. The hems of her clothes are embroidered with images of the Wise Men: it is a reference to the church of SantíApollinare Nuovo, where a similar mosaic can be found.

The two ladies near the empress are Antonina and Joannina, Belisarius wife and daughter respectively.
There is an idea of several other ladies arriving in the scene, as if they were coming from beyond the curtains.

 A. Cocchi

 Trad. A. Sturmer

 1) A saucer like vessel used by the Greeks and Romans in libations and sacrifices.


Stile:Arte del Medio Evo.

Per saperne di più sulla città di: Ravenna


Per informazioni su questi dipinti clicca qui.


Theophany. Mosaic. 6th Century. San Vitale Church. Ravenna, Italy

Justinian Procession. Mosaic. 6th Century. San Vitale Church. Ravenna, Italy

Theodora Procession. Mosaic. 6th Century. San Vitale Church. Ravenna, Italy

Lunetta of Abramo. Mosaic. 6th Century. San Vitale Church. Ravenna, Italy

Mystic lamb. Mosaic. 6th Century. San Vitale Church. Ravenna, Italy

. Lunetta of MosŤ. Part. Mosaic. 6th Century. San Vitale Church. Ravenna, Italy

Part. of extrados of arch. Mosaic. 6th Century. San Vitale Church. Ravenna, Italy


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