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Byzantine Mosaic Work and Architecture in Examples

The Beginnings of Byzantium

Art is an important element of understanding ancient history, such as past the Roman culture. The Byzantine Empire existed for more than a millennium between the 4th century and the 14th century and covered a large geographical region (Brooks par. 1). It extended to the southernmost part of North Africa to the Middle East, Slavic World, and the Italian Peninsula. Constantine shifted the center of administration from Rome to Constantinople in 330 A.D (Khan Academy par. 1). The new head office was situated in present-day Istanbul, in Turkey. Constantine preferred Constantinople since it was the biggest intersection between the east and west trade. The transfer of the capital marked the earliest period of Byzantium, which lasted between 330 to 750 A.D. Other than changing the center of the political power of the empire, the emperor embraced Christianity as the religion defining the territory. Gradually, the new faith flourished, and its symbols started replacing the Greco-Roman gods of antiquity that for a long time had defined the empire’s culture and religion (Brooks par. 3). By the sixth century, the first churches were built, including the famous Hagia Sophia constructed during Emperor Justinian’s reign.

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San Vitale in Ravenna

San Vitale is among the few surviving remarkable representations of the Byzantine mosaic work and architecture. Among the fascinating features of the San Vitale in Ravenna building is its interior design and decorations. It is filled with the most impressive mosaics that lasted since the medieval era (Harris and Zucker 1: 56). At the center of the church are towers with apps-like shapes anchored by column undulates. The massive piers also add support to the building, and the columns are doubled. The interiors of San Vitale are entirely covered by dense mosaic made of tiny pieces of glass and glass sandwiching gold (Harris and Zucker 2:01). Above the large apps and mosaic is Christ dressed in purple, signifying royalty. Jesus is having the chroicle of apocalypse with angels on either side of him. The surfaces are decorated with glass mosaic placed in angles to reflect light in a beautiful and complicated manner. Examples of materials used are gold and glass (Harris and Zucker 2:00). The mixture of glass and gold gives complexity, while the glass plays a significant role in reflecting light in the desired way. Overall, the inside of the church has its surface covered with decorative patterning, imagery, and figures.

Representations of Justinian and Theodora

Although Emperor Justinian and his empress Theodora did not visit Ravenna, their presence in the mosaics is a reassertion of the control over the city. Justinian is depicted at the center surrounded by his court and is wearing a purple cloth, a color associated with the throne. Other figures around the emperor are the soldiers and the religious figures, representing the power of the emperor, church, and the military (Harris and Zucker 6:00). Justinian divine authority is represented by a halo in his head and a Eucharist bowl in his hands. On the opposite side is a panel devoted to Theodora. She is wearing elaborate clothing and jewelry that signifies her authority as co-ruler. She also has a halo symbolizing her divine power, but instead of a bowl, she has a chalice for Eucharist wine (Harris and Zucker 9:27). Theodora is also surrounded by attendants representing the imperial court.

The representations of Justinian and Theodora are similar to those of Khafre and Augustus of Primaporta as all are symbols of authority. However, the portrayal of Augustus of Primaporta differs significantly from Justinian and Theodora images since it depicts Augustus as a military victor. The sculptures of Khafre and Augustus also vary from a representation of Justinian and Theodora since they lacks a direct link to religion or cult. On the contrary, Christianity is apparent from the images of Justinian and Theodora, showing the significance of faith in their reign.

Works Cited

Brooks, Sarah. Byzantium (ca. 330–1453). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009. Web.

Harris, Beth. and Steven, Zucker. San Vitale, Ravenna. Khan Academy. Web.

Khan Academy. A beginner’s guide to Byzantine Art. Web.

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