Monday, November 5, 2007

San Vitale


Choir mosaic in San Vitale. The center and left hand side of the mosaic represents the angels announcing to Abraham the birth of his son Isaac.


In class last week, we began discussing the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna Italy. This church is one of the most important examples of Byzantine Art and mosaic work, and is also one of the only major buildings to survive from the period of Emperor Justinian.
Justinian, who is considered a saint amongst Eastern Orthodox Christians, reigned as emperor between 527 and 565, but saw himself as an inheritor of the Roman Imperial authority. This is evident in his massive building plan, which links him to other great imperial builders such as Augustus. There had always been strong ties between Roman Emperors and their religion, which manifested itself in the construction of altars and temples throughout the empire. Justinian clearly continued this tradition, creating a very strong link between himself and his ancestors. In addition, Justinian, who was also known as the “emperor who never sleeps,” is responsible for rewriting the Roman law, the Corpus Juris Civilis, which is still the basis of civil law in some modern states. He considered it his duty to restore the Roman Empire to its ancient boundaries. Seeing himself as a defender of the orthodox faith, his multiple military campaigns to regain these territories were motivated by the Ostrogoths’ conversion to Arian Christianity, which was seen as a heretical form faith.

“Central to Justinian's conception of the political and religious order was that he as Emperor was anointed by God as the chosen leader of the Empire. Von Simson in Sacred Fortress writes: "Imperial policy conceived political and religious issues as inextricably entwined. Orthodox doctrine spearheaded the moves of political, as well as of military, strategy; and nowhere is this fact more apparent than in the great campaign to wrest the western parts of the Empire from their Arian conquerors (p. 3)." The conception of the Emperor's authority is identified as Caesaropapism, in that the Emperor is understood to combine the functions of the Caesar of the Roman imperial tradition and of the Pope of the Roman Church. Justinian saw himself as the defender of both political order and religious Orthodoxy. Justinian's ambition was thus to restore the old Empire under a central political and religious authority.” Source

The mosaic program at San Vitale serves as a record or a manifesto of Justinian’s political and religious ideals.


We will talk more about the mosaics in San Vitale in class this week, but look at this site for a collection of images concerning the mosaic program at San Vitale.


Also, check out these links for an explanation of some of the symbolism found in Christian Art:




Comments due by Monday 11-12.

17 comments:

bigbadteacher said...

A friendly reminder: at least 1 of your weekly posts has to have a source cited.

livefish said...

The phoenix is an amazing symol for christianity and my personal favorite. Maybe one day a tattoo of mine. :) For it to represent the death and resurrection in one animal is just extradinary. I find it just amazing. It's also used in Greek mythology and Egyptian. It was more of a heron then and associated with the sun-god Ra. And also in Japan.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenix_(mythology)

Tnap said...

Justinian continued the tradition of the Roman Empire and religion (paganism) when he built San Vitale. He created a link between himself and his ancestors. The building of magnificent temples was not the only tradition that the Roman empire and relgion left behind. Paganism greatly influenced the Chrisitian religion and customs of the Byzantine Era. Salvation rituals, superstition, festivals, and demonology are just a few examples of religiosity that the Christians adopted from Paganism. http://www.myriobiblos.gr/texts/english/Constantelos_3.html

exquisitedesign said...

It's kinda funny to see what the colors signify in Christian art, compared to what colors are signified as now. In a color theory book that I have, the colors are assiciated as follows:

Dark Blue: calm, comfort, harmony, tranquility, and the need for fulfillment and contentment.

Blue/Green: steadfastness, success.

Red/Orange: energy, desire, appetite, hunger, activity.

Yellow: sunny, happy, bright, the future ("Yellow is the color of haloes and gold and may have religioussignificance")

Violet: magical identification to the world

Brown: home, sense of belonging, sometimes uneasiness

Black: anarchy, protest, nonfollower of trends

Gray: seperation, stand alone

This is what the book says about colors today, where little or no religious significance is apparent.

Contemporary Color: Theory and Use
Author: Steven Bleicher

retroclide said...

Starting around this time, it was common for nobles and royalty to have an image made of themselves dressed up as a saint. The practice lasted well past the Medieval period and into the Renaissance A common example of this practice is of Henery VIII's second wife Anne Bolyen as St. Barbara. Notice the communion chalice and the Host levitating above the chalice. Though Anne is depicted as St. Barbara, she is wearing a crown to distinguis her as a queen. Please not that the clothing she is wearing is typical of the 1530's, not circa 300 A.D. when St. Barbara was alive.

http://groups.msn.com/AnneBoleynstudies/anneboleynportraitsplaces.msnw?action=ShowPhoto&PhotoID=13
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Barbara
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anne_Boleyn

naner said...

When i look at art, i usually just look at the art in a literal sense. This is a flaw of mine. I seem to look over the symbolism in art work. I found some very informative information on the symbolism in christian art. I did not realize that even the most seemingly meaningless things actually are symbolic. For example a rock can symbolize Christ or the church.


http://landru.i-link-2.net/shnyves/Christian_Symbolism.html

Marc said...

I found it interesting when reading how the color red is a symbol of love, anger, and passion, but then the next sentence is that it is used to denote the status of cardinal. All of those attributes don't seem to have any resemblance to what I would think of as someone in that position of authority in a church. Red is also said to be the first color perceived by man. Also, noted that it is seen first by people recovering from brain damage.

http://webexhibits.org/pigments/indiv/color/reds2.html

kaitlin said...

I love the idea of symbols and the deepness they hold throughout history. It is much easier to understand the message in spiritual art when the colors and pictures depicted can have a known meaning. Some symbols for Christianity are still an integral part of our world and art today. There are symbols, such as the Agnus Dei that we are still familiar with today. We have used symbols in our art for centuries and will continue, because it is an important part of our communication and expression.
http://www.symbols.net/christian/

James A. said...

@ ExquisiteDesign

Most of the colors meanings in that link line up with the meanings in the book that I have ( Colour by Ambrose/Harris)

White - Purity
Black - Sinister, Bold
Turquoise - Spiritual

and etc....

What I would like to know is if these meanings come about from our actions as people (White is good; God, Black or Red is evil; Devil)
or if they have always been like this.

James A. said...

@ ExquisiteDesign

Most of the colors meanings in that link line up with the meanings in the book that I have ( Colour by Ambrose/Harris)

White - Purity
Black - Sinister, Bold
Turquoise - Spiritual

and etc....

What I would like to know is if these meanings come about from our actions as people (White is good; God, Black or Red is evil; Devil)
or if they have always been like this.

Luis said...

indeed I agree with Livefish, the Phoenix has been used for centuries and symbolize many things mainly refered to Christ since is the bird that resurrect from the ashes, and Christ resurrect after his death but now to the eternal life in paradise, in popular culture now is referred to anything immortal and that can resurrect or reborn, Harry Potter features one Phoenix that was very important in the second book,

bigbadteacher said...

This post has been graded.

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