Thursday, April 11, 2019

Early Christian into the Byzantine, San Vitale




Church of San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy 526-47 CE
Byzantine Style


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Form: This central plan structure has an octagonal shape and two levels.  The arches walls and floors are all covered with ornate and intricate Byzantine style mosaic and tile work.  Arches and some vaulting are used and the center even has a dome, which from the exterior looks like an octagons full of windows that flood the interior with light. Eight large piers alternate with columned niches to define precisely the central space and to create a many layered design.  Nevertheless, the technology used to construct San Vitale is not quite as advanced as Hagia Sophia although the walls were lightened by the use of hollow pots in its interior.Iconography:  San Vitale reflects Byzantine influence and technological creativity. St. Vitale is the major Justinian monument in the West. It was probably built as a testament to the power of Orthodoxy in the declining kingdom of the Ostrogoths. He tries to establish a place where there are severe Christian Churches (people were forced to convert to Christianity).
Context:  On the second level of the ambulatory, is a special gallery reserved for women. This was a typical custom of Jewish religious worship. The reason for this, was to segregate the males from the females in order for them to pray with greater devotion.
For more details of  San Vitale go here.


Emperor Justinian and his Attendants
mosaic on north wall of the apse
Church of San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy 526-47 CE
Byzantine Style
Empress Theodora and Her Attendants.
mosaic on south wall of the apse
Church of San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy 526-47 CE
Byzantine Style
Form:  The interior of St. Vitale, is similar to the Pantheon and Hagia Sophia.  The design includes an enormous amount of different colored marble and all the other surfaces are decorated with mosaic or tile.  The ornamentation in the church's interior looks Islamic or Arabic although it predates Islam. The figures are stylized in a typical Byzantine mode.  The heads are too large and the bodies are covered completely with drapery that does not reveal the anatomy beneath.   It also shares some elements from the Arch of Constantine, the heads are big and there's no Contrapposto (liberal movement in figures).  The facial anatomy is stylized.  The face is also elongated and the nose meets the bridge of the brows and the eyebrows actually go directly into the nose.  These are some of the elements that become standardized in Byzantine Manuscript.
Stokstad discusses the reverse perspective of the image which basically is a denial of the illusionistic systems of Roman art that are apparent in the mosaics and frescoes of Pompeii.
Iconography:  Both the empress's and emperor's mosaics face one another across the apse and each holds one component of the eucharist.  Justinian holds the tray and the wafer which symbolizes the body of Christ.  In his twelve companions, which are roughly the equivalent to Jesus' twelve apostles, the emperor also has two symbols of the power he holds: on the earth he has his army to support him at his right hand.  Notice they have the implied mandate of the power of Constantine because of the chi ro on their shield.  (Here's what a chi ro is)
Chi-Rho n, pl Chi-Rhos [chi + rho] (1868): a Christian monogram and symbol formed from the first two letters X and P of the Greek word for Christ--called also Christogram What is Chi Ro? Chi Ro, pronounced (KI ROW), is probably the oldest monogram used for the name of Christ. It was found written along the walls of the catacombs, which were the cemeteries of the early Christians and also a place where they held their secret meetings. The Chi and Ro are the first two letters in the Greek word for Christ. Our CH was one letter in Greek and was shaped like our X. The Greek R had the shape of our P. By combining the RO or P to one arm of the Chi we get XP. As a pre- Christian symbol, the Chi Ro signified good fortune. The Chi Ro became an important Christian symbol when adopted by the Roman Emperor Constantine, representing the first two letters in the name Christ. According to Church Father Eusebius, on the eve of the Battle of Milvan Bridge, the Emperor saw the emblem in a dream, with the inscription "With this symbol, you shall conquer." According to the story, the battle was won. In return for the victory, Constantine erected Christian Churches. The symbol was the standard of the Emperor's army, prominently displayed on the Emperor's labarum, or battle standard. 
For his spiritual power he has the members of the clergy on his left.  Directly to his left is the archbishop Maximus whose face is almost as defined and unique as Justinian's. Theodora is surrounded by her ladies in waiting and the local clergy as well and Theodora holds the wine which symbolizes the blood of christ.  On her gown is an image of the three Magi carrying their gift to the newborn Jesus.  Both are wearing royal purple and both are placed at the center of the image.  The placement and the icons they carry and wear were meant to communicate to the viewer that the emperor and empress were the church and the only path to salvation.  This links theological and political power as a single theocratic unit.
Context:  (Stokstad gives a much more detailed discussion of the iconography in the Byzantine chapter.)
For more details of  San Vitale go here.




Capital, Church of San Vitale,
Ravenna, Italy 526-47 CE
Byzantine Style
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Form:  This capital at first appears to be an almost Tuscan or Doric capital but on closer inspection it is the correction of the original Greek and Roman orders.  Between the arch and the capital is an additional structure called an impost block.  The designs on the capital are much more ornate and less solid looking then its predecessors and combines carving, polychroming and mosaic.  The over all intricate organic patterning and weaving of the ornamentation is abstract and overly ornate. Iconography:  The organic vine like qualities refer to the symbol of Christianity as a vine that keeps spreading.   In the center of the column's capital and impost block are cruciform symbols.  Notice on the capital, the Greek cross formed of four circles that looks like the domed greek cross plan discussed on page 324 The Elements of Architecture, Multiple-Dome Church Plans.  The use of classical ornamentation and then the obvious changing of it is symbolic of the fusion of the Roman and Greek classic ideals wedded to the culture and decorative forms of the east as well as the iconography of Christianity.


 

Mosaic of Christ from the
Archepiscopal Palace in Ravenna
late 6th CenturyThis image of Christ from San Vitale demonstrates a shift
in Christian thought.  If you look at how Jesus is depicted
and how this passage relates to the Psalm at right you may
notice that Jesus is now a Christian soldier and defender.
This relates somewhat to the politics that govern the
interaction of Christianity with Islam in Byzantium almost
a century later.
PSALM 91,He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, "He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust."
Surely he will save you from the fowler's snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness
nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only observe with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.
If you make the Most High your dwelling --
even the Lord, who is my refuge --
then no harm will befall you,
no disaster will come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread upon the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
(sometimes worded: 
You shall tread upon the asp and the viper, 
trample the lion and the dragon.)
"Because he loves me," says the Lord, "I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
He will call upon me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life will I satisfy him
and show him my salvation."


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