Hellenistic-Roman Mosaics

Sep­tem­ber 4, 476 C.E. is the con­ven­tion­al date — sanc­tioned by Edward Gib­bon — for the end of the Roman Empire. On that day, the mil­i­tary leader of the muti­nous Impe­r­i­al army, Odocaer, over­threw the last tit­u­lar Emper­or of the West­ern Empire — the apt­ly named Romu­lus Augus­tu­lus — in Raven­na and pro­claimed him­self King of Italy. Con­ven­tion­al­ly, too, that date marks the begin­ning of a lengthy decline into the Euro­pean “dark ages”. 

Still, you have only to vis­it Raven­na, as I did in Sep­tem­ber 2018, where the Chris­t­ian art cre­at­ed over the next cen­tu­ry, for exam­ple, the Basil­i­ca of San Vitale, tes­ti­fies to the con­tin­u­ing vibrance of both the Roman and Byzan­tine cul­tures… for a while at least.

This is a col­lec­tion of images from two build­ings in Raven­na that remain from the years just before, and around the same time as, the fall of the West­ern Empire. Both con­tain bril­liant mosa­ic images in the Hel­lenis­tic-Roman style that char­ac­terised reli­gious art in the West­ern Roman Empire before the arrival of the Byzan­tine styles almost a cen­tu­ry lat­er with the re-con­quest of Italy by the East­ern Roman (Byzan­tine) Emper­or, Justinian.

The first of these build­ings is the so-called “Mau­soleum” of one of the last Roman dynasts, Gal­la Placidia: a woman who played a cen­tral role in three of the last Impe­r­i­al house­holds and who was Regent of the West­ern Empire for sev­er­al years toward the end. 

The sec­ond build­ing — the “Neon­ian Bap­titstry” of Raven­na — con­tains mosaics that date from the decade of the Empire’s col­lapse. Please down­load the PDF book of these images to see them full-screen.

In a sep­a­rate post, I have uploaded an e‑book of images of ear­ly Byzan­tine art from San Vitale includ­ing the famous por­traits of Jus­tin­ian and his Empress Theodora.


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