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E06027: Mosaics from the 5th c. depicting several Apostles, including *Peter (S00036) and *Paul (S00009), and a saintly deacon, either *Vincent (deacon and martyr of Saragossa and Valentia, S00290) or *Laurence (deacon and martyr of Rome, S01229). Mosaics preserved in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna, northern Italy.

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posted on 19.07.2018, 00:00 by frances
Mosaics from the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Ravenna

This foundation – now known as the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia – is organised in a cruciform shape around a central chamber topped by a dome. The walls of the vault, lunettes and cupola are all covered with mosaics. The central chamber’s upper walls are adorned with four mosaics. Each of these depicts two *Apostles (S00084). The apostles are dressed in white and stand against a blue background. Another four apostles appear in the barrel vaults of the transepts. The apostles are all haloed and none are labelled. The only recognisable apostles are Peter and Paul.

The lunette on the southern wall depicts a haloed figure wearing a deacon's robes (possibly Laurence of Rome or Vincent of Saragossa). This figure stands on the right hand side of the mosaic and and holds an open book and cross. In the centre of the mosaic a fire fiercely burns under a gridiron. On the left of the mosaic, an open cupboard containing gospel books labelled with the names of the evangelists can be seen.

Description: Frances Trzeciak.

History

Evidence ID

E06027

Saint Name

Peter the Apostle : S00036 Paul, the Apostle : S00008 Apostles, unnamed or name lost : S00084 Laurence/Laurentius, deacon and martyr of Rome : S00037 Vincent/Vincentius, deacon and martyr of Saragossa and Valencia : S00290

Type of Evidence

Images and objects - Wall paintings and mosaics

Evidence not before

400

Evidence not after

500

Activity not before

400

Activity not after

500

Place of Evidence - Region

Italy north of Rome with Corsica and Sardinia

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Ravenna

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Ravenna Sardinia Sardinia Sardegna Sardinia

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - dependent (chapel, baptistery, etc.)

Cult activities - Use of Images

  • Commissioning/producing an image

Source

These mosaics are still present in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia today. They have been restored - along with several other late antique mosaics from Ravenna - to reflect their late antique form.

Discussion

Although it is probable that Galla Placidia was involved in the foundation of this building, there is no evidence it was ever used or intended to be used as her mausoleum. Instead, it may have been used as a memorial chapel, foundation dedicated to a saint (possibly Vincent or Laurence), a burial place for important figures, or an oratory. The identification of the holy deacon is debated. This figure was until recently assumed to be Laurence, due to the popularity of his cult across Italy in the 5th c. and the presence of the gridiron – the means of his death (see e.g. E00782). Yet this does not account for the presence of the book in Laurence’s arms or the gospels in the cupboard. Gillian Mackie has more recently suggested that this image may depict Vincent, martyr of Saragossa. She argues that Galla Placidia’s links with the Iberian peninsula make Vincent a plausible candidate to receive special devotion from this empress. Additionally, she suggests that the iconography of this saint fits more closely with stories of Vincent’s martyrdom than Laurence’s. Vincent was tortured on a gridiron and he rushed ahead of his torturers to this instrument. This matches the image of this saint, who is seemingly hurrying towards the gridiron. Additionally, Vincent’s torturers added salts to the flames to make them burn more fiercely and inflict more pain. Laurence’s executioners, on the other hand, dampened the flames to prolong his dying. Thus, the story of Vincent's suffering more closely matches the bright and leaping flames in this mosaic. Finally, Vincent refused to surrender holy books, which could account for the presence of the gospels in this mosaic. For Prudentius' account of Vincent’s martyrdom - which includes all of these elements – see E00860.

Bibliography

Further Reading: Deichmann, Friederich Wilhelm, Ravenna, Hauptstadt des spätantiken Abendlandes, vol. 1-3 (Wiesbaden, 1958-89). Deliyannis, Deborah Mauskopf, Ravenna in Late Antiquity (Cambridge, 2010). Jäggi, Carola, Ravenna: Kunst und Kultur einer spätantiken Residenzstadt; die Bauten und Mosaiken des 5. und 6. Jahrhunderts (Regensburg, 2016). Mackie, Gillian, 'New Light on the So-Called Saint Lawrence Panel at the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Ravenna', Gesta 29:1 (1990), 54-60. Verhoeven, Mariëtte, The Early Christian Monuments of Ravenna: Transformations and Memory (Turnhour, 2011).

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