|From the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare in Classe|
I spent a day in Ravenna last month and I really have to share with you some of my pictures of the mosaics that make that Italian town famous! All over the city, in churches and sepulchres, are found the most incredible, detailed, glittering Byzantine mosaics. They're made of glass and gold, and these pictures cannot do justice to the colour saturation or the sheer bling of their visual effect.
|The Mausoleum of Galla Placidia|
This below is one of my favourites - and no, not just because of the cheery depiction of Jesus' tackle through the clear water! It's notable in these early artworks that Jesus is shown as young man, and beardless, instead of the iconic face we're used to nowadays. Love how the dove is
|The roof of the Arian Baptistry - Jesus being baptised|
But back to the mosaics ... and it's in the Basilica of San Vitale that we find two of the most interesting portraits in mosaic form. This ill-shaven, slightly sleazy-looking fellow is the Emperor Justinian I.
He was the one who really put the final boot into paganism and made Christianity the only religion you could get away with in the Eastern Roman Empire. Despite ethusiastically persecuting pagans, heretics and Samaritans, he had a reptutation for being pretty laid-back and tolerant in person ... at least in comparison to his wife, Theodora. Everyone knew, if you had to choose between annoying the Emperor or the Empress, it was far safer to piss the husband off.
This is Theodora, the Empress from the Brothel.
She was an extraordinary woman - ballsy, intelligent, ambitious and ruthless. She came from the gutter to become the most powerful woman in the world. She was a child prostitute and bawdy mime actress from a circus family in Constantinople. According to Procopius (who really had his snark on when writing his not-for-publication Super Sekret Diary) she entertained forty lovers a night, and complained only that nature had not endowed her with more than three orifices! Then she converted to God and clean living, and in her mid-twenties met Justinian, nephew of the emperor, and he fell so much in love with her that he got the laws changed to allow him to marry her.
And she was a heretic! Yes, the entire long length of their reign together (527-548 AD), they argued theology but she never gave in, and Justinian completely respected her. Despite the fact that her fellow Christian heretics* were being run out of town and killed by angry orthodox types, her loyalty was never in doubt - even when she directly interfered to thwart the Emperor's orthodox ambitons, and sheltered the heretics. She was the one who stood firm when the mob rose up in rebellion, and stopped Justinian fleeing the city. "Purple," she told him, "makes a fine shroud." (At her urging, Justinian stayed, sent the troops in instead, and massacred 30,000 people. It worked.)
It seems to have been a marriage of true soul-mates. He adored her.
|Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant (1845-1902): The Empress Theodora at the Colisseum|
There's a good article on Theodora's life here.
And she's now a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Which is pretty good going for someone who used to have geese peck corn off her pussy!
*She was a monophysite, believing that Jesus' nature was singular (divine) and not a mixture of human and divine. It's all just word-salad, honestly.