Sunday, May 13, 2018

Orthodox or Arian? Who baptised it better?

As before mentioned, our friend the Goth king Theodoric subscribed to the heretical (according to the mainstream Church) version of Christianity called Arianism. Arianism rejected the standard view of Jesus Christ, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit all being one and the same, as famously illustrated by St Patrick and his shamrock. Instead, Jesus was the Son of God, a divine being sent to Earth to save mankind by God the father, but is not himself God.

By the time of Theodoric, Arianism had already been declared a heresy for 150 years or so, but was still popular particularly amongst Germanic tribes such as the Goths, Visigoths, and Vandals. The Arian Baptistery was built at the end of the 5th century, but it had only about another 50 years to survive, before Ravenna was conquered by the Byzantines, and the Baptistery converted into a Catholic church.

Unfortunately, only the ceiling mosaics in this tiny building survive. This shows the baptism of Christ, surrounded by the twelve apostles. It looks similar to the central decoration of the Orthodox or Neonian Baptistery (below), which was built slightly earlier. One key difference is that the Arian Christ is shown as quite boyish-looking, which may be a reflection of the Arian doctrine of his lesser status. Also Arian Jesus looks a bit more like he has a bird vomiting on his head. The figure on Christ's left is a personification of the River Jordan. Overall, the Neonian baptistery, which retains much more of its decoration, is more impressive, but I prefer the simpler ceiling decoration here.

The Orthodox/Neonian Baptistery is Ravenna's oldest monument, converted from a Roman bathhouse in around 400 AD, with its mosaics completed under its namesake, Bishop Neone, in the second half of the 5th century. 

The building now sits about 10 feet down from street level, not because of subsidence, but because of the rising of the surrounding ground

The dome mosaic is similar to, but more elaborate than the Arian Baptistery. It features Christ, John the Baptist and the River Jordan surrounded by the apostles, who are in turn surrounded by depictions of empty thrones, showing Christ's divinity, empty chairs reserved for the Elect in heaven, Gospel books on altars and celestial gardens. The apostles circle round in two directions, with Saints Peter and Paul meeting in the middle below Christ

Below the mosaics is a layer of stucco depictions of the prophets. I liked the stunned mullet look of the guy on the left

The much later baptismal font, 12-13th century. The beautiful inlaid marble and porphyry on the wall niche behind dates back to the days of the Roman bathhouse

The decoration on the wall arches is contemporary with the ceiling

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Mausoleum of Galla Placida, Ravenna

The Mausoleum of Galla Placida, as the Roman-sounding name may suggest, is older than the buildings we saw in the last blog, dating back to around 430 AD, and also much smaller. Legend has it it was orginally built for Galla Placida, daughter of the Roman Emperor Theodosius I, who was regent of the Roman Empire for 12 years while her son was a child. She was supposedly buried sitting up, wearing an imperial cloak, and was there until 1577, when the contents of her sarcophagus were accidentally burnt, when some tomfooling local lads threw lighted candles into the tomb to get a better look at her. That sounds like a pretty big oopsie. However, the story might not be entirely true. It seems there was a body in there, but it was a deliberate fake put there in the 13th or 14th century as part of the general enthusiasm for relics of dubious origin. Apparently, it's more likely that she was buried in the family mausoleum in Rome, and this building was an oratory, not a mausoleum. It also holds the supposed sarcophagi of either her son or brother and her husband, Emperor Constantius III.

It is small and unassuming on the outside, hiding its treasures within.

The starry mosaic sky supposedly inspired Cole Porter, visiting on his honeymoon, to write "Night and Day". The sky is filled by more than 800 mosaic stars! The four evangelists appear in their usual symbolic forms in the corners, with apostles and thirsty dove pals in the niches below.

The windows are filled in with alabaster (not original to the building) to aid in viewing the mosaics, which feature wonderful plants, animals and patterns as well as the religious iconography

The mosaic of the Good Shepherd is probably the most famous. The Good Shepherd was a popular theme in early Christian art, but this version is unusual for the time as it shows a richly-dressed, royal Jesus, rather than a simple country shepherd.

Imagine the work to make this!

This mosaic probably depicts Saint Lawrence, hurrying to his martyrdom on a burning griddle, holding a cross and the Bible. The cabinet on the left holds the four Gospels.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Classey lady

Our first stop to the fabulous ensemble of (mostly) early Christian sites that are the highlights of Ravenna was just outside Ravenna itself, at the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare in Classe. The Basilica was consecrated in 549, and originally held the relics of Saint Apollinaris, the first Bishop (his remains were later moved to the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna proper). Much of the walls are now bare, as the mosaics were probably removed by the Venetians in the 15th century, but high on the walls and ceiling, some mosaics from the 6th and 7th centuries still remain.

The apse mosaic features a cross with Christ's head in the centre flanked by Moses and Elijah. The lambs in the middle represent the apostles Peter, James and John

Below the cross stands St Apollinaris with his "flock" of the faithful

The nave contains two dozen marble pillars with carved capitals
The side aisles contain a number of early Christian sarcophagi, and there are also some ancient tombstones reused as construction materials for the church

From the original Sant'Apollinare, we pass to Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, which is not really newer. It was first constructed in 504 by the Ostrogoth King Theodoric as an Arian chapel (more on all that later), then became Saint Martin's in honour of St Martin of Tours (yay, Tours) who fought against Arianism (that's adding insult to injury). Finally, it was rebaptised as Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in 856 when the saint's relics were moved there from Classe due to the threats posed by pirate raids. Quite the exciting history. 

If I was impressed by the Classe version (and I was) I was even more blown away by the Nuovo and Improuovo one. 

Look at that sky, sigh! 

The original mosaics included several which depicted Theodoric and his court or Arian themes. Many of these were destroyed or altered to more conventional Byzantine Christian themes when the church was resanctified, leaving the odd hand or foot floating out there by itself.

The left wall features a procession of virgins, led by the Three Magi,  from the city of Classe to the throne of the Virgin and Child

Mosaic of the port of Classe (it seems pretty far from the sea now, but apparently not always). You can see by the different coloured "bricks" where elements of the original Arian mosaic was covered up
The Three Magi

The Virgin and Child

Up the very top of the right-hand wall are small scenes of the Passion of Christ, including Judas' kiss (far right) and the Last Supper (second from left), with various saints and prophets below

On the right-hand wall, a procession of male martyrs go from the city of Ravenna to the enthroned Chris

The building on the right shows the Palace of Theodoric. Portraits of his court were originally in the spaces now filled by mosaic curtains

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Ducal delights

So I've been struggling with blogging motivation for some time, as is probably evident from the lack of posts. One reason is I'm not sure what I do on my travels is really interesting any more. It's interesting to me, but now I'm not striking out on my own, staying in hostels, penny pinching etc. it just seems like one big comfortable bourgeois self-indulgence. However, if self-indulgence is the watchword, I do miss the idea of having my posts to look back on. I'm really conscious of how fast my memories fade, especially of those little quirky moments that do still sometimes happen when travelling. Even when I was blogging regularly, I could feel how they slipped away in the days or weeks before posting, so I know if I don't make an effort, I'll probably end up forgetting the mere fact that I even visited Dusseldorf or Delft (two quick trips from the last year or two that I don't think made it on to the blog).

Since the Italy honeymoon, I've been lucky enough to be in New Zealand and South Korea, as well as a few more weekends away - notably Lisbon and Manchester. So I'm going to try to forge ahead and at least wrap up the last two stops of the honeymoon.

So, last time out, I left you in Urbino, eating delicious crescia. So let's pick things up there again. I think the two main things Urbino is known for is its lavish ducal court, particularly under Federico da Montefeltro, the duke from the famous Piero della Francesca portrait, and as the birthplace of Raphael. We ticked both of these star attractions off the list in our visit.

The ducal palace is up on the hill, so you can get some pretty cool photos from vantage points around the city. Here we are walking a little on the city wall above the gate into the hill town (there is also a newer part down below, as we found in many of these hill towns, where we left the car - no thanks to driving on the steep, narrow, cobble-stoned streets of the city).

Much of the interior of the palace was a bit more sparse and forbidding than I had anticipated. I think this is quite a common thing with very old royal residences where the interior decoration of the time has not necessarily survived. Often they would travel together with their furniture between different residences, although I imagine that is a lot less likely in the case of the ruler of a city state. Most of the static decoration was on elaborately carved doors and decorated ceilings, but happily the palace is also home to the National Gallery of the Marche region, so there is still plenty to look at. 

A fresco that is a (very) idealised portrait of the Duke and Duchess
A more realistic image of the pair. The Duke lost an eye and the bridge of his nose in a jousting accident
 Although the famous Piero della Francesca portrait mentioned above is now in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, the collection does include his Flagellation and Madonna of Senigallia.

Detail from the Flagellation
It's really quite small
Piero's Madonna
La Muta, by Raphael
By far my favourite bit of the palace was the Duke's studiolo, a tiny room decorated with intarsia woodwork (similar to marquetry) and portraits of famous thinkers and writers. I'm not sure how well it comes across in photographs, but the detail and realism of the trompe l'oeil effects in the woodwork is stunning. I must have spent at least 20 minutes in this little 3.6 x 3.35 metre study, looking at every detail. 

General view - note the fake open cupboard door on the lower left
Trompe l'oeil shelves with musical instruments

Squirrel friend
More fake cupboards

Last up, we visited the house where Raphael was born and grew up. Things I didn't know about Raphael: his father was himself a painter (court painter to the Duke in fact), and I believe his mother was from a noble family (this is what I remember from our visit, but all I can find on the internet is that she died when he was 8. This meant that his childhood home was a lot more substantial than one might imagine from the "starving artist" stereotype (see also Rubens' house, which I happened to visit this weekend - dude must have been loaded). 
The Great Hall of Raphael's house
A work by his father, Giovanni Santi
Fresco in the room where Raphael was born. It is debated whether it is an early work by Raphael himself, or by his fathe
This is here just because of the teeny tiny boar
 After Raphael's house, we had lunch at the Antica Osteria da la Stella, which has archival records of bills to such famous painters as Piero della Francesca, Ucello, and Raphael himself. Kind of a neat experience although I don't remember what the food was like. Good but not exceptional, I think.

In our "antique" hotel room and in the Ducal Palace, we had spotted these cool star-shaped lights which seemed to be characteristic of the region. We texted the landlady to ask where she got hers from, and she told us to go to this tiny workshop where an elderly lady makes them by hand. Pretty badass, as the kids say.

 It survived the trip home as a unique souvenir of the honeymoon, although I wish we had thought to clean all the glass panels before hanging it up!