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.


  1. Hurrying on a griddle?? Why didn't I think of spending a day or two like that?


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