Christology and the Image of Christ in Ravenna

The variations of )esus iconography within a single building or icono-graphic program continued in the next centuries, particularly in Ravenna, which for a short time was capital of the Roman Empire in the West. From the mid-fifth to the early sixth centuries, persons with different politteal and theological affiliations constructed a group of important buildings in three subsequent stages. The first was the era from 402 to 493 c.e., when the city became the Western capital under the Catholic orthodox rulers Honorius and his stepsister Gal la Plactdia, acquired metropolitan standing, and was served by bishops Ursus and Neon. From this era survive the so-called Orthodox Baptistery and the mausoleum of Gall a Placid i a, begun around 42:> when Gal la Placid i a acted as regent for her son, Valentinian III/-1

In 493, the Arian Ostrogoth Th cod one captured the city and constructed a palace, a cathedral, a church with a baptistery, and a mausoleum for himself.. Still remaining from this second era are the palace chapel (or Arian Cathedral^ originally dedicated to Christ the Savior, but now known as San Apollinare Nuovo and probably finished after The odor k's death in 526), the Arian Baptistery, some of Lhe mosaic decoration of the archbishop's chapel, and the mausoleum. The third phase of Ravenna's building was after the reconquest of the city by the Byzantine general Belisarius in 540 and its return to the orthodox faith in the reign of Justinian (and the bishops Maxirnian and Agnellus). New construction in this era included the Basilica of San Apollinare in Classe and the exquisite Basilica of San Vitale (both of which may have been begun during the second period and intended to serve the orthodox community living under Gothic rule), in 555-556, during the time of Bishop Agnellus, the Arian cathedral was re dedicated to San Martin (an orthodox foe of Arians) and was renovated, removing some of its mosaics and replacing them with new ¡(Sonographic themes,11

Hg. 79 tilling-the diso-p es, rro5iic. early 6th ^en, c L. %an Apollinare N_cvc, Ravenna ■: i-'"Dt j: Author)

Among all these buildings, three offer some insight into the matter of the variable visual portrayal of Christ, The first, the An an church begun by Thepdoric in the early sixth century (probably finished by his daughter after his death), has an interior mosaic program that might well reflect the theological stance of Theodoric or his Arian bishop, perhaps deliberately meant to contrast With that of the orthodox citizens and leaders of the city who were allowed to continue to practice their own form of Christianity. Although much of the original decoration of the church has been lost—at first altered after the Byzantine reconquer and subsequent rededication of the church to the orthodox faith, then by an earthquake En the eighth century (which damaged the apse), and finally by renovation and expansion in the sixteenth century (which destroyed any remaining mosaics in the apse)—some original decorations* in particular an upper register of mosaics along the nave above the clerestory windows that shows narrative images from the life of Christ, may reflect an aspcct of Gothic Arian Christologv.1

The series of twenty-six images (thirteen on each longitudinal wall) may be the earliest extant examples of such a narrative series in mo mini entaJ art, and they seem particularly appropriate for a church that had been dedicated to Christ the Savior, We might speculate that the defaced mosaics on the Eowrer register (replaced by the two processions of martyrs—women on one side, men on the other) were either portrayals of Theodoric's court or—less likely—additional images from the life of Christ that were more doctnnally offensive to the orthodox powers than the smaller images of the upper register, since the former were removed while the latter were allowed to remain. On the left side of the nave (as one looks toward the apse and above the processing women) is a series

of panels depicting Christ's ministry oi healing, teaching, and wonderworking, while on the right (above the processing men) is a series of scenes from his passion and resurrection.

Looking at these two sets of panels, a viewer will notice that the face of )csus on the left side of the nave is markedly different from the appearance of lesus on the right side of the nave. On the left, in scenes in which he raises Lazarus, meets the woman at the well, heals the man born blind, heals the woman with the issue of blood, heals the paralytic (showing both versions), multiplies loaves and fishes and changes water to wine, fes us has no bearti and his hair is light in color (fig. 79). Along the right side of the nave, we sec scenes of the Last Supper, Jesus in the garden, his arrest, the trial before Pilate, the trial before Caiaphas, the procession toward Golgotha, the empty tomb, and finally some post resurrection scenes {there is no scene of the crucifixion itself). Jesus is shown writh long dark hair and a beard that appears to grow longer as the narrative progresses toward the crucifixion (figs, 80-81).

In other ways, the consistency among all these images is striking, Jestis always wears the same purple tunic and pallium with gold tíayi, while his disciples or other characters are in traditional white garments, sometimes with colored mantles or capes. His cruciform (and jeweled) halo is exactly the same from panel to panel. The styfe of the work (folds on the garments, proportions of the figures) and overall compositional details of the panels (gold backgrounds, decorative borders) also are the same throughout. Such consistency argues for a deliberate and meaningful choice of these two representations, rather than their being the result of employing twTo different workshops with two different perceptions of howr Jesus should appear.

Fig. &C Iee-je; z<erore P tie mosaic, early 6ih ce- c.L. San Apellinare Nt,oyo Ravenna Í Photo: Author).

8 ■ Jesus and disc 2>les on "he --cid zo bmnfiaus, rrcsa c. ea-iy 6th cen.C.t Sa- Apd-lirtar c Nuov'o fev'enni (Photo; Author)

Ail obvious explanation for these two different types of Jesus figures is that artisans deliberately portrayed Jesus in scenes from his earthly ministry as youthful- Once the narrative picks up his fulfillment of his destiny through suffering, death, and resurrection, Jesus is cast in rhc role of a mature godn one who is entering into his inheritance and becoming both King and Lord. This might reflect ail otherwise unknown aspect of late fourth- or early fifth-century Gothic Arian Ghristology thai emphasizes the dual natures of Christ but that sees them as sequential, rather than simultaneous. Arguably this might be a form of adoption!st theology that shows Jesus coming into his divinity, perhaps beginning at his baptism."*1 Or this iconography might also reflect a biblical Christology based on the narrative structure of the Gospel of John, which begins with a recounting of signs and wonders and transitions to a "gospel of glory'" as Christ approaches his Passion. This transition commences with the washing of feet at the Last Supper hi chapter 13, when "Jesus knew that his hour had come" (John 13:1 J, compared to his earlier proclamation,"my time has not yet come" (John 7:6), As we have noted> beginning with the image of the Last Supper at the apse end of San Apolli.ilare Nuovo, Chrisfs beard actually seems to grow longer through the story of the passion and the post resurrection appearances, Jesus' growing in stature and more mature masculine presence in this case represents Jesus' manifest divinity, apparent more through his passion than in his miracles.

The same contrast of physical types !or Jesus occurs in the iconography of baptism found in the two baptisteries of Ravenna, one designed for the orthodox (the Neonian Baptistery, ca, 475) and the other designed for the Arians, In some respects, the iconography of these two baptisteries is so similar that it is dear the later one (the Arian, ca, 525) was modeled on the earlier (the Neonian). Although much of the mosaic

decoration of the Arian Baptistery has boon lost, and significant restoration work has made details rather doubtful in both, we also see basic compositional parallels." Processing apostles carrying wreaths of victory form an inner band around a central medalliun at the apex of both domes. In both medall ions, we see a scene of Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist (figs, 82-33). In addition to John and Jesus, die scenes include the descending Holy Spirit and the personification of the River Jordan [the river god), but although the two are similar, they also are very different The two river gods are very different in their appearance; wrhile the Jordan of the Orthodox Baptistery is partially submerged in the water and has veiled hands, the Jordan of the Arian Baptistery is more like traditional (classical) river gods: he sits to the side, draped but bare- Dome mosa 4

t j L 1 j t> j- i . h < ■ n m Ci- Orthodox EUpt aery, chested, holding his jug trom which the river flows,4» ^ (Phofo:Autilo0i

The most intriguing and perhaps most significant difference between these two works of art is the way Jesus is portrayed. The Jesus of the Orthodox Baptistery has a more mature appearance, with beard and a gaunt body, while the Jesus of the Arian Baptistery has no beard and a youthful} almost p ubescen t body. At leasi one scholar has sugge ste d th at 1 e ^ Dome c■ earlv later restorers have added the beard to an original beardless and youth- p^^a^Fhota A^thc'^ ' ful figure of Christ in th e O r th od ox Bap tis -tery in order to make it conform to later portraits of Christ/1' This explanation, however, fails to explain the marked differences in all aspects of the compositions of both medallions, including the placement of John (right versus left) and the obvious differences in representation of tlie River Jordan, aspects that could not have been

Fg, 34.Apse mosaic, rriid^th easily changed in later centuries. Put, even assuming that the bearded cen.c.t, SanVitaie, Rawenna Christ of the Orthodox Baptistery could be original, whether or how (Photo:Author). these two different images correspond to the different Chi istologies of orthodox and Arian believers is difficult to say since we know very little about Ostrogothic Arianism (or its Christology). Thus we cannot be certain that a n oil-orthodox theology was consciously proclaimed on the ceiling of the Arian Baptistery, as a clear and direct challenge to the Christology of the Orthodox Baptistery even though we may assert that the Arian representation of Jesus' baptism clearly differed from the orthodox model. Furthermore, follow ing the Byzantine conquest of Justinian, the Arian Baptistery was transferred to the orthodox (just as was the church of San Apollinare in NuovoJ and converted into a small oratory (Santa Maria in Cosmedin). If the iconography was in any sense overtly heretical to orthodox eyes, it could have been removed or replaced (just as the lower register mosaics in San Apollinare Nuovo was obliterated by the Byzantines).

But, as we can see in another important monument, a beardless Christ was not perceived as problematic by the orthodox community. In fact, two distinct images of Jesus, one bearded and the other beardless, appear in the Basilica of San Vitale, probably begun in 526, but not consecrated until 547 or 548. The striking apse mosaic—the focal point of a complex mosaic program—shows a beardless and transcendent Christ, along with the orthodox Bishop Ecclesius (who founded the church while the city was still under Gothic rule), Saint Vitalis, and two archangels (fig. 84), This Christ sits enthroned on a blue orb and has short hair and a youthful lace. On the inside of the arch over the presbyter iuin, however, wre see the bearded portrait type, complete with

Fig. 85. Medallion portrait of Chnst Iron arch of presty--eriurn, San Vhale, Ravenna {Photo; Author)

darker complexion and long haix parted in the middle (fig, 85). The bearded Christ may have been added at a later date, perhaps during the time of Bishop Maxim ian, who appears in the lower ap.se with the Emperor Justinian. In this case, the difference betwreen the beardless Christ in the apse and the bearded Christ in the medallion portrait of the soffit of the arch is so pronounced that they imply the distinct styles of two different eras—unlike the consistency of the mosaics in the upper register of San Apollinarc Nuovo.

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