• U.S.


2 minute read

RAVENNA is the world’s chief repository of early Byzantine art, surpassing even Istanbul, the capital of Byzantium. The ancient churches and chapels of the sleepy Italian town (pop. 35,000) are lit by windowpanes of translucent alabaster and by the glitter and blaze of great mosaics such as the triumphant Christ opposite. Ravenna’s mosaics, made of innumerable bits of glass, gold and marble chips stuck in plaster, have neither the drama of Gothic church art nor the human warmth of the Renaissance masters. Yet they are equally great, and gayer than either. Their gaiety expresses the exuberant youth of the Christian church, shows that the Dark Ages knew glory.

When Belisarius and the Eunuch Narses conquered Italy for Justinian in 540, they re-established Ravenna as the Western capital of the Byzantine empire. Justinian and Theodora, his empress, ordered it suitably adorned. The rendering of Christ in armor for the Archbishop’s Chapel, a rare phenomenon in art, may reflect the warlike nature of the Byzantines, who held the view that Christianity could and should be spread by the sword. But the Ravenna Christ looks more loving than awesome. A beardless youth, He lightly treads the lion and the serpent while presenting His eternal promise:”I am the way, the truth and the life.”

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com