Church of San Vitale
Location or Findspot (Modern-Day Country): Italy
Description: The church of San Vitale, consecrated in 547, was built after Justinian I (r. 527–65) conquered northeastern Italy from the Ostrogoths. The church has an octagonal plan, with an ambulatory around a central core. On the apse's upper walls, Abel and the priest Melchizidek from the Book of Genesis make offerings to the hand of God, standing before an altar with a eucharistic chalice. On the lower apse walls, across from the mosaic panel of Justinian and Bishop Maximianus, is the depiction of Empress Theodora (r. 527–48) and her retinue of court women and eunuchs. Like Melchizidek above and the Magi on her robes, she is ready with an offering: a chalice of eucharistic wine. Her rich garments, crown, and jewelry with multicolored precious stones and pearls offer evidence of imperial ornamentation of the period.
Relevant Textbook Chapter(s): 3
Repository and Online Resources: • For image galleries and video footage of the interior, visit the website of the Opera di Religione della Diocesi di Ravenna. • Visit the UNESCO World Heritage page for the early Christian monuments of Ravenna. • Watch a video on the iconography of San Vitale posted at Smarthistory (with narration from Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker). • See 3D panoramas via Columbia University's Media Center for Art History.
Image Credits: Genevra Kornbluth, Wikimedia Commons, Navid Jamali
Tags: Access to the sacred, Status and identity, Connections to the past, Bible, Christian, Clothing and adornment, Women, Gemstones and jewelry, Late Antique, Byzantine, Western European, Mediterranean, Works in textbook