Mausoleum of Galla Placidia

Date: ca. 425–30
Location or Findspot (Modern-Day Country): Italy
Description: Galla Placidia (ca. 390–450) was the daughter of Theodosius I (r. 379–95) and an empress of the Roman Empire (r. 421–50), acting as regent on the accession of her son. She was a patron of the arts in Rome and Ravenna, especially the latter, where she had her own mausoleum constructed. The small cruciform structure was probably not her ultimate burial place because Galla died in Rome. It was attached to the narthex of the church of Santa Croce, one of the first buildings she commissioned.

The lunettes of the four cross-arms are decorated with mosaic, including Christ as the Good Shepherd surrounded by his flock over the north entrance. The opposite lunette has a prominent gridiron engulfed in flames at the center. This has usually been interpreted as a reference to the martyrdom of St. Lawrence or St. Vincent of Saragossa, but it may refer to Christ as the offering on the altar of the Temple in Jerusalem. In that case, the striding figure who holds a cross is Christ, with a Gospel book in his hand. To the left of the gridiron is an open book cupboard with the four Gospels, each one labeled. At the center of the mausoleum's dome is a monumental cross on a background of starry blue sky. The symbols of the four evangelists float among the stars and pairs of men, probably apostles, on the upper walls of the central bay appear to praise the cross.
Relevant Textbook Chapter(s): 2
Image Credits: Genevra Kornbluth

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Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, lunette with saint (Lawrence?) or Christ, gridiron, and Gospel books Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, starry dome Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, exterior