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Video transcript

(calm piano music) Voiceover: We've just walked into the main nave and it's this enormous, gorgeous, space. Voiceover: What was interesting when you walk in here and you have this emphasis of drawing you towards the apse. Voiceover: The colonnade on either side helps that enormously, as well as the clear story above which really does create this beautiful rhythm and draws your eye, with light, straight down to the alter. Voiceover: But it also gives you an idea of what a fifth century A.D. basilica would have looked like and perhaps in many ways gives you an idea of the basilicas that you would have found in and around the area of the Roman forum. Voiceover: This really in a sense a Christianization of those architectural forums. Voiceover: But you've also got a whole symbol of authority attached to this as well, given that the pagan basilicas are places of law where the judge could well be the emperor if needed. Also, if you think about it, if you are bankrolling a new religion in the fourth century A.D., perhaps you're gonna build something that you know how to build. Voiceover: These were proven spaces that could hold a tremendous number of people. So really, instead of the alter there, we might actually see the emperor seated. Voiceover: In an ancient basilica, you would have a chair at the back, the catedra, where the emperor or the judge would have been able to pronounce his pronouncements, just like today the bishop, or the titular cardinal, or the pope, or someone have that sort has a [sense of duty] to do that today. And maybe even in your pagan basilicas, you probably would have had a little alter in honor of Minerva, the goddess of knowledge. Voiceover: So what are the oldest elements in the room? Voiceover: Well the oldest elements that we can see in the room, heavily restored, it has to be said, is the triumphal arch that we can see here, with some beautiful fifth century A.D. mosaics of the life and times of the Madonna. Voiceover: And what of the mosaics that we see just above the capitols, just below the clear story? Voiceover: These again are fifth century A.D. Very heavily restored. And again, you've got a whole sense of stories with these beautiful frames, these squares above the actual columns, of many important stories from the old testament. Abraham, Issac, Moses, Joshua. And again, perhaps you've got this idea of you're coming in here, you're finding the Judaic roots of Christianity, the old testament, which then leads you to the coming of the messiah, and the mother of God. Who is my mother? The Mary herself. Voiceover: We're approaching now the high alter, which is incredibly elaborate. Voiceover: The alter where the pope or his delegate can give mass behind the birth of Christ, the dormition of Mary, and then her in heaven being crowned here in this wonderful imperial throne, mandala that we have here. Voiceover: Yes, look at it. Voiceover: What I see when I look at this, and this is something that certainly can be debated, is I think with this Roman art that we see in the later part of the 13th century, Pietro Cavallini, [unintelligible], also, you're also beginning to see reverberations of the Renaissance. Often we talk about Renaissance in 15th century art movement here, but I think you can see that we've got a sense of depth, a sense of realism has just beginning to develop. Voiceover: There is a kind of a tension to the physicality of the body. Voiceover: That's right. And also, a sense of space and depth, and also, perhaps a little portraiture that gives the figures a sense of individuality. And you've also got a sense, of landscape in some ways, a sense of architecture in some ways. See when you look at the Madonna's face there yes, there is an element that says it's strongly Byzantine, but there's also an element there that that is a tender, young woman. Voiceover: And I think there's a willingness to experiment and to move beyond the traditions that have been relatively stable for some time. Voiceover: Yes. And I think here to a degree, a mosaic is a perhaps a bit more difficult to create that sense of depth and movement that you're going to see with the Renaissance, but I think you can see an inkling here. Voiceover: But you know, those figures are seated. Mary and Christ, they're not in the way that some of the more Byzantine elements... Voiceover: They're not flat, that's right. Voiceover: are not flat. There's a sense of their gravity. There's a sense of their mass in space. And a little bit of foreshortening actually. And of course, this will bloom into the work of [unintelligible], or bloom into the work of the high Renaissance ultimately. But of course, at this moment, we have no idea where that's going. Voiceover: True, but maybe we can just see a fledgling sort of light, very fledgling seeds being sown here. Voiceover: Certainly an openness to a physicality that I think was more absolutely rejected centuries earlier. Voiceover: Yeah definitely. (calm piano music)