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Video transcript

we're in the so called mausoleum of Galla Placidia in the city of Ravenna in Italy when you think about the history of the Roman Empire you think about the city of Rome you don't think about Ravenna but Ravenna played a key role the end of the Roman Empire the Roman Empire was in trouble in the third and fourth centuries that is 300 years or so after Christ it had been split it had been rejoined it split again it was a complicated history and there were migrating peoples coming into the Empire you might know these as the Ostrogoths mishegoss the Huns ultimately Constantine would move the capital of the Empire from Rome to a strategic location in the east what is now called Istanbul but which was renamed Constantinople before was Constantinople it was the Greek town of Byzantium and that's why we called the culture from the eastern part of the Empire Byzantine the Roman Empire was basically split at this time between traditions that began to develop independently in the east and traditions that began to develop independently in the West so here we are in the early fifth century and Galla Placidia was the daughter of the Emperor Theodosius and Galla Placidia souther moves the capital of the western part of the Roman Empire here to Ravenna now ravana had been an important port in ancient Rome Augustus at half his Navy situated here because the city was basically surrounded by Marsh on one side and the Adriatic Sea on the other let's talk about Galla Placidia for just a moment because she's amazing she's the daughter of the Emperor who ruled from Constantinople and she's a sister of the man who would rule the western capital her father married her off to the king of the Goths in a political alliance ultimately she would remarry and her son would become Emperor but he was too young to rule and she ruled the Western Roman higher in place of her son until her son was old enough to take over she was a very powerful woman and was responsible for building many buildings here in Ravenna including this mausoleum which was originally attached to a church that she built now we call this the so-called mausoleum because our historians used to think that she was buried here we now believe that she died in Rome and wasn't buried here from the outside the so-called Muslim is quite small it's made of reused ancient Roman brick remember this had been an important Roman city for the Navy and so the people in the fifth century dismantled those older buildings and reuse those materials and that's what we have here the building used to be taller but the ground around it rose but what everyone comes to see is the interior decorations because outside it really doesn't look like much but inside it's fabulous the walls are covered up to about seven or eight feet with marble and then above that amazing mosaics this is a rare example where the original mosaics are completely intact now the building itself is the shape of a cross and on each of the four days there are barrel vaults and then in the centre there is a shallow dome and all of that is covered with mosaic now mosaic are small tiles of stone or in this case glass they're brightly colored in blues and greens and reds and gold so in this case gold was sandwiched between pieces of glass and these pieces are Tesori or set a little bit on edge in other words they're not smooth and flat against the wall and so they catch the light and glimmer and that would have been especially true when this room was illuminated not by an electric light with its steady illumination but instead by the flickering light of lanterns and so we really do experience a sense of another world let's take a look at a few of the mosaics here now much of the wall is covered of decorative forms the forms that might remind us of ancient Roman carving for example we see acanthus leaves and vines although the vines here are very specifically grape vines and that refers to the sacrament of the Eucharist of taking the bread and wine as the body and blood of Christ when we first walk into the Muslim first mosaic that we see is one that we don't entirely understand it shows a saint on the right he's holding a book he's holding a cross he's got a halo and back of him and he seems to be running towards a fire directly under a small window and that fire has a grill on it we often assume that that st. Lawrence because st. Lawrence was martyred by being burned to death and he's the saint we most often see in western iconography but because on the other side we see very prominently a opened cabinet revealing four books the books of Matthew Mark Luke and John the four Gospels and because of the sainthood holds a book one scholar has suggested that this might be st. Vincent of Saragossa whose legend does involve books unlike st. Lawrence Saint Vincent or Saint Lawrence or whoever that is is also dressed as are all the figures in this building looking very much as if you were in ancient Roman there's wonderful kind of animation to his figure the trade flows out and back of him as if he's speeding forward and the kind of energy that's expressed in that cloth is echoed in the liveliness of the flames themselves you can see the flames underneath the grille but we also see their shadow on the wall behind or what must be the wall behind it's very difficult to talk about it as a space that makes sense because it's so obviously not very naturalistic that cab and it doesn't make sense we have a kind of flat background and yet there are still some naturalistic aspects to it like the drapery that the saint wears which does have some sense of modeling and three dimensionality to it there's also a real specificity if you look at the grille it's actually on wheels there are these decisions to place very specific elements here even if we don't entirely understand them now opposite this mosaic this lunette is another right over the door and we don't see it until we turn to leave and here we see Christ as the Good Shepherd again looking very ancient Roman to me although wearing a halo but turning his body in a very natural way sitting in the landscape surrounded by sheep there is that wonderful torsion in that body it is so classical and it's such a careful observation of the way that the human body moves and yet at the same time it has the kind of simplification of the body's forms that clearly locate this in the early medieval period and it's also a very symmetrical image with the figure in the center and three sheep on either side and there is a decorative quality overall now the iconography or the symbolism of Christ being shown as a shepherd comes directly out of the Gospel of John it's the idea that Christ is leading his flock leading the faithful taking care of them Christ looks unusually more normally expect to see him older and with a beard and here he's young and beardless it's a beautiful image with those pale greens there are fronds of a palm that rise up in back of the rocks at the horizon line and there flecked with gold so the entire image has a kind of beauty and luminosity that's just wonderful you