Ravenna Seen Through Her Mosaics

There are two Ravennas. There’s today’s which is very pretty and a lovely place to stroll or watch the world cycle by or, behind potentially plain brick exteriors, there’s the one of fifteen hundred or so years ago. It’s hard to say which is the livelier. In this lecture we enter six glorious buildings where our eyes are dazzled by glittering glass and gold but where, once we have got over our astonishment, we find ourselves looking into the faces of long-gone but once-living people. Some might stand in rows, but their postures are as relaxed as in any group portrait.

We see the most natural gestures as lambs’ heads are patted and courtiers hold back curtains. Yet we also see specific symbolism which would have been read easily at the time and evidence of ideas and authority stretching back to Byzantium and forward to Charlemagne.