The Apse Vault in the Euphrasian Basilica: The Virgin Enthroned with Angels and Saints

6th century
Apse vault in the Euphrasian Basilica, Poreč, Croatia

This is one of the earliest surviving apse mosaics of the Theotokos, the Virgin Mary as Mother of God, and the composition came to be highly influential. The Christ Child sits "enthroned" on the lap of his mother. Clothed in a manner typical of this period (a pallium draped over inner and outer tunics), he makes the "gesture of delivering the Law" – right hand raised, left hand holding a scroll – seen in earlier images of the adult Christ.

Mary is dressed like an important person of the imperial court, with a purple tunic and a white stole under a purple mantle. Marked with a cross, the stole also suggests a sacerdotal aspect to Mary's characterization. The pillow on her throne is a feature that will continue through the centuries, though in later versions it will not be so large. In the sky above, the hand of the Father reaches down to crown her with a floral wreath, an ancient symbol of fertility and immortality.1 The idea of a crowning of Mary is another innovation that will take root and continue through the ages.

The angels who flank the throne are dressed like the Christ Child, except that their pallia are white. Their knobbed scepters signify their authority. They are not labeled, but 6th-century icons following a similar compositional program will name them as the archangels Gabriel and Michael.2

The haloed figure on the left is St. Maurus, the first bishop of Poreč, offering his martyr's crown to the Virgin and Child. To the left of him is the bishop Euphrasius, offering a maquette of the present basilica, which he had built. He is labeled twice, once as ep[iscopu]s, "bishop," and below that with his name and the abbreviation arc, which perhaps means archbishop. The man at the farthest left is a man also labeled as an ARC with the name Claudius.

Clipei with female saints line the outer edge of the vault to the left and right of the Lamb of God symbol of Jesus Christ. On the far right are two young martyrs, the only men in the group without beards. They may be the twin brothers Gervasius and Protasius. They flank a saint with a light beard whose offering is a book.

View this image in full resolution.
View the entire apse.
View a detail of the Lamb of God symbol.
View details of some of the female saints: Agatha, Agnes, Basilissa, Cecilia, Euphemia, Felicity, Justina, Valeria

Read more about images of the Virgin and Child, St. Maurus, the Archangel Michael, the Archangel Gabriel, and the lamb symbol.

Photographed at the basilica by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.

1 Shepherd, 99.

2 See, for example, Weitzmann, Icon, 47.