The Left Wall of the Nave in Sant'Apollinare Nuovo
6th century (Original mosaics ca. 504, Orthodox revisions ca. 561, some restorations done in mid-19th century)
Church of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy
This is the left wall of the nave. The three bands of mosaics here are paired with those on the right wall.
The uppermost band presents 13 events in the life of Christ alternating with decorative panels. The narrative panels portray a youthful, beardless Jesus, always in a purple toga, and the apostles are invariably shown in white togas, each with two shoulder-to-hem purple stripes. This is the garb of Roman senators:
The stripes, but not the togas, are also seen on the bishop and deacons in a mosaic of the same century in nearby San Vitale, where it is the Emperor who is distinguished by a toga of purple.
In the mosaics of the Passion
on the opposite wall, the garb is the same.
In the middle band are 16 prophets, evangelists, and other saints. Below that, 22 virgin saints process from the city of Classe toward the throne of the Virgin and Child, led by the three Magi. The throne is flanked by four angels.
The church was built as an Arian cathedral by Theodoric the Great in 504. But Ravenna was subsequently conquered by the Orthodox Byzantines, and in 561 the church was rededicated for Orthodox worship. At about that time the original mosaics were revised. Scholars assume that the revisers wished to remove anything suggesting Arianism and to buttress Orthodox beliefs.1
Detail photographs of the procession:
Detail photographs of the Life of Christ, from left to right (i.e. moving toward the apse):
View this image in full resolution.
View the corresponding mosaics on the opposite wall.
Photographed at the church by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.
1 Deliyannis 153 et pass.