Sculpture     Architectural sculpture     Mosaic     Painting    

The mosaic decoration
  Mosaic, a medium in which small cubes of stone or glass are set in a mortar bed, was a popular way of decorating interiors in Late Antiquity. Floor mosaics in carpet' formations (a central panel surrounded by a decorative border) were practically de rigueur during this period. Floral and animalistic motifs, genre scenes, architectural settings, and geometric compositions, were the most common choices in mosaic iconography, both for domestic and religious use. Specificaly Christian motifs and images were relatively rare, but this natural world' imagery may have been used at times with Christian significance to illustrate the wonders of creation. Topographical mosaics were also popular: the mosaic of the Yaqto Villa in Antioch (fifth century) shows the bustling streets of this city and of suburban Daphne; the sixth-century panel in the church of * in Madaba is a map of Palestine. Pagan iconography adorns the houses of the wealthy showing that the ruling classes were fond of antique culture and perhaps favorable towards paganism, even at a late date. Narrative scenes, such as Europe abducted by Zeus or Dionysiac feasts, female allegorical busts, deities and personnifications adorned reception rooms and sleeping quarters; often, it is these panels that identify the function of a particular room and the position of furniture.
  In large prestige buildings tessellated pavements gave way to marble slabs, and monumental mosaics were used to adorn the walls and ceilings. Religious iconography gained in complexity, with formal images of holy personnae and extensive narrative cycles. The sanctuary apse was the focus for the Early Byzantine church. Early Byzantine apse themes include divine epiphanies, namely the Ascension or the Transfiguration, and formal portraits of holy personnae, such as Christ in Majesty or the Virgin and Child. Apse compositions also stress the role of the Virgin and patron saint as intercessors for the salvation of mankind.
  Often, there is reference to the site, dedication or patronnage of the church. St Vitale in Ravenna (526-545) features the Christ, enthroned on a globe and flanked by angels, St Vitalis and Bishop Ecclesius, the latter carrying a model of the church; on either side of the apse windows, Justinian, Theodora and Bishop Maximianus bear gifts to the newly dedicated church. The Transfiguration on the apse of St Catherine on Mount Sinai (548-565) is combined with representations of the local holy man Moses in the chancel arch, while the face of the donor Justinian may be recognized in a medallion of David.
  Stylistically, St Vitale and St Catherine illustrate two different approaches in sixth-century mosaic art. In the former monument, solid, naturalistic figures, set in a real' landscape, derive from classical tradition. In comparison, the apse mosaic of the Transfiguration on Mount Sinai, with its large angular figures suspended in a solid gold background, is almost abstract. The modern approach illustrated by the Transfiguration mosaic set the trend in sixth-century Constantinople. The remains of St Sophia's gold mosaic decoration are entirely non-figural and imitate the effect of shimmering silks enlivened with geometric patterns. Prokopios reports that the church of St Sergius and Bacchus was adorned throughout with gold, and Anicia Julian is said to have gilt the ceiling of St Polyeuktos in order to prevent her wealth from falling into Justinian's hands, after the emperor had requested a contribution to the imperial treasury: both cases may refer to solid gold mosaic.

See also: Sinai monastery; Antioch; Jerusalem