(active around 500 in Ravenna)

Interior view

c. 500
Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna

Originally built as Theodoric's palace church and dedicated to the Saviour, it was rededicated to St Martin of Tours during the episcopate of Agnellus (556–69) and finally to St Apollinaris in the 9th century, probably after the saint's relics were translated there. It is a standard western basilica with a nave and two aisles, an apse, and arcaded colonnades. Other traditional Italian features of construction are the use of short, thick bricks for the walls and of terracotta tubes for the apse vault. Eastern features incorporated into this plan include the exterior polygon of the apse and the articulation of the outer walls with pilasters crossed by a brick band arched over the windows, the large numbers of which allow an even distribution of light in the nave and aisles. In the 10th century a campanile of circular plan was built next to the church's west portico.

The interior decoration includes acanthus leaf capitals, presumably imported from Constantinople (now Istanbul). Of much greater significance, however, are the sumptuous mosaics that cover the walls of the nave. They reflect the dominant role that mosaics had assumed in the churches of the Christian East; the traditional accentuation of architecture through cornices or sculptured friezes is reduced to a minimum.

The mosaics are divided into three tiers. The lowest tier, below the clerestory windows, comprises processions of figures against a continuous gold background: to the south, male martyrs advance from Theodoric's palace towards Christ enthroned; to the north, female martyrs set out from the port of Classis towards the Virgin and Child enthroned, who are adored by the Magi. The latter and the rows of saints were put there by Bishop Agnellus, replacing the original court processions.

Between the windows in the second tier are 32 isolated figures of Apostles and Prophets, each standing on a green pedestal with a shell-shaped canopy overhead.

The topmost tier consists of 26 panels, 13 on each side, of which those on the left relate to Christ's ministry and those on the right to his Passion and Resurrection. The lively facial expressions testify to the skill of the mosaicists in cutting and setting the tesserae in such a way as to create an almost abstract effect. Starting from the apse, the scenes follow in chronological order and are separated from one another by shell motifs flanked by doves. The relegation of these panels to such an inconspicuous part of the church differs from that of normal basilican decoration in which biblical narrative scenes frequently dominate large expanses of the nave walls. The whitish-grey, green, blue, red, and gold of the mosaics combine to give the interior a glittering sheen.

The photo shows the view towards the apse. The apse has obviously been redesigned in a Baroque style. A panelled ceiling was added above the nave in 1611.

View the ground plan of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.