ARCHITECT, Italian
(active 540s in Ravenna)

Interior view

540s
Photo
Sant'Apollinare in Classe, Ravenna

Bishop Ursicinus (reg 534-36) founded this church at Classis, c. 5 km south of Ravenna; it was paid for by a local banker, Julianus Argentarius, and consecrated in 549 by Bishop Maximian. It is a spacious, three-aisled basilica ending in an eastern apse with a seven-sided outer polygon pierced by five windows and flanked by projecting chapels with absidioles. The walls of brick are decorated on the exterior with blind arches that frame the 53 windows of the nave and aisles. Ravenna's tallest campanile was added to the church in the late 10th century.

Despite extensive repairs to the clerestory in the 8th century, and the insertion of a crypt and raising of the apse level above the nave floor in the 9th century, the church has largely preserved its original internal design. Much of the sculptural and wall-mosaic decoration has also survived.

The colonnades flanking the nave each consist of 12 richly veined Proconnesian marble columns set on rectangular bases and crowned by wind-blown acanthus capitals.

The apse is decorated with marble revetment on the lower zone and mosaic elsewhere, the complex design of which is partly due to changes made in the window zone in the 7th century. On the triumphal arch the mosaics comprise a medallion bust of Christ Pantokrator flanked by the symbols of the Evangelists; below, 12 lambs emerge from Bethlehem and Jerusalem and proceed towards Christ. On either side of the apse are vertical series of three panels depicting palm-trees at the top, archangels in the middle, and half-figures of the Evangelists at the bottom.

The upper half of the apse is dominated by a huge blue disc bearing a bejewelled cross set among 99 stars; in the centre of the cross, which hovers between busts of Moses and Elijah, there is a bust of Christ; the group is a stylised version of the Transfiguration. Below, St Apollinaris stands with his arms raised in prayer in the centre of an idealized landscape, with six lambs on either side and three lambs representing Sts Peter, James, and John above him to the left and right. The green and gold zones of this composition are carefully balanced and create a strong two-dimensional surface.

Between the windows of the apse are four full-length portraits of bishops of Ravenna, on either side of which are two mosaic panels added by Bishop Reparatus in the 7th century.

View the ground plan of Sant'Apollinare in Classe, Ravenna.




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