MOSAIC ARTIST, Byzantine
(active 5th century in Ravenna)

Interior decoration

425-50
Mosaic
Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Ravenna

The mausoleum is a small cruciform structure with a high centre bay surmounted by a pendentive dome and giving access to four low barrel-vaulted arms all sheathed in figural mosaics. It was erected as an ante-chapel of the church of Santa Croce (destroyed) and dedicated to St Lawrence. Its plain exterior of blind arcades and pilasters contrasts with the predominant blue, green, and gold interior, which contains one of the best-preserved Early Christian mural mosaics.

In the interior, lunettes of the cross-arms are representations of the Good Shepherd, the Martyrdom of St Lawrence, harts at the fountain of life, and doves drinking from vases. Whereas the first two mosaics are executed in the Hellenistic tradition and have an airy quality, the others and the striking star patterns that decorate the barrel vaults of each arm are two-dimensional in form. Pairs of Apostles stand in the lunettes of the central square, which rises to a star-spangled vault with a cross in the middle, perhaps representing the dome of heaven.

The arrangement of non-figural motifs over the curved planes of domes and vaults, and of figural scenes mostly on vertical walls, suggests that certain rules governed the distribution of these elements of decoration, which were delineated by ornamental bands. The iconography of the entire ensemble is appropriate to a funerary context with its emphasis on the life eternal and the attainment of salvation and grace through the sacraments. The side-arms of the building contain three sarcophagi, but only one, depicting a trinity of lambs between palms, is thought to be of 5th-century workmanship.

The picture shows the view of the interior from the entrance. The lunette mosaic represents the martyrdom of St Lawrence.