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united to the body of the edifice. The thrust has, then, to be resisted by the thickness of the walls; and the downward pressure to be supported by arches and piers. In most cases the pendentives are exposed to view; but at S. Vitale, the mechanical contrivances are concealed by a ceiling. It is always an object to diminish the weight of the dome; and with this view materials of the lightest kind were employed in its construction. At S. Vitale the dome is composed of a spiral line of earthen vessels, inserted into each other; and where the lateral thrust ceases, and the vertical pressure begins, larger jars are introduced in an upright position. The first re-appearance of a dome in Italy could not fail to excite admiration, and forms an epoch in the ecclesiastical architecture of the country.'—H. Gaily Knight.
The lower walls of the church are coated with great slabs of Greek marble. The red marble with which the piers are inlaid is quite splendid. The carving of the capitals is of the most exquisite beauty; these blocks, sculptured in bas-relief, are a Byzantine feature, invented at Constantinople. Many of the sculptured fragments in different parts of the church are of great interest, especially reliefs (to the right of the high altar between the pillars of Verde Antico) representing some genii bearing a shell, and the throne of Neptune with a sea-monster beneath it; and the relief called the 'Apotheosis of Augustus' near the entrance of the Sacristy. The statues and pictures here are unimportant ; the best of the latter are those by the native family of Longhi (father, son, and daughter) in the Sacristy. The pavement has been raised three feet, and the adjoining street is six feet above the original level.
But the great feature of all is the glorious Mosaics of the time of Justinian and Theodora, still almost as fresh as when they were erected.
'Unfortunately, the decorations of the principal tribune, and those of the quadrangular arched space before it, are all that have been preserved. They refer in subject to the foundation and consecration of the church, with the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. Gold grounds and blue grounds alternate here, the former being confined to the apsis and to two. of the four divisions of the arched space. In the semi-dome of the apsis appears a still very youthful Christ, seated upon the globe of the world; on each side two angels, with S. Vitalis as patron of the
church, and Bishop Ecclesius as founder, the latter carrying a model of the building. Below are the four rivers of Paradise, flowing through green meadows, while the golden ground is striped with purple clouds. The figures are all noble and dignified, especially the Christ, whose ideal youthfulness scarcely recurs after that time. In the drapery there is much that is conventional, especially in the mode ol shadowing, though a certain truthfulness still prevails.
'Upon the perpendicular wall of the apsis appear two large ceremonial representations upon a gold ground, which, as the almost sole surviving specimens of the higher style of profane painting, are of great interest, and as examples of costume, quite invaluable. The picture on the right represents the relation in which the Emperor Justinian stood
to the church—the figures as large as life. In splendid attire, laden with the diadem and with a purple and gold-embroidered mantle, fasiened with a monstrous fibula, is seen the Emperor, advancing, his hands full of costly gifts; his haughty, bloated, vulgar, yet regular countenance, with the eyebrows elevated towards the temple, is seen in front. To him succeeds a number of courtiers, doubtless abo portraits, and next to them the easily recognisable, fair, Germanic body-guard, with sword and shield. Archbishop Maximian, with his clergy, is advancing to meet the Emperor. He, also, with his bald head, and the pathetic slits of eyes, is a characteristic portrait of the time. Opposite, on the left, is the Empress Theodora, surrounded by the gorgeously attired ladies and eunuchs of the court, in the act of entering the
church. The Empress is also clad in the dark violet (purple) imperial mantle, and from her grotesque diadem hangs a whole cascade of beads and jewels, enclosing a narrow, pale, highly significant face, in whose large, hollow eyes, and small sensual mouth, the whole history of that clever, imperious, voluptuous, and merciless woman is written. A chamberlain before her is drawing back a richly-embroidered curtain, so as to exhibit the entrance court of a church, betokened as such by its cleansing fountain. Justinian and Theodora are distinguished by bright nimbuses, a homage which the artist of that time could scarcely withhold, since he evidently knew no other form of flattery.
'Of somewhat inferior execution are the mosaics of the lofty quadrangular space before the apsis, representing the Old Testament symbols of the sacrifice of the mass. On the vaulting, between green and gold tendrils upon a blue ground, and green upon a gold ground, are four flying angels upon globes, resembling antique Victories ; below them, in the four corners, are four peacocks, as emblems of Eternity. On the upper wall, above the apsis, two angels, gracefully hovering, are holding a shield with the sign of the Redeemer; on each side, blazing with jewels, of which they are entirely constructed, are the cities of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, with vine-tendrils and birds, on a blue ground, above them. On either side wall, in an architectural framework, which we are at a loss to describe, are the subjects we have already mentioned. Two semicircles contain the principal subjects, viz. the bloody and bloodless sacrifice of the Old Covenant. We see Abraham carrying out provisions to the three young men in white garments, who are seated at a table under a leafless but budding tree, while Sarah stands behind the door laughing. Then, again, we behold the Patriarch on the point of offering up his son Isaac, who kneels before him. Then Abel (an excellent and perfectly antique shepherd figure) in the act of holding up his sacrifice of the firstling of the flock before a wooden hut, while Melchizedec (designated by a nimbus as the symbol of Christ), advancing from a temple in the form of a Basilica, pronounces a blessing over the bread and wine. The pictures then continue further the history of the Old Covenant, showing Moses, who, as the prefiguration of Christ, is here represented as a youth; then again, as he first appears under the character of a shepherd; and lastly, as he is receiving the tables of the Law upon the Mount, while the people are waiting below. Isaiah and Jeremiah, grey headed men in white robes, appear to be vehemently agi'ated by the spirit of prophecy; and further upward, in similar gestures of inspiration, are seen the Four Evangelists, seated with their emblems, S. Matthew looking up to the angel as if to a vision. Above, the subject is closed by fine arabesques, vine-tendrils, and birds. Finally, in the front archivolt next the dome are thirteen medallions between elegant arabesques upon a blue ground, containing the portraits of Christ and the Apostles; individual, portrait-like heads, several of
which have suffered a later restoration. The execution of the whole front space is partially rude and superficial, especially in the prophets and evangelists. In drawing, also, these portions are inferior to the works in the apsis, although, in that respect, they still excel those of the following century. In the delineation of animals, for example in the Lion of S. Mark, a sound feeling for nature is still evinced; the same in the tree before Abraham's dwelling. In many parts the background landscape is elevated in a very remarkable manner, consisting of steep rocks covered with verdure, an evident attempt to imitate the forms of reality. Unfortunately nothing more is preserved of the mosaics of the cupola and the rest of the church.'—Kuglcr.
To those who are unacquainted with their history, and whose interest in them is awakened by their portraits, the following character of Justinian and Theodora will not be unwelcome :—
'Under Justinian, the nephew, colleague, and heir of Justin, the Roman Empire appears suddenly to resume her ancient majesty and power. The signs of a just, able, and vigorous administration, internal peace, prosperity, conquest and splendour, surrounded the master of the Roman world. The greatest generals, since the days perhaps of Trajan, Belisarius, and Narses, appear at the head of the Roman armies. Persia was kept at bay during several campaigns, if not continuously successful, yet honourable to the arms of Rome. The tide of barbarian conquerors rolled back. Africa, the Illyrian and Dalmatian provinces, Sicily, Italy, with the ancient capital, were again under the empire of Rome; the Vandal kingdom, the Gothic kingdom, fell before the irresistible generals of the East. The frontiers of the empire were defended with fortifications constructed at an enormous cost. Justinian aspired to be the legislator of mankind; a vast system of jurisprudence embodied the wisdom of ancient and of imperial statutes, mingled with some of the benign influences of Christianity, of which the author might almost have been warranted in the presumptuous vaticination, that it would exercise an unrepealed authority to the latest ages. The cities of the empire were adorned with buildings, civil as well as religious, of great magnificence and apparent durability, which, with the comprehensive legislation, might recall the peaceful days of the Antonines. The empire, at least at first, was restored to religious unity: Catholicism resumed its sway, and Arianism, so long its rival, died out in remote and neglected congregations.
'The creator of this new epoch in Roman greatness, at least he who filled the throne during its creation, the Emperor Justinian, united in himself the most opposite vices—insatiable rapacity and lavish prodigality, intense pride and contemptible weakness, unmeasured
ambition and dastardly cowardice. He was the luxurious slave of his empress, whom, aftex she had ministered to the licentious pleasures ot the populace as a courtesan, and as an actress in the most immodest exhibitions, in defiance of decency, of honour, of the remonstrances ot his friends, and of religion, he had made the partner of his throne. In the Christian emperor seemed to meet the crimes of those who won or secured their empire by the assassination of all whom they feared, the passion for public diversions, without the accomplishments of Nero, or the brute strength of Commodus, the dotage of Claudius. The imperious Theodora, even if from exhaustion or lassitude she discontinued, or at least condescended to disguise, those vices which dishonoured her husband, in her cruelties knew no restraint. And these cruelties were exercised in order to gratify her rapacity, if not in sheer caprice, as a substitute for that excitement which had lost its keenness and its zest. Theodora, a bigot without faith, a heretic, it might almost be presumed, without religious convictions, by the superior strength of her character, domineered in this as in other respects over the whole court, mingled in all religious intrigues, appointed to the highest ecclesiastical dignities, sold the Papacy itself. Her charities alone (if we except her masculine courage, and no doubt that great ability which mastered the inferior mind of her husband), if they sprung from lingering womanly tenderness, or that inextinguishable kindness which Christianity sometimes infuses into the hardest hearts, if they were not designed as a deliberate compromise with Heaven for her vices and cruelties, may demand our admiration. The feeling which induced the degraded victim of the lusts of men to found, perhaps, the first penitentiaries for her sisters in that wretched class, as it shows her superior to the base fear of awakening remembrances of her own former shame, may likewise be considered as an enforced homage to female virtue.' — Milman, 'Hist. of Latin Christianity.'
It lends an additional interest to S. Vitale that it was so admired by Charlemagne, as to be adopted by him as the model for his famous church at Aix-la-Chapelle.
In the passage which leads from the basilica to the street towards S. Maria Maggiore, is the Tomb of the Exarch fsaac, who died here in 641 (eighth Exarch of Ravenna). It is adorned with reliefs of Daniel in the Lions' Den, the Raising of Lazarus, and, on the front, the Adoration of the Magi, the last very curious—the Magi running as hard as they can with their gifts, their cloaks floating on the wind.
Following the Strada S. Vitale, and turning to the right,