Study of Mosaic, 'Apostle Medallions', San Vitale, RavennaArtist:
, British, 1852 - 1917
Material and Medium: watercolour and bodycolour on paper
Dimensions: Mount: 441 x 301mm
Support: 372 x 267mm
Accession Number: CGSG00142
Why did Randal paint this mosaic detail?
Ruskin sent Randal to Ravenna to make records of its mosaics, prior to any restoration that could change their appearence. After seening the damage that was done by the restoration of ancient mosaics at San Marco in Venice, Ruskin was worried that the same would happen further south in Ravenna and wanted records of these mosaics too. He particularly wanted Randal to meet TM Rooke, another of his commissioned artists, who had already painted many mosaics from San Marco, and to learn from him and assist him in his work.
Although the mosaics were not actually in danger at this time, Ruskin felt that the mosaics were not well known and therefore such records were important. Ruskin did however have a further plan for these mosaic pictures. He was writing a book called 'Our Fathers have told Us', which in his words was to comprise 'sketches of the history of Christendom.' Although he never finished this book, he had planned that Ravenna was to feature in the second chapter, which he wanted to call 'Ponte della Pietra'. This chapter was to include the history of the 6th century King Theodoric and his Christian government. King Theodoric belonged to the Arian Christian sect and had built a church in Ravenna, dedicated to Christ the Redeemer (later re-named Sant'Apollinare Nuovo).
Who are the figures represented here?
The inscriptions behind these two 'Apostle Medallions' show that they feature the heads of Saints Bartholomew and Matthew. Each of the twelve apostles is represented amongst 15 heads in this medallion form.
These mosaics decorate the underside of the arch between the sanctuary and apse area of San Vitale and the figure of Christ appears at the top of the arch. Each of the medallions are further decorated by the dolphins seen here and the ornamental border to the left of these medallions is repeated on the right side.
What is the history of San Vitale?
The Basilica of San Vitale is in Ravenna in north-east Italy. Ravenna's Ostrogoth (Roman-German) bishops built the basilica between AD527 and AD548, and it was funded by a Greek banker.
San Vitale is 'Byzantine' in style, and has a plain external appearance, due to the plain narrow bricks with which it is built. The main building and its dome are octagonal in shape, with apses that extend in different directions. It has numerous plain arched windows. Though these features are described as Byzantine, a style that came from Turkey, the basilica's dome and octagonal shape is also in keeping with Roman architecture. As few buildings of this age survive, especially in this condition, the basilica is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Basilica of San Vitale is most famous for its interior, which is filled with 1500 year-old mosaics. Apart from the details Randal has depicted here, the mosaics also depict biblical figures, bishops, and the retinue and full-length portraits of the Roman Emperor Justinian and Empress Theodora, who probably funded the decorations. Further colourful mosaics of various flowers and animals enliven these figures.