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Ravenna’s Mosaics at a Byzantine Mausoleum and Modern-Day Workshop

Ravenna, Italy

Ravenna’s fifth-century Mausoleum of Galla Placidia glows with Byzantine mosaics of Biblical scenes and Christian symbolism. Ravenna keeps the art alive. In a mosaic workshop, modern-day artists — using techniques from Roman times — create beauty out of bits of glass.

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In Ravenna, just south of Venice, stands the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia. It was designed to be the burial place of the sister of the Roman emperor.

Its precious mosaics, dating from the fall of Rome, are considered the finest from ancient times. The light that sneaks through the thin alabaster panels brings a glow and a twinkle to the early Christian symbolism.

The dome is filled with stars. Doves drink from fountains, symbolic of souls finding nourishment in the world of God.

This scene reminds worshippers of Psalms 42, "Like the thirsty deer longs for spring water, my soul longs for you, my God."

This fifth-century work shows the standard Roman portrayal of Christ, beardless and as the good shepherd. Jesus, dressed in gold and purple like a Roman emperor, is the king of paradise receiving the faithful, represented by lambs, and surrounded by this timeless beauty.

The art of mosaic-making is still alive and well in Ravenna. Nearby, in the Koko Mosaic workshop, works commissioned by an international clientele are being created.

The process is much the same as in ancient Roman times. Minerals are baked into glass to make a rainbow of colors. The colored glass and gold leaf pieces are broken with a hammer, then artfully set in wet cement. The results are almost as beautiful today as they were in Justinian times, as the Ravenna tradition of fine mosaic work lives on to this day.