San Vitale

San Vitale

Date 526-47 CE

Movement Early Christian

Located at Ravenna, Italy

 

Ravenna fell as the Western Roman capital but was then recaptured under Justinian, emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire—San Vitale is therefore a good example of Byzantine art, even though it is located in the West and employs the Roman format of Santa Constanza. Here, however the narthex is not placed on the central axis—visitors would have had to turn left or right to enter the church itself, lending an awkward and unsettling feeling; this may have had to do with obstructions in the surrounding landscape. Unlike at Santa Costanza, the colonnade of the nave billows out into the ambulatory, and an apse has been included that extends from the nave, through the ambulatory and into the outer Eastern wall. Bigger than Santa Constanza, San Vitale included a second-story gallery that may have been reserved for women. Just as we will see basilicas continue on in their longitudinal layouts in the West, so too will we see the centrally-designed, domed churches rise in the East under Justinian and later rulers of the Byzantine Empire. Like Galla Placidia, San Vitale’s interior is covered in beautiful, shimmering marble and precious stone, some of which has been displaced. Hollow tubes within the outer walls enabled lighter construction, allowing for larger windows.