Triumphal arches, Basilica of Saint Vitale (6th century) 

The mosaics that adorn the triumphal arches of the Basilica of Saint Vitale in Ravenna, Italy, the former capital of the Holy Roman Empire, are among the most impressive examples of Byzantine art. Here, 15 medallions depict the figures of Jesus Christ, the Apostles, Sts. Gervasius and Protasius, and the sons of St. Vitale, to whom the church is dedicated. This mosaic stands out for the breadth of colors, from bright green to gold and dark blue, all realized thanks to small pieces of stone, glass or ceramic.

The Mausoleum of Galla Placidia (5th century)

A UNESCO World Heritage Site built in honor of Holy Roman Empress Galla Placidia, the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna hosts a series of brightly colored mosaics that give the interior of the building a shining and otherworldly look. Here we see a detail of the “Garden of Eden” mosaic, an abstract representation of the biblical creation story, featuring golden stars over a dark blue background. The beauty of this mosaic and others contained inside the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia allegedly inspired singer Cole Porter’s song “Night and Day.”

The Transfiguration of Jesus (6th century)

This mosaic inside the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare in Classe symbolically represents the story of Jesus' Transfiguration on Mount Tabor. Here, the transfiguration is represented by a large disc that encloses a starry sky with a cross and the face of Christ. A hand protruding from the clouds represents the divine presence. At the side of the disc, the figures of Elijah and Moses are represented by the three lambs. The Basilica of Sant'Apollinare was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as it was considered “an outstanding example of the early Christian basilica in its purity and simplicity of its design and use of space and in the sumptuous nature of its decoration.”

 

Arian Baptistry (5th to 6th century)

This ceiling mosaic is a depiction of the baptism of Jesus by St. John The Baptist. It decorates the ceiling of the Arian Baptistery of Ravenna, erected between the 5th and 6th century by King Theodoric The Great, ruler of the Roman Holy Empire. It took decades for the mosaic to be completed, and eventually some parts had to be completed with different tesserae (mosaic pieces) than the ones used in early stages, as can be noted by the different color of the grass at the feet of the apostles. The abundance of golden tesserae made with tiny bits of gold give the baptistery an otherworldly and divine feel.