Ch. 11, Note 82: S. Vitale, Ravenna

Inside the archway leading to the choir are fifteen gold medallions with portraits of Christ and the twelve apostles, along with S. Gervasius and S. Protasius, sons of S. Vitale.

Right side of the choir. Above are the evangelists Matthew and Mark, and beneath them stand Moses at the burning bush (left) and Isaiah outside the walls of Jerusalem (right). In the lunette Abel and Melchizedek offer sacrifices, prefiguring the church’s Eucharist.

The evangelist Matthew, still in the process of writing, and apparently doing so in Hebrew. As in the other evangelist scenes, a stream flows at the evangelist’s feet, one of the four rivers of paradise. In front of him stands a collection of scrolls, presumably Old Testament writings he has consulted in composing his gospel.

The evangelist Mark with his title page visible: SEC|VN|DVM || MAR|CVM. The heavenly, winged lion that appears in other contexts has now shed his wings and come down to earth. Similar portraits of evangelists and their symbols occur in later, mainly western illuminated gospel codices (see the images linked to note 83 for examples).

Left side of the choir. At the top left and right are further evangelist portraits (John and Luke). Beneath them stand Jeremiah and Moses. In the lunette below are scenes from the life of Abraham and Sarah.

On the left, Abraham provides hospitality for the three angelic visitors while Sarah smiles sceptically in the doorway of the tent (Gen.18). On the right, Abraham offers up Isaac (Gen.22)

The evangelist Luke with his (unwinged) calf-symbol and his title page visible: SECV|NDV|M || LV|CAM.

The evangelist John with his eagle-symbol and his title page facing him, as if he has only just finished writing: SEC|VNDV[M] || IOHA|NNEM.

In the choir apse Christ is seated on the globe above the rock of paradise from which four rivers flow forth. On either side of him stand the archangels Michael and Gabriel, as he offers the martyr’s crown to S. Vitale on his right. On the left bishop Ecclesius offers the basilica to Christ.

The Lamb of God encircled in the centre of the choir roof, supported by four angels.

The Emperor Justinian stands between Bishop Maximian and imperial soldiers. Justinian holds the gold paten, symbol of the Eucharistic bread. Together with its pair (below), this famous image reflects the eastern Emperor’s recent reconquest of Italy, and was presumably not part of the original design for S. Vitale.

The Empress Theodora stands with a train of court ladies, a chalice in her hands.