FROM the fourth century, or even earlier, mosaic became the chief decoration of all religious edifices, but all the picture subjects of these mosaics were not of the sacred order, for we find that from the date of the early Christian buildings, through many subsequent centuries, the influence of antique art both as to subject and technique is clearly apparent. Even as late as 1516 Raffaelle designed the mosaic decorations of the Chigi Chapel in the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo at Rome, which were carried out by Luigi della Pace, and which consisted of representations of the heathen deities, such as Mercury, Venus, Apollo, Mars, Jupiter, etc., symbolizing the planets, and dominated by a figure of the Creator, surrounded by angels, a strange mixture, or association of heathen gods with angels and the Eternal Father of mankind.
Among the examples of the oldest mosaics in the churches of Italy, are those on the wagon-roof of the ambulatory of Santa Constanza, near Rome, and those on the apse of Santa Pudenziana, at Rome, both of which date from the fourth century. The mosaics of St, Constanza belong to the school of ancient art, and consist of representations of little genii, animals, and birds, disporting among branches and tendrils of the vine, other little figures being engaged in treading out the wine from the grapes in the wine-presses, while others are driving bullocks harnessed to wagons. The whole compositions are in natural colours on a white ground and surrounded by ornamental borders. These mosaics are almost identical with the decoration in the Catacombs of St. Calixtus, which shows that both had their origin in ancient art, and also afford an illustration of the ornamental style of the ancient ceiling decorations of the Roman dwelling-houses, of which Pliny speaks. The pagan character of these decorations led to the supposition, which was maintained for many centuries; that this building was erected as a temple to Bacchus, but it has long since been thought that it was either built by Constantine as a baptistery to the neighbouring church of St. Agnes, or later as a monumental church to his two daughters.
The Church of Santa Pudenziana, which has the reputation of being the oldest Christian church in Rome, was erected on the spot where St. Pudens and his daughters, Praxedis and Pudentiana, who entertained St. Peter, are said to have lived. It has a most interesting mosaic as the decoration of the apse of the tribune.
This church has often been restored, the first restoration being as early as the latter end of the fourth century, and the mosaic in question has suffered much by later restorations, although the design and composition of the work still warrants it to have been executed, in its first state, in the days of Constantine. The background of the figures is occupied by a semicircular portico, above the roof of which, on the horizon, are grouped a glittering row of antique buildings, and in the purple and gold-edged clouds are representations, on a colossal scale, of the four emblems of the Evangelists, namely, the Lion, Bull, Eagle, and Angel. In the centre is the great figure of Christ enthroned, and directly above is a large and richly decorated gold cross. On either side of the central figure are figures of St. Peter, St. Paul, and the two female saints, St. Praxedis and St. Pudentiana, which project half-length above the row of eight half-length male figures, all of which are dressed in. Roman costumes, and looking to-wards the spectator. The figures on either side slightly overlap each other, not occupying isolated positions, which was the common arrangement in the later Christian mosaics. The antique costumes, the buildings in the background and the general freedom of the whole composition, distinguish this important work from the more formal and stiff compositions of the later Christian, Roman, and Byzantine mosaics, which marks it as an isolated example of later Roman art that is distinguished by the best traditions of the antiquea fine and rare example of the art of the fourth century, that rising clear above the nebulous gloom of deterioration, which in this century had almost extinguished the power and beauty of ancient art, shines like the peak of a high mountain reflecting the last rays of the setting sun, when the darkness of the night has already covered the valleys.
The finest mosaics which were executed as church decorations during the fifth and following centuries in Italy are found at Rome and Ravenna. The bishopric of Rome was the principal seat of the hierarchy, and the churches there were richly decorated by the Emperors and also by private individuals, while at Ravenna, which became the residence of the Emperors of the West, the successors of Theodosius, and afterwards of the exarchs appointed by the Emperors of the East, when the north of Italy was in possession of the Longobards, we find the most superb examples of mosaic, particularly those of the monumental chapel of the Empress Galla Placidia, A.D. 425-450, and St. Vitale, A.D. 547.
The Italian mosaics of the sixth century have been ascribed by some to the Byzantine School, chiefly from the fact that Ravenna was occupied by the Byzantians in A.D. 539. The style of these works, however, show the traditions and characteristics of the later Roman mosaics too clearly to warrant this conclusion, but on the other hand, it may be admitted, in the case of some of the mosaics executed towards the end of the sixth century, a decided Byzantine influence is apparent in the technique, and in the barbaric richness of the ornamental patterns which decorate the dresses of the figures, the various borders, and other surface ornamentation.
In the octagon-shaped baptistery of the Duomo at Ravenna we see examples of some of the earliest mosaics of the fifth century, about A.D. 430. The spandrels of the lower row of arches are occupied by mosaics consisting of the figures of eight prophets alternating between finely designed gold arabesque ornaments, on a blue ground. The draperies of these figures are similar in drawing and motive to those of the later types of antique art. In the upper arches, stucco decorations in relief take the place of mosaics, which consist of figures of saints, peacocks, sea-horses, rams, stags, and griffins, chiefly in white on reddish-yellow grounds. In the centre of the octagonal cupola is the circular mosaic picture representing the Baptism of Christ. The head of Christ is similar to the Catacomb type, having long hair, and with-out a nimbus ; a cross is placed between the Saviour and John the Baptist, while the river Jordan is represented as a river god, presenting a cloth, all the design being treated in the feeling and spirit of antique art. At the base of the cupola is a circle of rich mosaics consisting of thrones, altars, tables, and little monuments or tombs, each surrounded by a framework of architecture, Pompeian in character. The grounds of these mosaics are blue as in the case of the early work. In the section next to these are the twelve Apostles, colossal in size, standing upon the green earth, above which is the blue background, and a white drapery, decorated with gold. The garments of the Apostles are of gold stuff, and are designed in a free and flowing manner. The whole circle of the cupola is divided into compartments by gold acanthus ornament. The general decorative effect is in complete accordance with the architecture, the colouring is rich, yet delicate, and the whole scheme of the decoration affords some ideaor if we are permitted to say, an echo-of what the world has lost in the destruction of the numerous and richly decorated buildings of the later Roman Empire.
The Mausoleum of the Empress Galla Placidia, widow of the Constantine II, was built about A.D. 440, and the mosaics which decorate this building were executed a few years later than those of the baptistery at Ravenna. This monumental chapel is generally known as the church of SS. Nazaro e Celso, and is built in the form of a Latin cross. The centre elevation is square in form, being arched over with the segment of a cupola, and the aisles and transept have wagon roofs. The cupola, arches, and vaults are entirely covered with mosaics, chiefly in gold on a dark blue ground. The subjects of the mosaics consist of figures, emblems, animals, birds, and conventional ornament, and the whole effect of the decoration is beautiful in the extreme. It affords the best known example of the fifth century, where the beauty of the antique decoration is mingled with the forms of the early Christian art. The dresses of the figures of the apostles are of flowing robes of white ; golden stags are represented advancing between gold-green arabesques, on a blue ground, towards the baptismal fountain, doves are drinking out of a vase. The cupola is decorated with a large golden cross, stars, and the emblems of the Evangelists. In the chief lunette over the altar the figure of Christ appears with the flag of victory or a cross in one hand, and in the other a book of heretical writings which he is about to commit to the flames. Some critics identify this figure as that of St. Laurence. Some of the mosaics of the vaults are composed of circular flowers or rosettes, which point to Persian or Eastern influence, as indeed the general colour effect of this superb scheme of decoration owes more to the East than to the West for its incomparable colour harmony.
Another famous church at Ravenna is that of St. Vitale, built about A.D. 534. This church is octagonal in plan, and is remarkable for the beauty of the carved Byzantine capitals and precious marble shafts of the columns. The walls below the springing of the vaults are sheathed also in precious marbles and alabaster slabs of great beauty. This interesting church has in a great measure been disfigured by paintings of cherubs, angels, festoons, etc., of seventeenth century work, and is one of the many examples where a noble building has been spoiled by the added ornamentation of a later and decadent age ; but here, fortunately, a few of the sixth century mosaics have still been preserved. These consist of the decorations of the semi-dome of the apse, of the principal tribune, and of the quadrangular arched space before it. The design and style of these mosaics are of a highly dignified character, and are in harmony with the architecture of the building. In the semi-dome of the apse is the youthful figure of Christ seated on the globe of the world, angels are on either side and the figures of St. Vitalis, the patron of the church, and the Bishop Ecclesius as the founder, carrying a model of the building. These mosaics are on a gold ground with purple clouds. On the perpendicular wall of the apse, also on gold grounds, are the celebrated mosaics representing the Emperor Justinian and the Empress Theodora, accompanied by their great officers of state and ecclesiastical dignitaries, about to enter the church. The figures, life size, are all dressed in richly embroidered robes, the royal personages with diadems, nimbi around their heads, and dressed in purple robes with gold embroidery. These mosaics are highly valuable in affording examples of the ceremonial costume of the period, apart from their splendour as wall decorations.
The mosaic decorations of the Church of Sant’ Apollinare in Classe, near Ravenna, and those of Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo, a basilica within the city of Ravenna, both dating from the sixth century, are well known, and rank among the best examples of interior decorative art in Europe.
The basilica of St. Apollinare Nuovo was erected early in the sixth century by Theodoric, the Gothic king of Italy, as an Aryan church. Later in this century it was converted into a Roman Catholic church, and was then called St. Martin in coelo aureofrom its original ” golden roof,” which, however, was destroyed, as the present panelled roof is a modernized restoration, dating from 1611. The upper walls of the central aisle, or nave, of this church are resplendent from the arches up to the roof with their original mosaics on gold grounds. On the walls just above the arches on either side of the nave are represented two long processions of martyrs, saints, confessors, male figures on the right, and female on the left. The dresses of the figures are in various light colours, and each figure carries a wreath or crown. The procession is advancing in a solemn way through an avenue of palm trees, a tree being placed between each figure. The starting-point of the male procession is indicated by a glittering representation of Theodoric’s palace in the city of Ravenna, with its upper and lower arcades, domes, and corner towers. At the end of the procession there is a representation of Christ upon a throne surrounded by four noble figures of the archangels. On the left side the procession consists of the figures of female martyrs and saints advancing from the town of Classis, as is supposed from the representation of its harbours and fortifications, and the goal of this procession is the scene of the Adoration of the Three Kings. The Madonna is represented seated on a throne with the dressed figure of the Saviour, as a child, upon her lap, each with a hand raised in benediction, and around the throne are four beautiful angels. This group represents one of the earliest known instances where the Madonna is represented as an object of reverence. Between the windows, above these processional friezes are single figures of apostles in niches, clad in white garments, and still higher, above the windows, on a small scale are the subjects of the Miracles, and compositions from the New Testament. The execution of these mosaics is very careful, the shading and drawing of draperies are dignified and refined, while the general colour scheme is rich and harmonious.
The Church of Sant’ Apollinare in Classe, erected A.D. 535, is the largest and best preserved basilica in the district of Ravenna, although nearly all of the beautiful marble slabs, if not mosaics also that once lined its walls, were stripped off by that enemy to art, Sigismund Malatesta, Lord of Rimini, in 1449. The walls of the nave and aisles were left bare from that time until the eighteenth century, when the system began of placing portraits of the Archbishops of Ravenna in rows of circular medallions above the arches, and arranged as a frieze on either side of the nave walls. The portraits embrace all the archbishops from the earliest known down to the present day. The mosaics of the apse date probably from the sixth century, but the greater portion are of the seventh, and have been very much restored in modern times. In the semi-dome of the apse, with its background of gold, on which appear some light blue and light pink clouds, there is a large circular space in the centre having a blue ground studded with gold stars and jewels ; within this circle is a large golden cross richly decorated, and at the crossing of the arms is a half-length figure of Christ. The half-length figures of Moses and Elijah appear as if coming out of the clouds, on either side of the central circle ; and below is a meadow with trees, in the centre of which is the figure of Apollinaris, the Scholar of St. Peter, with hands uplifted, preaching and surrounded by a row of fifteen sheep. The sheep are emblematic of Christian congregations. Twelve sheep symbolizing the apostles, are re-presented advancing upwards on either side of the arch of the tribune, while two palm trees occupy the spandrels below. At the extreme top of this wall is a broad band with a blue ground, in the centre of which in a circle is the head of Christ, and on either side are the emblems of the Evangelists. The chief part of the composition of the semi-dome is emblematic of the Transfiguration. The lower walls of the apse have illustrations from the Old Testament, and four Ravenna bishops on a blue ground, standing under canopies with draperies. This church is remarkable for its illustrations of sacred symbolism, not only in its mosaic pictures, but contains an almost complete collection of the earliest symbols of Christian art, from simple monograms to pictorial representations of Christ as the Good Shepherd, among which may be mentioned, after the sacred monograms, the Lamb, the Fish, the Vine, the Ship, the Anchor, the Hart at the Brook, the Brazen Serpent, the Sheaf, the Ark of the Covenant, the Seven Branched Candlestick, the Phoenix, the Peacock, the Dove, and the Cross, as the most sacred emblem. All these and others occur in the spandrels of the arches in this church.
Some of the finest mosaics of the early Christian period in Rome are those which decorate the apse of the Church of SS. Cosmo e Damiano in the Forum. This church was built, A.D. 526 to 530, and dedicated to the two Arabian doctors who suffered martyrdom under the Diocletian persecution. The mosaics are therefore of the sixth century, and though much restored in many parts, may still be considered as examples of the highest excellence as mosaic decoration. On a dark blue ground in the centre of the apse of the tribune is the colossal figure of Christ, of which the countenance, attitude and the noble design of the drapery, combine to produce an intense feeling of reposeful majesty. The right hand is raised in benediction, and the left holds a written scroll. On each side of the Saviour, below, are the apostles Peter and Paul, leading St. Cosmo and St. Damian towards the central figure of Christ, followed by St. Theodore on the right, and the Pope Felix IV, a modern figure, on the left ; at the extreme sides are palm trees, and the phoenix, the emblem of eternity. The draperies of the figures, though severe in design and late Roman in style, have nothing of the Byzantine stiffness, and the colour is remarkable for its rich and glowing harmonies of violet, red, and gold, on the background of deep blue. The heads of the figures are individual in type, which suggests attempts at portraiture. Below the figures there is a representation of the river Jordan with its water plants, sparkling with touches of gold, and under this composition is a secondary scheme of design on a gold ground, in which may be seen the Lamb on a hillock, from which runs the four rivers of Paradise, and twelve naturally drawn sheep are represented on either side.
Owing to the wars and disastrous events of the seventh and eighth centuries, art in Rome and Italy was almost at a standstill; at any rate very little remains to us of even the few works in mosaic painting that were executed in those centuries. Another thing which accounts for the stagnation of art in the eighth century was the destructive measures of the ” Iconoclast,” Leo the Isaurian. It is well known that this ruler of the Eastern Empire issued an edict in A.D. 726, against the sup-posed worship of images, which was confirmed by the council of three hundred and thirty-eight bishops at Constantinople in A.D. 754, and these coercive measures, which militated against the production of not only sculpture, but in a lesser measure against mosaics and monumental painting, were continued until the death of the last iconoclastic Emperor in AM. 842. Although a great check was given to the advancement of art, and many important works were destroyed, still the practice of painting and the production of mosaics were continued by many of the monks who were in agreement with the Popes Gregory II and III, namely, that ” the various scenes of the Passion of our Lord were feasible and praiseworthy subjects for the walls of churches.” The Eastern Empire and Church did not submit to the iconoclastic edicts without resistance, while Italy revolted against them successfully. The Byzantine Emperor sent a Greek army to take Ravenna, because the inhabitants had killed the Exarch when he tried to enforce the law against images, but his army was vanquished by the Italians, and to this circumstance we possibly owe the preservation of the mosaics now existing at Ravenna and Rome, for it is known that many important mosaics were, in those days of religious controversy, scraped off the walls of the churches, especially those that were representations of sacred personages.
The mosaics of Rome and of Italy in the ninth century were fairly numerous, and covered great spaces of the walls of churches, but in artistic quality were much inferior to those of the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries, and in many cases were copies to a great extent of the earlier works, more especially in the composition and scheme of the decoration. All these mosaics have a decided Byzantine influence, as expressed in long attenuated figures and unmeaning disposition of drapery, together with a rudeness of execution which became more marked in the later works of this century.
One of the best examples of this period is the Church of St. Prassede on the Esquiline Hill at Rome, which is decorated with mosaics of the ninth century. The composition of those in the semi-dome is an exact copy of that in the Church of SS. Cosmo e Damiano, sixth century, mentioned above, only that the saints are differently named. The execution of the faces and drapery is rude and barbaric. Similar compositions of this period are to be seen in the mosaics of St. Cecilia in Trastevere, and in the tribune of St. Maria della Navicella, Rome. The two latter churches are remarkable for their rich decoration of ornamental designs in colours and gold, consisting of rich foliage between medallions, and wreaths of flowers growing out of vase-shaped vessels, which testify to the survival of the purely ornamental side of Byzantine art at a time when human figure-drawing and figure-composition were in a state of decadence.
Owing to the internal troubles, coupled with the inroads of the northern nations, mosaic and other forms of art practically ceased in Italy during the tenth century, and after this time, when art again blossomed in the country, it was due to the aid of Byzantium. Mosaic workers and artists were brought to Rome and Italy from. Constantinople to execute works at the end of the tenth century, and they instructed many Italian pupils especially in mosaic work, so it is not to be wondered that this art in Italy was subsequently strongly influenced by the Eastern Greek ideals.
The republic of Venice was politically connected with, and was under the protection of Byzantium, and so enjoyed comparative tranquillity when the rest of Italy had more than its share of trouble, and it is owing to this circumstance that from the tenth up to the thirteenth century, Byzantine architecture, painting, and mosaic work became rooted, and flourished vigorously in the Venetian republic.
The basilica of St. Mark’s, Venice, with its great wealth and witchery of Byzantine coloura complete expression on Italian soil of the glow and glamour of the Eastis a ninth century semi-Byzantine church, which was begun in the year 830, but rebuilt after a fire in 976, the date of the founding of the present church. It is well known’ that the rich and precious marbles with which the floors, the pillars, and the walls half-way are incrusted, similar to those of the Church of Santa Sophia at Constantinople, were brought from all parts of the Western and Eastern Empires.
The crowning glory of St. Mark’s, however, is its glow of rich colouring, chiefly due to its wealth of mosaics on gold grounds, which, uniting with that of the polished marbles and transparent alabaster, combine to produce a perfect chromatic effect, that has been described by Ruskin as ” the most subtle, variable, inexpressible colour in the world.” The cupolas, half-domes, and upper walls of the interior are everywhere covered with mosaics, dating from the eleventh, and perhaps the tenth century, to the sixteenth, many of them being restored, or remade, covering a space of over 45,000 square feet, the church being a veritable museum of mosaics and other works of art. The domical style of building, with its barrel-vaulting and curved surfaces, is eminently adapted for showing to the greatest advantage the sparkling and sumptuous qualities of mosaic decoration, with all its richness of transparent colouring, its sheen of silver, and magnificent lustre of gold. The mosaics of St. Mark’s give us some idea of what has been lost in the destruction of this form of decoration in Santa Sophia at Constantinople, where the only existing remains are some of the colossal seraphim, and a trace of a figure of the Madonna, with angels. Yet we know that Santa Sophia furnished the model for all the subsequent colour decoration of the churches of Western Europe, and not only that, but the Byzantine Emperors may be said to have founded a centre at their capital from which all the arts flowed. They found the architect, Isidore, for St. Mark’s, and the mosaic for the mosque at Damascus, as well as for the Kaabeh at Cordova, and we are not at all certain when Byzantine art was at an end before the final extinction of the Roman Empire by the Ottoman Turkish conqueror, Mahomet II, in 1453.
The splendour, too, of the courts of the Caliphs had afterwards its influence on the minor arts and crafts of both East and West, for the splendid Byzantine silk stuffs, tapestries, metal-work, and pottery, found their way into all European countries.
If we inquire into the origin of the great love for rich colouring in decoration which so suddenly leapt to light in the early Byzantine period we shall find it due to two great causes ; one was due to the actual style of the architecture, for the Byzantine buildings were expressly designed so as to receive a colour finish by an incrustation or veneer of precious marbles and mosaics, and the other was the result of a Persian influence.
The early Christian basilicas, built for use as churches, were of a strictly utilitarian design, and were devoid of the heavy architectural features and ornaments which characterized the later temples, and other Roman buildings. The same principle was carried out in the Christian basilicas of Byzantium, with a domed-roof construction. The domed roof of Persia, built of brick, was therefore the chief characteristic, if not the key-note, of Byzantine architecture. Not only were the Byzantine builders indebted to the Persians of the Sassanid dynasty (the third century) for their system of domed and vaulted building, but, as we have said, for their love of colour, and even for their system of veneering the walls of their buildings with coloured materials of a permanent description. The Persians used coloured tiles or enamelled bricks in the nature of slabs of veneered or incrusted decoration to decor-ate their rough brick walls, a system which they in their turn had learned the methods from their Assyrian and Chaldean ancestors, or neighbours. Even when enamelled tiles were not used for this purpose and the walls of Persian buildings were merely plastered, these bare surfaces were hung with coloured carpets or embroideries in order to satisfy the Asiatic eye, that has always loved colour and decoration. It must also be borne in mind that the Persians hardly ever constructed their decoration, but as a rule applied it to their rough walls in a veneer of coloured tiles, or of veined stones, that were afterwards polished. Instead, therefore, of using enamelled tiles like the Persians to decorate the interiors of their buildings, the Byzantine builders, like the earlier Romans, used the thin slabs of beautifully coloured marbles, from material which they found conveniently at hand, and so adopted the system of applied colour decoration that obtained among the Asiatic people from the earliest days of Mesopotamian civilization.
The great nave of the Church of Santa Sophia is an immense clear space obtained by the adoption and ingenious construction of the central dome. The lower ring of this dome is supported by the end semi-domes, which are below it, and abut against it, and the portions of the domes at the angles made by the right-angled walls are supported by four pendentives, which are really quarter-domes, or four sections of a great sphere. Thus the central dome, which is in section some-thing less than a semicircle, is supported on the east and west by the lower semi-domes, on the north and south by the great arches of the wall, and in the corners by the four pendentives or quarter-domes. It is on these pendentives that the colossal six-winged seraphim, the remains of the Christian mosaics, are still found. The dome system as expressed in Byzantine architecture usually postulates a rectangular or octangular hall, or nave, below the dome ; in this it resembles the system adopted in the Sassanid Persian buildings of the third century, only that the Byzantine dome is in section a semicircle or part of a circle, while the Persian or Asiatic dome is in section a part of an upright ellipse. In the domed buildings of the Romans, as seen in the Pantheon and in some of the Thermae, the hall or chamber below is usually circular in plan, following the plan of the dome.
The beauty of the general effect of the Santa Sophia interior is enhanced by the refined sculptured decoration of the capitals, spandrels, arches, bands, friezes, and mosaic. Any mosaic of a Christian character has either been destroyed by the Turks, or has been plastered or whitewashed over, but many beautiful bits of a purely ornamental kind, inasmuch as they did not offend the Moslem faith, have been allowed to remain.
The eleventh century in Italy and the near East was not remarkable for great works in monumental coloured decoration ; the art of mosaic, especially, was in a state of decadence. More attention was given to the creation of smaller objects of art, such as ivory-carvings, metal-work, enamels, miniature-painting, and small portable mosaics which reflected in their restrained dimensions a dwarfed and also a mummified kind of art, denoting absence, rather than the presence of the vital principle. It was the age of the artisan and hardly that of the artist. Where the human figure was represented, the body was thin and lifeless, the expression very morose and severe, the draperies rendered in straight and parallel folds, as if the breath of life had gone from the gaunt bodies and their draperies had become their shrouds.
After what may be called the dark winter of the eleventh century, came the spring of the twelfth, which, although it has not been appreciated enough, was really the veritable dawn of the coming Renaissance. Quite a host of mosaicists, whose names have not come down to posterity, have produced many important works in the twelfth century, which in point of figure drawing, colour, and composition have hardly been equalled and certainly not excelled by the first known Tuscan masters. For a hundred years before the days of Niccola and Giovanni of Pisa, and for more than that time before Cimabue and Giotto, these old rude and brilliant mosaicists of the twelfth century, together with the miniature designers of this and earlier centuries, were supplying motives and compositions which were boldly adopted by the primitive frescanti of Italy, when painting almost entirely took the place of mosaic decoration. The mosaic artists of the twelfth century were therefore the true harbingers of the Renaissance in Italy.
The basilica of St. Maria in Trastevere at Rome has still some mosaic decorations of the twelfth century, as well as others of the fourteenth. The first-named mosaics were executed to the orders of the Popes Innocent II and Eugenius III (1139-53), and are considered to be among the first important Romanesque works in Italy ; this applies to those within and around the tribune of . the choir, which are of the highest interest, on account of the work being one of very first produced that is essentially western in character, being in a great measure, but not wholly, removed from Byzantine influence. In the vault of the apse Christ and the Virgin Mary are seated side by side, here represented for the first time in this position, on a magnificent throne, and on either side are six saints with the Pope Calixtus I, or Innocent II, while on the band below are the twelve sheep, and the towns of Jerusalem and Bethlehem represented on a blue ground. Above the tribune, on the triumphal arch which separates the apsidal end of the church from the nave, are the signs of the Evangelists, the seven candle-sticks and other symbols, and next to these, and below them, are the Prophets Jeremiah and Isaiah unfolding their scrolls, and below are two genii lifting drapery that is filled with flowers and fruit, while two doves are flying round a vase. The latter decorative work is reminiscent of the Pagan Roman style. It is worthy of note that in the sacristy of this church there is preserved a fragment of an ancient Roman mosaic of ducks, grasses, and fishermen, which, expecially in the representation of the birds and grasses, is a most lovely arrangement of colour; the ground being of a creamy white, with reds of various tones, yellow ochre and umber tints, cobalt blues, grey-greens of yellowish and bluish tones, together with small portions of a very dark grey, complete the beautiful and rich harmony. Although several parts of the mosaics, that are easily recognized, have been badly restored, the work presents on the whole a simple grandeur ; the poses of the figures have a dignity and freedom of action, their forms are round, not of the usual angular type, and the drapery, especially that on the figure of Christ, is remarkably good in the arrangements of the folds. On the façade of this church there are some mosaics, the design of which dates from the twelfth century, the subject being the Virgin and Child in the centre of the composition, with five virgins or female saints standing on either side. This work has been very much restored, and is not so important as the mosaics of the interior.
The apse of the tribune of the upper church in the interesting and beautiful basilica of San Clemente in Rome is decorated with a purely ornamental mosaic of the twelfth century, chiefly composed of a foliated scroll-like pattern which covers nearly all the surface of the semi-dome. The design in character is thoroughly Romanesque, without any trace of Byzantine feeling; on the contrary, the vine-like foliated scrolls with the little figures, birds, and conventional floral forms interspersed, are strongly reminiscent of the Western Roman decoration of the grottos and catacombs. The ground is gold, the scroll-foliage green, in the centre is a dark blue crucifix on the arms of which are twelve white doves. On either side of the crucifix are the standing figures of the Virgin and St. John, and below are the four streams of Paradise, with stags drinking, peacocks, other birds, and little figures. Through the branching scrolls are many small human figures, and birdsfour of the figures represent the fathers of the Church. Below the semi-dome, on a blue ground, are the thirteen lambs. The whole is surrounded by an extremely rich border of foliage, fruit, flowers, and figures of boys. On the upper part of the wall of the choir tribune is the figure of Christ, the symbols of the Evangelists, and those of saints, apostles, and prophets, but these mosaics have been altered and restored in the early part of the fifteenth century. The purely ornamental mosaics of the semi-dome are particularly interesting, as they foreshadow the use of this kind of arabesque decoration which Raffaelle and his pupils developed so much in the sixteenth century.
The Cathedral at Torcello, a deserted island in the Venetian lagoon, contains some important mosaics of the twelfth century. Those on the west wall are arranged in bands or tiers and occupy the whole of the wall space, the subjects being the Last Judgment, Christ in Hades, and the Crucifixion. In the tribune is a fine example of a Byzantine mosaic on a gold ground, representing a great blue-robed Madonna, with the Infant Christ and the Apostles, remarkable for its fine and simple treatment of colour, and for the monumental and dignified rendering of the figures. In the centre of the lower part of the apse is the bishop’s throne with the circular row of priests’ seats on either side, and at the back are the original alabaster slabs, the natural veining of which makes a chevron-like pattern as they are placed in juxtaposition. This is the only instance of this kind of structure that still remains in its original state. On the pulpit steps and on the choir screen are some beautiful carvings of birds and foliage, designed and executed in the Byzantine style, while the conventional vine and acanthus foliage on the capitals are carved with more than usual spirit and delicacy.
Many of the finest mosaics in St. Mark’s, Venice, were executed during the twelfth century, namely, those illustrating the history of the patron of the church in the Zeno Chapel ; the Christ, Madonna, Solomon, David, and the Prophets in the cupola of the choir ; the Eternal Father and Saints in the apse ; the Holy Spirit in the first cupola, the Evangelists, and the rivers of Paradise in the angles of the great cupola, and the figure of the Saint Clement in the chapel of that name. Most of these mosaics have been very much restored or re-made, but in the parts that are original there is sufficient proof to warrant them to have been of Byzantine workmanship. The inlaid marble floor of St. Mark’s dates from the twelfth century. Some important mosaic decoration of this century is found in the churches of Sicily.
In the thirteenth century numerous Latin churches were decorated with mosaics, and even in the latter half of the previous century the workshops of the mosaicists in Rome were in full activity. Vasari, in his Lives of the Painters, has given the names of many of these old mosaicists.
The basilica of St. Peter’s at Rome, and that of San Paolo fuori le Mura, were decorated with mosaics in the early part of the thirteenth century, but in the case of those in St. Peter’s of the thirteenth century and earlier periods, all have disappeared, after suffering incessant repairs, until the time of Nicholas V, who in 1450 took over the entire reconstruction of the fabric. And as regards the mosaics of St. Paul’s, the greater part perished in the fire of the building in 1823. The general design, however, and some portion of thirteenth century mosaics still exist in the tribune ; they represent Christ in the centre, and a small figure at his feet, supposed to represent the Pope Honorius III, who ordered this work (1216-1227). St. Peter and St. Andrew are on the right, and St. Paul and St. Luke on the left, and under this composition are the figures of the twelve apostles, represented perhaps for the first time, instead of the traditional twelve sheep.
Florence, in the year 1225, began to decorate the baptistery with mosaics. The vault of the tribune, the cupola, and the gallery of this octagonal church, were covered with a world of saints, archangels, patriarchs, and people, and a colossal figure of Christ, all actors in the scene of the Last Judgment, which is the subject of the mosaics. This decoration can now hardly be seen even on a bright day, on account of its decayed state and the dimness of the interior. The general design is not well set out or spaced agreeably, and the drawing of the figures is of an exaggerated stiffness and barbarous enough, with perhaps the exception of those of the gallery, which are less so than the other parts of the work ; this would suggest that the best available artist was entrusted with the gallery decoration ; for according to Vasari, many mosaicists collaborated in this work. Vasari mentions that the decoration was entrusted to Andrea Tafi (1213-1294), who, embarrassed with the technique, went to Venice to engage the services of some of the Greek mosaicists who were then decorating St. Mark’s, and succeeding in securing the services of a Greek named Apollonius, he brought him to Florence. Apollonius taught Andrea the method of manufacturing the small cubes, and of making the cement. The recipe for the enamels was good, but that of the cement bad, for towards the middle of the century following, less than fifty years afterwards, the mosaics detached themselves from the walls and their restoration was confided to Agnolo Gaddi, the grandson of Gaddo Gaddi ; the latter, according to Vasari, was one of the mosaicists who worked with Andrea Tafi in the baptistery. Another collaborateur in this work (1225) was a Franciscan monk, named Jacopo da Turrita, who is not to be confounded with the later, and greater mosaicist, Jacopo Torriti, the author of the celebrated mosaics (12871292) of the tribunes of St. John Lateran and St. Maria Maggiore in Rome, although Vasari states that the artist who executed both the Florentine and Roman mosaics was the same person. Not only the distance in point of time between the signed dates of the Florentine and Roman mosaics, but the superiority of the design and style of the latter in comparison to the former, and also the great noticeable difference in the technique, clearly prove that Vasari has come to a wrong conclusion in his statements when he ascribes the works of two mosaicists to one artist, and this in spite of his acknowledgment of the great inferiority of the Florentine baptistery mosaics to those of SS. John Lateran and Maria Maggiore at Rome.
In the design and workmanship of the mosaics, by Torriti, of the apse in St. John Lateran, there is seen a general animated action of the figures, which shows the designer was strongly influenced by the older mosaics of the fifth and sixth centuries. In the uppermost portion of the apse the head and shoulders of Christ, on a large scale, is placed in the centre among clouds, and above are nine angels with outspread wings ; below this are six saints and apostles, with whom are some smaller figures representing St. Francis, St. Anthony of Padua, and the Pope Nicholas IV, all of which are advancing with their hands raised in adoration towards a large cross in the centre, at the-foot of which are sheep and stags, and the river Jordan. On the wall of the tribune, below and between the four arched window openings, are the mosaics representing Christ and the Apostles, on a smaller scale, and on either side of these figures are palm trees. The ground of these mosaics is gold. The reveals of the window openings are decorated with conventional foliage, flowers, and ornament in greens, reds, white, and blues, on alternating grounds of blue and gold, the general effect being extremely rich and appropriate as a foil to the surrounding figure decoration. Torriti’s masterpiece, however, is the decoration in mosaic of the tribune of St. Maria Maggiore at Rome, which he finished about the year 1300, or a few years later. No contemporary work exists which surpasses or equals the beauty and grace of this composition in decorative design and colour. The centre of the apse is occupied by a large gold-starred circle with a blue ground, on which Christ is represented seated on a magnificent throne, with the Virign on his right. The Saviour is placing a crown on his mother’s head, while she lifts up her hands expressive of adoration. On either side and at the lower parts of the large circular panel there are the choirs of archangels on their knees, and beside them are the kneeling Pope Nicholas IV and a cardinal; behind these on either side are the six figures of saints and apostles. On the ground above the latter an extremely rich design of double scroll-work is seen interspersed with various kinds of birds, which is so like the decoration of the mausoleum of Galla Placidia, that it is conjectured this portion of the work probably dates from the fourth century, or if not, it is an adaptation by Torriti of the purely decorative scroll-work of the fourth century on the wall of the tribune, and on a band which is pierced by the tops of the windows, are a series of seven small mosaic subjects representing scenes in the life of the Virgin. These were executed by Gaddo Gaddi shortly after the year 1307.
On the façade of this basilica there are some important mosaics of the fourteenth century by an artist who has signed the work ” Philipp Rusuti,” but who is otherwise unknown except as being the friend of Cimabue. The style and general character of these mosaics reminds one of Cimabue’s semi-Byzantine manner ; the design may have been possibly made by the latter painter, who may have employed Rusuti to execute the mosaic work. On the same façade there are a series of mosaics by Gaddo Gaddi, in four compartments, illustrating the history of the foundation of the church. Each compartment has only a few figures, but a great deal of architectural forms, consisting of slender pillars and arcading, supporting canopies and entablatures. These mosaics, though interesting, are too full of detail and accessories, and lack the simplicity and grandeur of Rusuti’s and Torriti’s excellent work.
The large conventual church of San Miniato al Monte, south of Florence, is a late Romanesque building, founded by Bishop Hildebrand in 1013. Its façade is a fine example of exterior structural colour decoration in marble, consisting of small slabs and bands of grey-white and dark green marble. The interior vertical portions of the walls, arches, and spandrels are also beautifully decorated with inlaid and carved marbles, chiefly in patterns of squares, lozenges, circles, lines, and other devices. It has a very fine marble pulpit in the upper choir, and an elegantly designed canopied altar in the centre, on the ground-floor. The floor is of ” opus sectile,” a kind of inlaid marble in dark green and grey-white, with various designs, including the signs of the zodiac, similar, but even finer than the floor of the baptistery at Florence. The interesting mosaics of the choir tribune were executed about 1297. The figure of Christ is here represented enthroned on a green eadow, between the boldly-rendered signs of the four Evangelists, and on either side of the Saviour are the Virgin and St. Miniatus. A general stiff Byzantine feeling clings to the figures and draperies, but the trees, plants, and especially the birds in the meadows, are more than usual naturally rendered. The draperies are delicately hatched with gold, and the general execution is careful. Altogether these mosaics form a stately diapason of dominant colour harmony, into which the gathering force of the general organic colouring of the rest of the building is finally united, to complete a rich and effective scheme.
Many painters of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries in Italy designed, even when they did not execute the mosaics as well, but gradually, during the latter century, the old mosaicist gave place to the painter, and the latter, when he did design the more durable decoration, seemed to forget the true function and limits of the material, and, especially after the time of Giotto, the grand style of decorative mosaic completely disappeared, and instead we see imitations of frescoes and wall paintings elaborately worked out in mosaic. On the other hand, as we mentioned before, mosaic design provided many of the motives, and was responsible for the monumental compositions and dignified style of the early Italian fresco painters. It may be said, with the exception of some over-lapping, however, that the rise of Italian painting in the early Renaissance period synchronizes with the decay of mosaic as a magnificent form of decorative art.
The Roman family of Cosmati were distinguished as excellent mosaicists of the thirteenth century. This family consisted of the father, Laurentius, and his two sons, Luca and Jacobus. Laurentius and his son Jacobus decorated the porch of the Cathedral of Cività Castellana, a place not far to the north of Rome, where the wall spaces, friezes and borders are all worked in mosaic, with re-presentations of the Saviour, the Lamb, and symbols of the Evangelists. These decorations are signed with the name of the Cosmati, and are characterized by a pleasant freedom of execution and are good in colour. The father and his son Luca, executed some good mosaics in the Church of St. Scolastica at Subiaco, as proved by an inscription, and also in the dome of the Cathedral of Anagni. There is a votive picture in mosaic which decorates the tomb of the Cardinal Gonsalvo Rodrigo in the Church of St. Maria Maggiore, and another to the memory of G. Durante, Bishop of Mima, in the Church of St. Maria Sopra Minerva, both of which bear the inscriptions, ” Jacobus, son of the master Cosmas, Roman citizen.” The mosaics of the arch of the tribune and those of the lower part of the same tribune in Santa Maria in Trastevere are ascribed to School of the Cosmati, but are more than likely to be the work of Cavallini, as stated by Vasari.
There is nothing positively known of the exact date of the birth of Pietro Cavallini, but his authentic works were executed in the first half of the fourteenth century. Vasari says that he was the disciple of Giotto, and also, that ” he mixed the Greek manner with that of Giotto.” It is more likely, however, that Giotto met his contemporary, Cavallini, in Rome in 1298, and found him flourishing then as a Roman artist of great power. He assisted Giotto in some mosaics which once adorned St. Peter’s at Rome, but of which there are no traces left, except the celebrated mosaic picture of the Navicella, which is in the vestibule. This work, designed by Giotto, for the ancient basilica of St. Peter’s, has frequently changed its position, and has been restored so often that nothing of the original is left except the outlines of the design.
Cavallini was an artist of great power ; he practised as a mosaicist, fresco painter, and sculptor, and recent research tends to show he was a more important artist than Vasari, or Crowe and Cavalcaselle state of him in their notices of his life and work. These authors agree in crediting Cavallini with the execution of many mosaics that are in the style of Giotto’s paintings, which assertions may be based on the knowledge of the known friendship of these masters, and the assistance of Cavallini to Giotto in various mosaic decorations. Many, however, of Cavallini’s so-called Giottesque mosaics, if not absolutely of his own composition, or if they are reminiscent of Giotto, as for example, those of Santa Maria in Trastevere, which are given to him by most authorities, are of the same traditional design and composition found in the Greek Menology, an old Byzantine miniature in the Vatican (No. 1613), a work of the tenth or eleventh century. From this work and other early miniatures the majority of the Italian artists were indebted for many of their fresco and mosaic compositions, as we shall see later in the chapter on miniature painting. When Cavallini did adopt Byzantine compositions, or even when he helped Giotto, his work showed the traces of a virile style of the older Roman drawing which gave a vigour and robustness to his efforts that was deficient in Byzantine art, and even in Tuscan art, at the beginning of the fourteenth century. Some excellent fresco paintings by Pietro Cavallini were discovered in 1900 in the organ loft of the convent chapel in the Church of St. Cecilia in Trastevere, with subject of the Last Judgment. These fine frescoes clearly illustrate the Roman classical manner of Cavallini, and have nothing in common with the Tuscan art of the period ; they also afford further proof that Cavallini was the greatest artist in Italy prior to the advent of Giotto.
From the fifteenth century and onwards mosaic became more and more transformed into close imitations of painting. Many mosaics of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries which decorated the Churches of St. Peter’s at Rome and St. Mark’s at Venice, are merely large easel pictures transformed into the more lasting material. Titian, Tintoret, and Pordenone designed many pictorial mosaics for St. Mark’s and St. Peter’s, while both frescoes and oil-paintings of numerous Italian artists have been faithfully copied in mosaic on the walls of the latter church, since the days of Urban VII (1623-44), no doubt with the laudable desire to render the compositions of the great masters imperishable by incrustation in mosaic, and at the same time to provide a permanent colour finish to the great basilica; but in the majority of the mosaic copies of paintings in St. Peter’s the interpretations of the originals are imperfect, for it is not an easy matter to find a mosaicist with enough abstraction of his personal temperament, that would enable him to adopt completely that of the artist who produced the original work, in order to make a facsimile reproduction of, or even a spirited interpretation of, the original. Wonderful as the modern mosaics of St. Peter’s are in their tedious technique and polished smoothness they are entirely out of place as the decoration of a great building, inasmuch as they have not been designed for the places they occupy, and are altogether at variance with the grand decorative rôle of mosaic. The colour decoration of churches, palaces, and other public buildings in Italy was principally carried out in fresco and tempera mediums, after Giotto and his contemporaries had, in their work, cast off the fetters of Byzantine conventionalism. The brilliant period of Italian art from 1300 to 1550 was a time of unparalleled activity in painting, sculpture, and in the minor decorative arts, and the very best art of this period was applied to the decoration of all descriptions of public buildings. Notwithstanding the great zeal and activity in decoration manifested in this period, there are very few examples existing of church or other interiors where the general colour scheme has been arranged to harmonize, or to make it one with the architecture of the building. Where we find one instance of the latter, we also find dozens of elaborately designed colour decorations, which in their various divisions as different and separate frescoes in the one interior do not fulfil the legitimate purpose of decorative harmony, which should assist, rather than confuse, that sense of repose which ought to be aimed for in all good decorative expression.
That it is not necessary to aim for austerity or simplicity in colour in order to obtain the needed repose, we may mention two notable examples which illustrate rich splendour of colour, and are yet extremely reposeful in their general effects, namely, the Borgia apartments in the Vatican, Rome, decorated by Pinturicchio, and the Riccardi palace at Florence, the work of Benozzo Gozzoli. Both of these great works are glowing with rich colours and gold, and yet both constitute fine examples of architectural repose. The decoration of the Palazzo Pubblico at Siena, with its large frescoes illustrating ” Good ” and Bad Government,” by the Lorenzetti, and that of the Church of St. Francesco at Assisi, by Giotto, are also examples where the design and colouring are in good harmony with the architecture and materials of the building. Other examples might be mentioned where the sense of repose is happily expressed in the colour schemes, but in the great majority of instances the architectural unity and proportion of Italian buildings are not always assisted by the colour decoration. This, of course, is unavoidable, in consequence of the employment of artists belonging to many and different schools, and of the different periods in which the various works were executed, many of which, though found in juxtaposition, bear little relation to each other, either in colour or in subject, and often less to the main forms and structural lines of the architecture. In many cases the different artists seemed to take a delight in making their work as antagonistic as possible in form, feeling, and colour, to the work already executed in the same building. This we know is perfectly natural, and what we expect when artists are free to act independently of each other in the decoration of the same interior, and it cannot be -denied that in these circumstances, we are often treated to an exhibition of a most interesting and varied collection of works of art on the walls of the same edifice, which, though important individually, can hardly be called legitimate decoration of the architectural features. Many of the Italian churches, apart from their sacred uses, are veritable museums of decorative and pictorial art, and often in the same church there are found examples of painting and sculpture sufficient enough to illustrate the historical development of art from the early Christian days to the decadent periods of the late Renaissance.