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San Vitale Church: Construction and Design

Byzantine Empire started when the Roman Emperor Constantine moved the capital of Roman Empire from Rome to Byzantium. Byzantine Architectures was very similar to Roman architecture, but got certain influences from Near East and used Greek cross plan in church architecture. When the Church of San Vitale was built, Ravenna was under the control of Byzantine Empire, which is why San Vitale would be similar to the Byzantine architectures instead of having the same plan as other churches in Ravenna.
The construction of Church of San Vitale, dedicated by Bishop Maximian in 547, was begun long before Maximian’s arrival at Ravenna, even before the city was recaptured from the Goths in 540. Construction of this church began under Bishop Ecclesius after King Theodoric’s death in 526. The person who funded this great project “was a certain Julianus called Argentarius – ie a banker, not a bishop” (Lowden, 127). He provided more than 26000 gold coins to proceed with the work. San Vitale was built “in honor of Saint Vitalis, who was martyred at Ravenna in the second century” (Kleiner, 316). The “raison d’être” of the Church of San Vitale was to hold the relics of Saint Vitalis. Vitalis was not as famous or important as other famous saints, such as St Lawrence, thus originally there was only one small cross-shaped martyrium chapel built for him at Ravenna. But now a new church was constructed for him. There is no reason found to explain why his relics grew to the importance of requiring a magnificent new church. But according to one legend, he was the father of Gervasius and Protasius, two important Milanese saints, and all three of them are martyred in this church. This might be the reason why a church was specially built for St Vitalis (Lowden, 127). Its design is different from the sixth-century churches in Ravenna and was considered to be unlike any churches in Italy. It is not a basilica, but a central-planned church similar to the Justinian’s churches in Constantinople.
The Church of San Vitale is a central-domed octagon extended by semi-circular bays, surrounded by an ambulatory and gallery, all covered in vault. The main source of light comes from the clerestory and there are windows on the side walls, too. The regularity and angularity suggested by the exterior is different from the interior, which is dominated by curves. There are seven curving exedras on the sides of the central space which the double arcades will lead the eye up to vaulted semi-domes, arches, and thence to the central dome. The lower part of the church was originally reverted with colored marbles, which most of them were lost through out the ages, and now parts of them were restored. The presbytery (the part of a cathedral or church east of the choir, in which the main altar is situated) was also covered with marble and costly opus sectile in a geometric pattern. In the middle level, the presbytery was covered with mosaics. “The mosaics that decorate San Vitale’s choir and apse like the building itself, must be regarded as among the most climactic achievements of Byzantine art” (Kleiner, 316). But the original decorative scheme for the upper surface of the main body of the church remains unknown (Lowden, 127).
The most famous parts of the Church of San Vitale are the mosaics. “The imperial panels in the church of S. Vitale at Ravenna are perhaps the most famous of all Byzantine mosaics” (Treadgold, 708). Two panels face each other, one on each side of the apes. The left one was covered with mosaic Emperor Justinian and his Attendants and the right one was cover with mosaic Empress Theodora and her Attendants. Both the emperor and empress can be identified by the imperial purple robs they wear and halos behind their heads. The attendants who accompany Justinian parallel Christ’s twelve apostles. Therefore, the mosaic serves both political and religious reasons of the emperor. In the mosaic, the positions of the figures are important. They express the ranking of all figures (Treadgold, 708). Justinian is at the center, wearing purple robe and with a halo in order to distinguish from other dignitaries. At his left is Bishop Maximianus, the man responsible for San Vitale’s completion. Although the emperor appears to be slightly behind Maximianus, the large golden paten he carries overlaps the bishop’s arm. “This symbolized by place and gesture, the imperial and churchly powers are in balance” (Kleiner, 317). In these mosaics, classical elements of art mostly disappeared. For example, no shadows are presented, faces of figures are more stylized, and there is little naturalism. There is no background indicated. In the mosaic Emperor Justinian and his Attendants, the artists wanted viewers to think the procession is taking place in San Vitale, thus the emperor would appear forever as a participant in this church, symbolizing that he will be the proprietor of this church and the ruler of the empire forever (Treadgold, 708). This one of the most important reasons why San Vitale was built: to glorify the Emperor Justinian and the whole empire under his rule.
The opposite wall of the apse contains the mosaic that depicts Empress Theodora, who was considered to be one of the most remarkable women of the middle Ages (Kleiner, 317). Similar to her husband, she is accompanied by her retinue. She carries Chalice, the golden cup with the wine (symbol of Christ’s blood) while Justinian carries the paten containing the bread (symbol of Christ’s body). While most parts of the Theodora mosaic exhibit the same style as the Justinian mosaic, the women are shown within a background. It depicts the scene that Empress Theodora was waiting to follow emperor’s procession, which shows she was outside the sanctuary at that time. The fact that she is outside in the courtyard showed that her rank was not quite equal to her husband (Treadgold, 708). Even though Justinian and Theodora’s mosaics are considered to be one of the most important and most famous mosaics inside the Church of San Vitale, Justinian and Theodora never actually came to Ravenna or participate in any events, which mean those two panels are not the historical record of San Vitale. (Lowden, 134). So those two panels are built in order to ensure Emperor Justinian’s rule over Ravenna and glorify the whole empire under the rule of Emperor Justinian and Empress Theodora.
The Church of San Vitale is one of the most important architecture during Byzantine period. The plan of San Vitale is borrowed and used by constructions, such as the Palace Chapel of Charlemagne in Germany. All visitors would marvel at its intricate design and magnificent golden mosaics. But beauty is not everything San Vitale has; political and religious meanings also play a big role while Church of San Vitale is constructed.
Work cited
Kleiner, Fred. Gardner’s Art through the Ages: A Global History. Ohio: Wadsworth Publishing, 2009.
Lowden, John. Early Christian

Post Impressionism and Vincent Van Gogh

In and around 1911, there were art critics that freely used the phrase “post-impressionistic” as a means to illustrate the work of several artists’ paintings reveal Impressionistic standards. Post Impressionism was a creative shift to follow Impressionism that was to break the Impressionistic style. Post-impressionism consisted of various movements by a group of individual artists searching for a new way to create art. “The principal aim of Impressionism was to objectively record the natural world in terms of the protean effects of color and light. The Post-Impressionists modified this aim in favor of a more ambitious expression of color and light” (Norfleet, 2009). The new styles that these artists created proceeded to additional influential abstract styles and formed the basis for 20th Century Modernism.
Post-impressionist artists pushed Impressionist standards past what they had previously been explored. Arthur Kleinberg (2010) states that artists of the Post-Impressionism period are responsible for putting an extreme amount of emphasis on the movement of color and light, rather than concentrate on the significance of the artwork. The Post-Impressionists aimed to find more depth in the roles of color, form, and solidity in painting, resulting, in artists attempt to use more powerful, brighter or more contrasting colors, in addition to outline. In addition, artists also experimented with the mental properties of brushwork.
Post-impressionism used ideas from impressionism, such as using brilliant colours and broken brushstrokes, but eliminated the idea of painting scenes exactly as they appeared. They experimented with unusual compositions and often used the consistency of paint. According to Nancy Moure (2001), European art signifies the style numerous distinct artists working between 1880 and 1906. Artists during this time were concerned with the termination of Impressionism’s form and the attempt to invest more importance into paintings when more experiments are performed, during more experiments.
The style supported by the Post-Impressionists is a signal of the previous movement where the artists’ works often possessed a loose-fitting and unclear quality painting that gave simply the idea of the subject instead of a natural duplication and also experiment with techniques like the use of colour. Artists’ that utilize colour and representation of light not only seize personal analysis of the scene like the Impressionists but also the emotion that the painter can associates with the subject at that time. Artists would often paint their work quickly to capture the light at a particular time of day. Also, artists would paint light-coloured canvases with flat brushes to enhance the brightness in the pieces. More important than subject matter was the artist’s painting style and the creation of a new paint application.
Post-Impressionism includes all artists whose main goal is to express more than a visual interpretation but intend to portray emotion and intellect in addition to imagery. During this time, styles and techniques concentrated on personal impressions and an advanced use of colour to communicate moods and emotions. Post-Impressionism aimed to get additional form and structure, in addition to more expression and emotion into their paintings. However, Post-Impressionist artists continue to develop and experiment these principles with newer styles and procedures; the most famous being the expressionistic, ornamental and regularly abnormal use of colour to portray the artist’s emotional state.
Moure (2001) expresses that Post-Impressionism was an important experimental linkage to modern art leading to upcoming styles. Modern Art obtains an extensive meaning for classifying itself. Modern Art could be sometimes labeled as an art of appearance and an art of freedom. Modern Art can consist of several techniques that are used. The style of art that exhibits an art of expression can be known as the style of Expressionism. In the early years of the expressionism, artists built on the ideas of the Post-Impressionism. Artists continued on with the similar experiments, view, and ideas that were given by the work. Artists continued to look for a new and more intense truth behind their painting. According to Architecture411.com (2006), modern expressionism is characterized as a creative style which the artist produces their artwork by combining illustrations or objects with emotions. This is accomplished by using both factual and theoretical emphasis on color, consistency, unclear subject matter, deformation, abnormal strength, exaggeration and changed surrounding imagery.
A Post-Impressionist painter that was most influential to the modern artists of the 20th century is Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh. Van Gogh influenced expressionism in modern art. It was Van Gogh’s desire to create stunning things that come from within in addition his desire to reach to those around him that will help to label his role as a painter. In addition, Van Gogh was influential because when it came to expressionism, his work showed his emotions due to the fact that he suffered from depression.
Van Gogh’s work conveys its outstanding colour, coarse brushwork, and curvy forms. These were a close reflection of his feelings as he painted. After Van Gogh moved to Paris, he brightened his colour palette under the influence of Impressionism, and before moving to Arles, in France, he developed the brilliant colours, brushwork and thick, textured paint called impasto of his ultimate style. Impastos provide Van Gogh’s pictures with a better sense of physical energy and a plain texture surface. Van Gogh achieved great impression about his works since he uses a variety of color pigments to express his paintings. Van Gogh used color for its “symbolic and expressive values” rather than to reproduce light and literal surroundings like Impressionist artists. In addition, he conveys feelings and generate moods with color randomly use it rather than use the real color of objects.
Van Gogh is so instrumental and influential during the Post-Impressionism period because when creating his work of art, he would insert colors into skin where they did not belong. One of the earliest and most famous examples of Expressionism is Van Gogh’s famous oil paintings Starry Night. This painting was of a typical nocturnal scene in the neighborhood of the psychiatric hospital in Saint-Rémy where Van Gogh stayed for a year. Van Gogh spilled his emotions into this painting. Starry Night is a struggle among a man and his depression. Van Gogh had a passion for the dark night. Starry Night replicates the pain the artist is going through. The brisk strokes, the animated colours of the stars in the painting next to the dark blues and the blacks in reference to the night imitate the need of a hopeless man in the center of the black, starry night.
In conclusion, Post-Impressionism projected that the originality of 20th Century art was the primary focus. Artists developed their own style to produce works that lead to developments later in the art of the 20th Century. Some artists concentrated on the fundamental structure while other artists emphasize on the texture and pattern for significant effects. Because of the Post-Impressionist period, many artists have considered painting objects full of color with vigorous surfaces rather than scenes. Impressionalists created a permanent change and that art will constantly increase according to the artist. Whatever was cause, it cannot be denied that several great artists of this period assumed that the main function of art was to express intense feelings to the world.
Vincent van Gogh is very influential the modern artists of the 20th Century since he altered the point of views of several artists with his personal paintings. Van Gogh’s used bright colours when painting and the uniqueness shows through the curves and lines that he used in his paintings as well as the attention of colour that is used to express his emotions which modern artists will continue to do throughout the 20th Century.

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