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Surprise! Byzantine at the Bode
One would never guess that the main attraction of the Bode Museum in Berlin is a mosaic from Ravenna, Italy. The Bode Museum, on Museum Island, houses a unique collection of Byzantine art, and I went there specifically for their Byzantine collection. I had no idea that a mosaic from Ravenna was waiting for me at the end of the exhibition hall. Ravenna holds a special place in my heart because it is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. I have not yet been to Turkey to visit the Byzantine splendors there, but I’ve been to Ravenna and the Torcello Church in Venice, and there is just something special about those places and that time period.
The Ravenna Mosaic at the Bode Museum came from the Church of San Michele in Africisco in Ravenna, was dedicated by Bishop Vittore in May 545 CE, and was consecrated by Archbishop Maximianus in 547 CE. The mosaic depicts Christ in the center with the Archangels Gabriel and Michael on either side. The frieze of vine and doves is supposed to represent the twelve apostles. The basilica was paid for by a banker, Giuliano Argentario, and was originally intended as an offering to the Archangel Michael. The church survived until the time of Napoleon, when it was dismantled and sold to fill one of his requisitions. The bronze horses of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice suffered a similar fate, but they were eventually returned to the cathedral. The Ravenna Mosaic would never again return to its place of origin.
The fact that this mosaic survives at all is a miracle. The Church of San Michele in Africisco is not one of Ravenna’s Byzantine beauties or even a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is in ruin today and used as a shopping area. If the mosaic had not been dismantled and sold in the early 19th century CE, it may have crumbled into ruin with the church. Somehow it managed to survive. In 1843 CE the King of Prussia, Frederick William IV, saw something special in the mosaic when he purchased it and had it brought to Germany. 160 years later, it stands as a monument to the Byzantine past at the Bode Museum.
Part of the mystery of the Ravenna Mosaic in Berlin is what happened to the two saints on either side. Saints Damian and Cosmus (physicians) were depicted on either side of the mosaic, but their images have been completely removed. I’d like to think they were saved and sit on the wall of someone’s private collection today.
Images: Byzantine mosaics from the Church of San Michele in Africisco in Ravenna, Italy, now in the Bode Museum, Berlin. Photos by Jennifer Brown, licensed under a Creative Commons – Attribution-Non-Commerical-ShareAlike 3.o license.
All images and videos featured in this post have been properly attributed to their respective owners. Unauthorized reproduction of text and images is prohibited. Ms. Karen Barrett-Wilt and Mr. James Blake Wiener were responsible for the editorial process. The views presented here are not necessarily those of the Ancient History Encyclopedia. Original blog post can be found at http://jauntingjen.com/2013/12/30/the-byzantine-beauty-in-berlin/