This semester I've been teaching the Survey of Western Art I, which covers Prehistoric cave paintings through the Gothic period (and they pay me for this!?!). While I've always considered myself a modernist, it's decidedly fabulous to explore Egyptian rock-cut tombs or Minoan palaces or Byzantine monasteries with my students. This period of art history, with its archeological roots and mysterious qualities, definitely has the Indiana Jones factor.
While each area of study has proven fascinating, this semester's lectures have especially reinvigorated my love for mosaics. Mosaics of smooth natural stones in Roman houses or mosaics of prismatic glass on Byzantine church apses, these works of art would have required painstaking planning and a careful understanding of color.
My favorite mosaic programs come from San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy. But, as you behold these 5th-7th Century creations, try to imagine them in their true context. Envision a simple, brick façade on a nondescript building. Then, as you walk through the church narthex, you would step into a sun-drenched nave. These mosaics with their irregular surfaces and highly polished glass would glisten, glow and glimmer in the light. Imagine being inside a jewel box:
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