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E06018: Mosaics from the late 5th or early 6th c., depicting the Apostles, in the Arian Baptistry in Ravenna, northern Italy.

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posted on 2018-07-19, 00:00 authored by frances
Mosaics from the Arian Baptistery, Ravenna

Twelve apostles are depicted against a gold background on the dome of the baptistry. Their portraits are arranged like spokes on a wheel around a central roundel depicting Christ’s baptism by *John (the Baptist, S00020) in the river Jordan. A personification of the river is also depicted.

The apostles are all haloed and all apart from *Peter (S00036) and *Paul (S00008) hold a crown. Peter holds the keys and Paul books. All other apostles are depicted differently. They stand in different poses, some are bearded, some are old and some are young. Yet it is hard to identify these apostles with certainty as none of the apostles are labelled. All the apostles are turned towards a jewelled throne – which is placed between Peter and Paul – on which a cross and purple cloth are seated.

Description: Frances Trzeciak.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Apostles, unnamed or name lost : S00084 Paul, the Apostle : S00008 Peter the Apostle : S00036 John the Baptist : S00020

Type of Evidence

Images and objects - Wall paintings and mosaics

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Italy north of Rome with Corsica and Sardinia

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Ravenna Sardinia Sardinia Sardegna Sardinia

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - dependent (chapel, baptistery, etc.)

Cult activities - Use of Images

  • Commissioning/producing an image


These mosaics are still visible in the Arian Baptistry today. They have been restored - along with several other late antique mosaics from Ravenna - to reflect their late antique form.


The extent to which this baptistry and the Orthodox baptistry (E05780) – which was built around the same time – reflect the doctrinal convictions of their founders has been debated. The composition in both is remarkably similar: in both mosaics twelve apostles are depicted circling a medallion. In this medallion, Christ is baptised by John the Baptist and flanked by a personification of the River Jordan. Yet, for example, the Apostles in the Arian baptistry all face an unoccupied throne: perhaps this reflects the honour owed to God the Father – in Arian thought – above the human Christ? But it is easy to read too much into these differences: the most striking thing about the two mosaics is the similarity between the two images. Indeed, as Sam Barber has highlighted, the two mosaics would never be viewed together, but on separate occasions which could likely be months apart. It is possible that Arian or Orthodox convictions determined the composition of these two mosaics, but it is equally possible that they are – following Deborah Mauskopf Deliyannis’ argument – neutral.


Further Reading: Barber, Sam, "Defining Difference or Connecting Spaces? Similarity and Meaning in the Arian Baptistry, Ravenna," in: M. Boulton, J. Hawkes, and H. Stoner (eds.), Place and Space in the Medieval World (New York, 2018), 149-158. Deichmann, Friederich Wilhelm, Ravenna, Hauptstadt des spätantiken Abendlandes, vol. 1-3, (Wiesbaden, 1958-89). Deliyannis, Deborah Mauskopf, Ravenna in Late Antiquity (Cambridge, 2010). Jäggi, Carola, Ravenna: Kunst und Kultur einer spätantiken Residenzstadt; die Bauten und Mosaiken des 5. und 6. Jahrhunderts (Regensburg, 2016). Verhoeven, Mariëtte, The Early Christian Monuments of Ravenna: Transformations and Memory (Turnhout, 2011).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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