Art Historian Hendrika Foster has chosen for her next illustrated talk for the Wincanton District Museum and History Society the fascinating story of the mosaics of Ravenna.
This Italian city was the scene of the fading of the Roman Empire, its capture by the Ostrogoths and the triumph of the Orthodox Emperor Justinian and his beautiful and controversial queen Theodora.
The mosaics which were the product of these events are amongst the most stunningly beautiful and unusual artworks in Italy, a country rich in great art, and the stories they have to tell are amazing also. Richly illustrated as always and told in her own inimitable style, this talk is one not to be missed.
Friday 27th April in the Balsam Centre Wincanton. £5 entry and free for members.
Review by John Baxter.
Hendrika Foster’s illustrated talk on the Mosaics of Ravenna really was something. She told the story of how this small but ancient town on the Northern coast of Italy became the most important naval base of what had become the Christian Roman Empire and the home of the earliest and most brilliant collection of Mosaics ever seen.
She showed us how behind the spectacular figures of Emperors Empresses, Mary, Jesus and the Saints depicted on the walls of its churches, lay a tradition of pagan symbols which were taken over by the new religion and given new meaning. She introduced us to some of the earliest images of Jesus, showing him as a young man without a beard, at times dressed in Imperial purple and once in the armour of a Roman soldier.
She explained how Mosaics as an art form were taken over from pagan Rome where they were used to decorate the walls and floors of the palaces of the rich. Instead mosaics were used as the first medium in which to develop and explore a Christian iconography or set of visual images, something not possible for Christians at the time of their persecution except for some small paintings in the catacombs of Rome. She showed us in detail how the fragments of brightly coloured glass were meticulously set in plaster to give a mysterious shimmering effect when viewed by candlelight and how the skill of the craftsmen who made them could reproduce life-like, character filled faces as well as splendid robes, animals and beautiful decorative patterns.
She also told us about the characters of the rulers of the Empire as it was buffeted by barbarian invasions and the Arian heresy until Constantine decided it had to be divided into East and West having two capitals, Constantinople becoming more important than Rome. Finally there was the amazing story of how the Emperor Justinian fell for a dancer from Constantinople’s red light district who he made his queen and Empress and how she came to exercise political and religious power.
I think it is fair to say Hendrika kept us spellbound.