Title page for ETD etd-0404103-002340

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author West, Lisa Onontiyoh
URN etd-0404103-002340
Title Re-Evaluating the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia
Degree Master of Arts (M.A.)
Department Art
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Kirstin Noreen Committee Chair
H. Parrot Bacot Committee Member
Mark Zucker Committee Member
  • early Christian
  • mosaics
  • Ravenna
  • late antique
Date of Defense 2003-03-20
Availability unrestricted
The Mausoleum of Galla Placidia has generated a lengthy bibliography over the centuries but, in spite of repeated investigations, the north and south arm barrel vaults have received almost no attention. Commentary on these areas of the mosaic program is usually brief and limited to a comparison between the appearance of the barrel vaults and patterns found in various textiles, such as carpets.

This thesis seeks to fill the void in the body of scholarly research pertaining to the north and south arm barrel vaults by viewing their decorative motifs through the eyes of a fifth-century Christian. When seen from this perspective two distinct motifs rich in iconographical meaning emerge from the composition: concentric circles and flora. In the Early Christian period, concentric circles and mirrors were synonymous with one another and both were believed to possess apotropaic powers capable of warding off evil spirits. Flowers in art could be used to designate a space as a garden and, when shown in perpetual full bloom in a funerary context, mark the space as the Earthly Paradise.

Questions about the intended function, the patron, and the exact date of this building have long been subjects of lively debate. The issue of the intended function of the space is at the heart of this inquiry; this monograph accepts without argument the widely held view that Galla Placidia erected the edifice in the first half of the fifth century, most likely around 425 CE. I believe that the meaning behind the pattern of the north and south arm barrel vaults can be extrapolated to the mosaic program of the space as a whole in support of the theory that the building was constructed with an expressly funerary function in mind.

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