Mosaic History Assignments

By starting class with a map showing the spread of Islam, students can get an idea of the vast amount of time and geographical space covered in the discussion of Islamic Art. You can stress that, not only does this lecture cover a vast area of the world, but it also spans many important dynasties and cultures that will be introduced throughout the class. Selected works will familiarize students with important sites for Islam, such as Jerusalem, and influential historic courts like Córdoba in Spain.

In an hour and fifteen minutes, you should be able to cover the following:

  • Kaaba, Mecca, date unknown
  • The Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem, 691 CE
  • The Great Mosque of Córdoba, Córdoba, Spain, 785 CE
  • Folio from the Qur’an Manuscript, 9th century CE, ink and gold on parchment, approx. 9” x 12”
  • Tile Mosaic Mihrab, from the Madrasa Imami, Isfahan, Iran, 1354 CE, mosaic of polychrome-glazed cut tiles, approx. 126” x 114”
  • Kamal al-Din Bihzad, The Caliph Harun Al-Rashid Visits the Turkish Bath, c. 1494 CE, ink and pigments on paper, approx. 7” x 6”
  • Mosque of Sultan Selim, Edirne, Turkey, 1568–75 CE
  • The Ardabil Carpet, 1539–40 CE, silk warps and wefts with wool pile, approx. 35′ x 18′
  • Taj Mahal, Agra, India, 1632–53 CE
  • Great Mosque of Djenné, Djenné, Mali, 13th century CE (rebuilt 1907).


Hajj: This Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca takes place in the last month of the year. All Muslims are expected to make this trip at least once during their lifetime.

Kaaba: A square stone building in the center of the Great Mosque at Mecca, this is the most holy site in the Muslim faith. It stands on the site of a pre-Islamic shrine said to have been built by Abraham. Muslims worldwide are supposed to face in the direction of the Kaaba during prayer.

Kufic: This early, angular form of the Arabic alphabet is found chiefly in decorative inscriptions.

Mecca: The birthplace of the prophet Mohammad (570–632CE), Mecca is a city in modern-day western Saudi Arabia, considered by Muslims to be the holiest city of Islam.

Mihrab: A niche in the wall of each mosque at the point nearest to Mecca, the congregation faces the mihrab to pray.

Minaret: A tall slender tower, typically part of a mosque, a minaret contains a balcony from which a muezzin (defined below) calls Muslims to prayer.

Mosque: the term for a Muslim place of worship.

Muezzin: The muezzin is a man who calls Muslims to prayer from the minaret of a mosque.

Qibla: the term for the direction of the Kaaba (the sacred building at Mecca), to which Muslims turn at prayer. The qibla is indicated in a mosque by the position of the mihrab.

Qur’an: This Islamic sacred book is believed to be the word of God as dictated to Mohammad by the archangel Gabriel and written down in Arabic.


The Kaaba, located in Mecca, is a cubical structure approximately fifteen meters tall and ten meters on each size. It is a sacred site believed to have been built by Abraham. According to Islamic tradition, Mohammad found the structure filled with statues of pagan gods, which he disposed of, symbolically returning the shrine to the monotheism of Abraham. Additionally, the black cloth, or kiswa, was first used in the seventh century and is replaced annually during the hajj. The removal of the figurative polytheistic statues, as well as the use of the black cloth, has been interpreted by Muslims to mean that Mohammad did not approve of figuration. Therefore, the decoration seen on Muslim religious sites is aniconistic.Aniconism is the belief in avoiding images of divine beings, prophets, or other respected religious figures. The intricate decorations on the buildings and art works we discuss today will include arabesque geometric patters and calligraphic script rather than religious narratives. The Kaaba is perhaps the most sacred site in Islam and the central site of pilgrimage. In this time-lapse photograph, the blur around the Kaaba is created by the bodies of thousands of Muslims circumambulating (walking around) the structure in reverence. You might also point to the buildings in the background of the image for your students’ first look into Islamic architectural elements.

Abd al-Malik commissioned the Dome of the Rock around the year 691 CE to mark the triumph of Islam in Jerusalem. The building is meant to display the power of the new faith. The shrine takes the form of an octagon with a towering dome and is considered the first great Islamic building. It was erected during the Umayyad dynasty, an important early Muslim dynasty that reached its peak of power during the reign of Abd al-Malik. From the outside, the building is iconic for its 75-foot-tall double-shelled gilt aluminum and bronze dome. Looking at the interior, the original mosaics are largely intact. Rather than figural representations of Biblical scenes common in Christian churches, the ornamentation here consists of beautiful calligraphy. The inscriptions include some of the earliest examples of verses from the Qur’an. Importantly, the building is located on a site sacred to Muslims, Christians, and Jews. At the center of the rotunda is a rocky outcropping that is associated with Adam, Abraham, and Mohammad. This is believed to be the site where the Hebrews built the Temple of Solomon, the location of Adam’s grave, the spot where Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac, and where Mohammad began his journey to Heaven. In this sense, the Dome of the Rock is a literal and physical transcription of the idea that Islam builds upon the earlier monotheistic religious. Further, the Dome of the Rock illustrates the Late Antique tradition of architecture of the Mediterranean world. The structure is descended from the Pantheon in Rome and the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, through it more closely resembles octagonal San Vitale in Ravenna.

Beyond Jerusalem, the descendants of the Umayyad dynasty later ruled most of Spain, Portugal, and a small section of Southern France. In Spain, the capital was in Córdoba, the location of the Great Mosque of Córdoba, which was built in the 8th–10th centuries CE. The mosque was constructed on the site of a former Christian church, previously a temple to the Roman god Janus. The complex includes a large hypostyle prayer hall (hypostyle meaning filled with columns), a courtyard with a fountain in the middle, an orange grove, a covered walkway circling the courtyard, and a minaret that is now encased in a squared, tapered bell tower. The large patio, marble columns, and capitals in the hypostyle prayer hall are all recycled both from the Christian church that formerly occupied the space, as well as from classical buildings in the region (the area was formerly a wealthy Roman province). The horseshoe arches were known from Roman times and later came to be associated with Islamic architecture in the West. In addition, the alternation of white and red brick was adopted from Roman and Byzantine precedents. The Great Mosque of Córdoba is an excellent example of how this architectural style is based on pre-existing regional traditions.

The Qur’an is the sacred text of Islam, consisting of the divine revelation to the Prophet Mohammad in Arabic. The Qur’an Page (surah 47:36) from Syria, made in the 9th century CE, features black ink pigments and gold on vellum. Vellum is parchment made from animal skin. This Qur’an page exemplifies the common style from this period; the calligraphic style used by these early scribes is known today as Kufic script. Like most early Qur’ans, this page has large Kufic letters and only three to five horizontal lines per page. Visual clarity was a necessity, because multiple readers often shared one book simultaneously. Here, you can see how the red diacritical marks (pronunciation guides) accent the dark brown ink. In addition, the surah (or chapter) title is embedded in the burnished ornament at the bottom of the sheet. As seen in the religious architectural interiors, figural imagery such as human or animal forms was considered inappropriate. Instead, artists relied on vegetal and geometric motifs when they decorated sacred manuscripts. Calligraphers enjoyed the highest status of artists in Islamic societies. After long and arduous training, outstanding calligraphers even received public recognition.

During the medieval period the Islamic world came in contact with Mongol invaders. The conquests of Genghis Khan’s grandson helped establish Mongol rule over West Asia, and this time is known as the Ilkhanid period (1256–1353 CE). Following the initial devastation from the conquests, the Ilkhanid period turned out to be a time of tremendous cultural exchange during which Islamic art flourished. The Mihrab wall niche from a Madrasa, Isfahan, Iran, made around 1354, is considered a masterpiece of mosaic tile work. A madrasa is an Islamic theological college that often incorporates a mosque. The mihrab is an important element of the interior decoration of a mosque; it is a niche in the qibla wall that indicates the direction of Mecca, and thus the orientation of prayer. For the elaborate tile decoration seen in this example, every single piece had to be cut to fit its specific place in the design. The pointed arch—an iconic element of Islamic architecture—framing the niche bears an inscription from the Qur’an, written in the same Kufic calligraphic style that was seen in the Qur’an page. As you can see here, masterworks of Arabic calligraphy are not only located in manuscripts, but on walls as well. The Mihrab wall niche from a Madrasa is notable for the way it exemplifies the perfect aesthetic union of Islamic calligraphy and geometric ornamentation

Towards the end of the medieval period, Kamal al-Din Bihzad made the painting titled Caliph Harun al-Rashid Visits the Turkish Bath, using ink and pigments on paper. The subject of the piece comes from the Khamsa (Five Poem) of Nizami. Bihzad was a leader in the Herat School, one of the great royal centers for miniature painting in western Afghanistan during the Timurid period (1370–1507 CE). The bathhouse (hammam), adapted from Roman and Hellenistic predecessors, became an important social center in much of the Islamic world. Hammams were frequently located near a mosque, where they were part of commercial complex that helped to generate income for the mosque’s upkeep. Scholars often note that this painting demonstrates Bihzad’s ability to render human activity convincingly. Here, the space is constructed through a complex, stage-like architectural setting. The space is stylized according to Timurid conventions, and the result is a visual balance between activity and architecture. The asymmetrical composition depends on careful placement of both colors and architectural ornaments within each section.

Next, we move on to an important monument from the Ottoman Empire. The builder of this mosque, Sinan, is one of the most celebrated Islamic architects in all of history. Sinan was born a Christian, and later converted to Islam. During the Ottoman Empire, Sinan designed the Mosque of Sultan Selim in Edirne, Turkey, 1568–75 CE. The Ottomans developed a new type of mosque with a dome-covered square prayer hall. The plan features geometric clarity, a central design, and precise numerical ratios. Here, the dome is taller than the dome of the Hagia Sophia and was considered an engineering triumph at the time. From the exterior view, the dome is offset by four slender minarets. The interior is composed of a fusion of octagon- and dome-covered squares with four half-domes at the corners. For the Ottomans, the success of the Mosque of Selim was understood as proof that they had finally outshone the Christian emperors of Byzantium in the realm of architecture.

From the late Middle Ages on, carpets and textiles were one of the best-known Islamic art forms in the West. Rugs are often used in Muslim prayer, which involves kneeling and touching the forehead to the floor. In addition to individuals owning their own small-sized rugs, mosques were also furnished with large rugs, often acquired as pious donations. A famous example is the Ardabil Carpet (1540 CE). The Ardabil Carpet was made for the funerary mosque of Shaykh Safi al-Din but dates from two centuries after construction of the mosque. Originally, two carpets were created. When they came to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London in the nineteenth century, the carpets were in poor shape, and the museum decided to sacrifice one carpet in order to restore the other. This was accomplished by taking parts from one carpet to supplement the lacks in the other. It is the world’s oldest dated carpet and is considered by many historians to be the largest, most beautiful and historically important carpet in the world. The size is about 35′ by 18′ long, and it required roughly 25 million knots to construct. The design of the carpet features a central sunburst medallion that represents the illusion of a heavenly dome. There are also mosque lamps that are reflected in a pool of water filled with floating lotus blossoms. You will notice that there are no humans or animals depicted, since this was used in a mosque, though they did appear on secular textiles from that period. The name Maqsud of Kasham appears as part of the carpet’s design. He was likely the artist who supplied the master pattern for the Ardabil Carpet.

The Taj Mahal is an important architectural work in India. The Taj Mahal was built in Agra between 1632 and 1647 CE. It is a Mughal dynasty mausoleum that seems to float magically over the reflecting pools that lay before it in a vast surrounding garden. Monumental tombs are not part of Hindu or Buddhist traditions, traditionally the major religions in India, but they do have a long history in Islamic architecture. Thus, the Taj Mahal demonstrates the influence of the Islamic Mughal dynasty in India. Shah Jahan commissioned the Taj Mahal in memorial to his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The site eventually became his tomb as well. Here, you can see the dome-on-cube shape from other Islamic buildings (such as the Mosque of Sultan Selim, above); modifications and refinement make it a seemingly weightless vision of white marble. Stairways up the platform are hidden from view, which emphasizes that feeling of weightlessness or floating. A contemporary court historian described the Taj Mahal’s minarets as ladders reaching towards heaven. The architect who designed the Taj Mahal used an all-encompassing system of proportions: it is as wide as it is tall, and the height of its dome is equal to the height of its façade.

As the Islamic faith spread, so did the necessity for Islamic architecture to house it. The Great Friday Mosque, in Djenné, Mali, was originally constructed in the 13th century CE and later rebuilt in 1907. This building resembles Middle Eastern mosques in plan (including the large courtyard in front of a roofed prayer hall); however, the construction materials, adobe and wood, are distinctly African. The Great Friday Mosque is one of the most ambitious examples of adobe architecture. Adobe is a building material, here formed into sundried mud bricks. The façade is unusual for a mosque. There are soaring adobe towers, and vertical buttresses resembling engaged columns produce a visual rhythm on the exterior. The numerous rows of protruding wooden beams enliven the design, and also serve as practical perches for workers when recoating the clay during an annual community religious festival.

In an hour and fifteen minute class period, you could discuss the following images:

  • Colossal Constantine the Great, originally Basilica Nova, 315–30 CE
  • Good Shepherd, Orants, and Story of Jonah, Catacombs of Saints Peter and Marcellinus, earth fourth century CE
  • Anthemius of Tralles and Isidorus of Miletus, Hagia Sophia, 523–37 CE
  • Transfiguration of Christ, Church of Virgin, Monastery of Saint Catherine, Mount Sinai, c. 548–65
  • Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy, 526–47 CE
  • Emperor Justinian and His Attendants, San Vitale, c. 547 CE
  • Empress Theodora and Her Attendants, San Vitale, c. 547 CE
  • Page from the Chludov Psalter, ninth century CE
  • Interior, Cathedral of Saint Mark, Venice, begun 1063 CE
  • Christ Pantocrator, Central Dome, Church of the Dormition, Daphni, Greece, c. 1080–1100 CE
  • Funerary Chapel, Church of the Monastery of Christ in Chora, Istanbul, Turkey, c. 1315–21 CE
  • Anastasis, Funerary Chapel, Church of the Monastery of Christ in Chora, Istanbul, Turkey, c. 1315–21 CE

General Concepts

These images have been selected not only to represent a strong survey of Byzantine artistic production but also to reflect several key themes, including:

  • the transition from ancient Roman artistic production to a uniquely Byzantine style in service of the Church/religious doctrine.
  • the negotiation between the classical Roman conventions of the figure and the Byzantine shift toward abstraction/stylization of the figure.
  • the role of pattern, texture, and visual opulence in Byzantine art and the increased popularity of the mosaic medium.
  • artistic and architectural commissions that reinforce patron’s wealth and power.


Good Shepherd imagery: syncretic depictions of a Christ-like figure that merged pagan figural styles with Early Christian meaning.

Iconoclasm: literally translates as “image breaking”; a period of the destruction of religious imagery for fear of idolatry.

Mandorla: an almond-shaped enclosure encircling depictions of Christ.

Mosaic: patterns or pictures made by embedding small pieces (tesserae) of stone or glass in cement on surfaces such as walls and floors.

Orants: figural depictions of worshippers, denoted by their raised, outstretched arms.

Syncretism: the melding of different artistic traditions or conventions to create new meaning.


Introduce your session on Byzantine art by providing some preceding context, such as the emergence of Byzantine culture from the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great (use the Colossal Statue of Constantine the Great for visual reference). Constantine’s reform, in the form of the Edict of Milan in 313 CE, established Christianity as the state’s official religion. Previously, it had functioned as an underground cultic form of worship. This Colossal Statue allows a general visual image of Constantine but it also reflects a concluding moment of ancient Roman artistic production. This monumental sculpture once prominently stood in the Basilica Nova, also known as the Basilica of Maxentius (c. 312 CE), completed during Constantine’s reign. This Basilica Nova was erected in the heart of the ancient Roman Forum and took on the function of a law court. The structure’s architectural footprint of the basilica would eventually become the  basic template for future Christian churches.

Before such elaborate structures could be built, however, Christians had, for generations, transformed clandestine spaces with devotional visual imagery. An example of one of these secluded sites of early Christian worship can be found in Rome’s Catacomb of Saints Peter and Marcellinus, which has imagery painted in its cubiculum, or small rooms, such as a fourth-century painting of the Good Shepherd, Orants, and Story of Jonah. This scene reveals the potential of syncretism, wherein early Christians borrowed prevalent or popular imagery from earlier cultures and translated it into new images with Christian messages. The central figure of the Good Shepherd, for example, recalls classical Greek sculpture, yet here it is intended to allude to a comforting image of Christ who also serves as shepherd. The idea behind such quotations was not just to ground Christianity in a historical lineage, but also to incorporate figural types that Christian converts found familiar. Around this central figure of the Good Shepherd are orants, or worshipers, and semi-circular lunettes that recount the story of Jonah. This old testament story was a popular narrative among early Christians since it foreshadowed Christ’s life and eventual resurrection.

Constantine’s reforms also included his selection of Byzantium as his new capital city, which he renamed “Constantinople” in 330 BCE (now the city of Istanbul in present-day Turkey). Shifting the Roman Empire’s center of control to the east, artistic representations moved away from the classical style of ancient Rome. Instead of pagan images of deities from the Roman pantheon and a classical treatment of the figure, Byzantine art stressed religious devotion and transcendental qualities. In the Byzantine era, artists strove for imagery that seemingly reflected an otherworldly or divine existence and architecture that encouraged religious enlightenment.

The Early Byzantine Period (527–726 CE) was ushered in with the reign of Emperor Justinian I, also known as Justinian the Great–both for his drive to recapture lost territories across the Mediterranean and for his monumental patronage of art and architecture. Justinian’s commissions exemplify the stylistic treatment characteristic of early Byzantine art. One of his most significant architectural commissions was for the Church of the Hagia Sophia. Translated as “Holy Wisdom,” the Hagia Sophia was originally built and dedicated in the fourth century and served as the cathedral, or bishop’s seat, for Constantinople. From its dedication in 360 CE to the Nika Revolt of 532 CE, which proved to be the most violent week of rioting in city’s history, the Hagia Sophia was destroyed twice and rebuilt once, reflecting the symbolic power this religious structure held in its relation not only to Christianity but also to the city of Constantinople.

One of Justinian I’s first building campaigns following the Nika Revolt was to rebuild this cathedral. He turned to scholars Anthemius of Tralles and Isidorus of Miletus to design a revolutionary new church, one that adopted a central plan with extensions to the west and east by half dome apses. The dramatically raised, soaring central dome seems to magically float on light, creating a visually spectacular interior that originally had vibrant mosaic work. Unfortunately much of the original mosaic work has been destroyed.

Earthquakes in the sixth and ninth centuries, and the period of Byzantine Iconoclasm beginning around 726 CE, significantly damaged the structure and decoration of the Hagia Sophia. In its conversion to a mosque in 1453, when the Ottoman Empire overtook Constantinople, the religious work experienced more degradation, as mosque workers were known to sell individual mosaic tesserae as good luck charms for those who visited the space. Thus, we are left to imagine what the visual impact of this interior would have looked like.

A suggestion, however, of this visual splendor can be seen in a ninth or tenth-century mosaic added to the Hagia Sophia following the end of the iconoclastic age. Known as theImperial Gate Mosaic as it adorns the entrance to the church reserved for the Emperor, this magnificently luminous mosaic reveals Christ at the center, flanked by roundel portraits of the Angel Gabriel to his left and Mary to his right. At Christ’s feet appears a kneeling figure of, most likely, Emperor Leo VI, also known as Leo the Wise. His image at the feet of Christ was intended to serve as an eternal reminder that even the most powerful Emperor was humbled in the presence of Christ.

To get a further sense of how visually stimulating this interior once was, one can also look to the Transfiguration of Christ from the Church of the Virgin at Mount Sinai’s Monastery of Saint Catherine (549–64 CE). Here, the figure of Christ towers over the center of the apse, his significance reinforced by his almond-shaped mandorla rendered in varying shades of blue. Rays of light extend from his body beyond the mandorla into the brilliant gold ground of the mosaic, reaching the figures that surround him. At the far left and right, Elijiah (left) and Moses (right) flank Christ, while John, Peter, and James (from left to right) appear directly below Christ appear. Enclosing this scene is a series of medallion or roundel portraits of additional apostles and prophets. While the treatment of these figures alludes to the classical Roman past with their toga-like robes and hint of contrapposto in their stances, the mono-dimensional treatment of the figures, combined with the lavish vibrancy of color, creates an almost supernatural feel to this mosaic that characterizes the Byzantine style.

A similar sensation is achieved at Ravenna’s Church of San Vitale. where the interior is also filled with exceptional mosaic work. In addition to a spectacular rendition of Christ Enthroned in the chancel, two monumental mosaics, one depicting Emperor Justinian and His Attendantsand the other illustrating theEmpress Theodora and Her Attendants, flank either side of the apse. Both mosaics commemorate Justinian and Theodora as eternal patrons of the church (even if they may have never actually visited!). Justinian, clothed in an imperial purple cloak and porting a bejeweled crown, holds a gold paten, representing the Host. On his right appears Maximianus, the archbishop of Ravenna. These two central figures are surrounded by various officials from the church who hold various liturgical objects, as well as a group of soldiers on the far right, their shields emblazoned with the chi rho symbol of early Christianity. Theodora, on the opposite wall, appears similarly bejeweled and extends an elaborate chalice, adopting a pose that mimics the scene of the Magi embroidered along her cloak’s hem.

Just as in the Transfiguration of Christ, both mosaics of the Emperor and his wife ascribe to the flattened aesthetic of Byzantine artistic production. An emphasis on depth and perspective is here replaced with flattened, almost floating figures imbued with a brilliant luster. This compositional flattening is perhaps most pronounced in the depiction of the Empress Theodora: while great attention was paid to incorporating complex background elements, such as the parting curtain revealing a doorway to the left of the mosaic or the shell niche above Theodora’s image, they nevertheless do not convey a sense of depth. By flattening the figures along with the picture plane, these compositions transform into very direct imagery that, when combined with the mosaic medium, create a timeless commemoration of the Emperor and Empress in the Church of San Vitale.

Around 726 CE, a period of iconoclasm brought the majority of Byzantine artistic production to a halt. Literally translated as “image breaking,” iconoclasm involved the destruction or desecration of religious imagery for the sake of preventing idolatry, as illustrated in a ninth-century drawing from the Chudlov Psalter. This moment was spurred by ongoing religious debate regarding the function and appropriateness of religious imagery. Those who argued against the use of images feared that worshipers would became too engrossed in the image itself, worshiping the image as an idol rather than focusing on the religious narrative or figures it represents. This controversial issue came to a head under Emperor Leo III, who prohibited the creation of new religious imagery and called for the removal and destruction of extant imagery. During this period, the only acceptable imagery to be included in church interiors was the cross. Following this iconoclastic outbreak, the Middle Byzantine Period (843–1204 CE) began when Empress Theodora reinstated the practice of venerating icons, thereby ushering in a new generation of artistic and architectural production.

The return of the splendor of Byzantine interior decoration can be seen in the Saint Mark’s Cathedral, Venice. Expanding the footprint of the Hagia Sophia to take on a Greek cross shape, Saint Mark’s Cathedral includes five monumental domes, each replete with golden mosaic work (on which work continued until the seventeenth century). While the imagery is no less lavish than earlier examples, imagery has been simplified (e.g., the removal of many superfluous details) since at this point, artists sought to emphasize the primacy of the religious narrative or figure being portrayed.

This is illustrated in a relatively contemporaneous version of Christ Pantocratorin the Church of the Dormition, Daphni, Greece (c. 1080–1100 CE). Located in the central dome of the church, this Christ Pantocrator looms large over worshipers. Holding the New Testament in his left arm and assuming a gesture of blessing with his right, Christ here assumes the traditional posture as Pantocrator, or “ruler of all,” a conventional representation of Christ that became popular during this era.

The invasion of The Fourth Crusade around 1204 brought the Middle Byzantine period to a close. Sacking the city of Constantinople, the crusaders relinquished the vast majority of treasures and relics housed in Byzantine churches (many of these objects were sent to Venice and became part of the collection of the Treasury of Saint Mark’s Cathedral). It was not until Byzantine control was reestablished in 1261 that the Late Byzantine Period (1261–1453 CE) began.

The visual arts of this period reflect a renewed vivacity of visual imagery. A fantastic example is seen in the Anastasis,or Resurrection, in the main apse of the funerary chapel of the Church of the Monastery of Christ in Chora (c. 1310–20 CE). Here the central figure of Christ seems caught mid-stride, his draped fabric animated as if caught up with his movement, and his mandorla behind him tipping to one side. He stands prominently on top of the shackled body of the Devil and the smashed gates to Hell, smashed locks and chains littering the foreground. Having triumphed over evil, Christ pulls the aged figures of Adam and Eve from their sarcophagi. The sense of motion that pervades the entirety of the scene, from the swooping drapery of Christ’s robes to the sensation of motion created in the bodies of Adam and Eve reflect a return to previous Byzantine artistic conventions tempered with a refreshed dynamism of movement.

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