The Basilica of Sant' Apollinare in Classe, Ravenna, 549

The Basilica of Sant' Apollinare was built in Classe (now a part of Ravenna) on the east coast of Italy below Venice. Classe was the harbor for the fleet of the Byzantine Exarch (or governor) who rule Ravenna in the name of the Byzantine emperor Justinian.

The Basilica has a conventional narthex and campanile but now adds to this group a baptistry (seen to the left of the narthex). The baptistry served as the location of the baptismal font and the rite of Baptism.

The plan of Sant' Apollinare in Classe shows a three-aisled basilica with narthex, baptistry, and campanile. As in the case of Sta. Sabina in Rome and Sant' Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, there is no transept. The plan also shows two additional chapels at the ends of the aisles that serve the purpose of a sacristy (the location of storage for liturgical vestments, books, vessels, and other objects). In addition to this, the apse is represented as raised above the level of the nave by a broad set of stairs. The purpose of the raised apse is to make room for a crypt (an internal burial site) that usually contains the remains of the principal martyr or titular saint (the saint to whom the church is dedicated).

The longitudinal section of Sant' Apollinare in Classe shows the raised apse over the crypt 9at the far left). It also reveals that the proportions of this basilica are somewhat taller than those of other examples we have seen.

The eastern end of the basilica reveals the typical basilican cross-section and a polygonal enclosure of the apse. The sacristies resemble miniature versions of the main basilica. The cylindrical form of the campanile contrasts with the faceted polygon of the main apse and its two smaller counterparts.

The exterior of the basilica is very understated. The brick construction uses a limited number of details, including string courses and cornices with bricks set at a 45 degree angle to the wall plane. These features are related to the denticulation of classical architecture. In fact, the detailing is classicizing (derived from classical sources but impure or variant) rather than purely classical.

Similarly, the capitals of the columns in the arched openings of the narthex are classicizing. The are derived from the Ionic order. Each capital is surmounted by an impost block (a truncated inverted pyramid that form the transition to the brick arcade above).

The nave of Sant' Apollinare in Classe has less square footage of mosaics, but enjoys a particularly beautiful mosaic installation in the area of the apse.

The aisles are separated from the nave by colonnades created of columns carved of darkly veined marble. Each column sits on a heavy plinth (the block beneath the column) and is surmounted by a capital that derives from the Corinthian or Composite order in a variant that treats the acanthus leaves as windblown around the basket of the capital. Above the capitals, the transition to the arches is facilitated by an impost block. The trusswork supporting the aisle and nave roofs are exposed. The interior is illuminated by light filtered though translucent alabaster glazing in the windows, transforming the space with a warm, spiritualizing radiance.

The major mosaic decoration is found in the apse and on the triumphal arch at the end of the nave. The mosaic begins above a band of marble revetement that extends to the sills of the windows. The program of the mosaics stresses the relationship of the church to the larger Judeo-Christian history, to the titular saint ("Sanctis Apolenaris") and to the Byzantine Emperor Justinian who, although he never traveled to Italy, is represented as a presence of in the church and a representative of the priest-king tradition of the Old Testament (Melchisidek, Solomon, and David).

Mosaic portrait of Bishop Maximian, the Bishop of Ravenna.

Emperor Justinian surrounded by clerics and courtiers. Note the architectural setting: a niche that derives from Roman architecture in form and decoration.

Sanctis Apolenaris with the faithful, represented as sheep.

The Sacrifice of Isaac, viewed by Christians as the foretelling of the Messiah who would take the sins of humanity upon himself and be sacrificed for the redemption of the world. Note again the architectural setting derived from Roman sources.

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