October 9, 2016: A Rose is Never a Rose in Ravenna

I’ve fallen into this bad habit of waking up really late. I suppose it has always been a habit of mine, but I think it has gotten progressively worse. I’m becoming nocturnal. And this caused me to miss my train. I overslept. I took a few minutes to comprehend that I missed my train and I debated whether it was worth it to catch the next train.

So I ran over to the train station and happened to run into Grace, who also missed the train. So I wasn’t alone. Consequently, we missed the first two churches. Apparently, the first one was not that impressive. And we caught the tail end of the second, meaning we rushed through it. It was really pretty though.

Ravenna is known for its Byzantine art inspired by Constantinople. It was one of the capitals of the Roman empire and was later conquered by the Byzantines. Roman art is characterized by its realistic quality. But Byzantine art is characterized by idealistic qualities. They are flat, not 3D. There is no background and the figure stares straight ahead. You can paint frescoes on the walls in dry climates. But the Byzantines insead created mosaics on the walls, which is much more expensive. The blue lapis lazuli comes from Afghanistan. But the stones do not fade the way frescoes do. As a result, the art, and the city in general, is very well preserved. All the walls are covered for there is a fear of emptiness. There are few windows. Alabaster filters the light–it’s psychedelic. And absolutely everything has meaning. A rose is never a rose in Byzantine culture. I feel like I actually have somewhat of an understanding of Byzantine art. Amazing, isn’t it? Enough to fake it anyways.

Professor Cavina is amazing. She is the expert on Italian art. She has curated exhibits all over the world at the most important museums. And she was a visiting professor at Columbia for a time. She is very knowledgeable and she loves to share her knowledge with us. She scurries around really fast for an Italian. Usually, they’re all very slow, but she darts off without a word and we have to hurry to catch up. Sometimes she’ll cut herself off and move on. She has this command of the group and of the subject that is incredible. She has authority and it is a real treat that she is our teacher.

Dante’s tomb is in Ravenna. And they had a quarrel over his remains with Florence, who tried to take advantage of Ravenna during the World War II, as if it wasn’t bad enough they were fighting an international war there was infighting. They hid Dante under a mound outside of the tomb so the Florentines didn’t find him.

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check out the circular tower

These mosaic walls are really incredible. We saw the Basilica of San Vitale, the inside of which was one of the prettiest churches I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen a ton of churches since coming to Europe.  It is also notable for depicting humans in a part of the church that was typically reserved for Biblical figures.  We went to the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, which is the one I missed the beginning of. It was pretty but I didn’t hear the professor’s shpeel. We went to the Neonian Baptistry. And the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia. After the class was officially over, a group of us also went to the Archdiocese museum which was included in our ticket.

 

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