This is the most important evidence of the encounter between romanitas and barbaritas, between Arian and Catholic worship. It was built between 493 and the beginning of the 6th century.
The mosaic series
The mosaics unfold in three large bands.
The upper part contains 26 scenes, the most ancient extant mosaic series on the New Testament. On the right we see scenes of the life of the Saviour. The palatine church of Theodoric, intended for Arian worship, was reconciled with Catholic rites and some of the mosaic areas replaced with other subjects are visible.
These replaced areas are of Byzantine origin, those of Theodoric’s time are rooted in the Hellenistic-Roman tradition. Of the oldest construction, the marvellous mosaics with the largest mosaic surface of ancient times have survived. On the left the episodes re-evoke the evangelical readings of Holy Week and Easter. The Saviour, the focal point, is represented larger than the other personages according to the canons of the art of late antiquity. Christ, is depicted with a beard to highlight the suffering nature of humanity.
The middle band is an iconographic masterpiece consisting of thirty-two figures of prophets, sixteen on each side. Each figure is uniformly repeated in celebration of the Book and to confirm the importance of the Prophets, in the composition of the scriptures, prophets who recall, lato sensu, all the masters of the faith in both testaments.
The lower band, commissioned by the Chancellery of Ravenna, contains mosaics that illustrate a magnificent procession of male and female saints. The twenty-two
saints, led by Saint Euphemia, slowly and rhythmically proceed in stately procession holding a symbolic crown. On the opposite wall, the twenty-six martyrs in white robes seem to form an infinitely long procession.
The expressions and attitudes are always constant, removing all individuality for the sake of conveying a common message.