The mausoleum of Galla Placidia (386-452), sister of the Roman emperor Honorius, is a Christian funerary monument. Built in the shape of a Latin cross, the building has come down to us more or less intact both in the architectural structure and the mosaics.
We are in a place of transition, of passage from life in time to life eternal. It is a work of great moral and aesthetic interest, where the masters of mosaic art embrace those of the faith.
The cupola, symbol of the sky, contains the most expressive and well-known part of the decoration. Set in the intense blue and 570 golden stars of the sky is the glorious cross, the Christian symbol of the resurrection. The nocturnal atmosphere, which once struck D’Annunzio and inspired Cole Porter to write “Night and day”, is magical in its effect. All the iconographic themes (from the four animals of the apocalypse to the apostles) represent the victory of life over death, where the cross triumphs as the way to the resurrection and eternal life. Everywhere there are dark areas lined with touches of gold and vermilion with the warm light of alabaster. The effect is that of a diffuse tranquillity, appropriate for a tomb and for the message of Life after this life.
The pastor redeemer, vanquisher of death Towards the entrance the redeemer, the Christ-Lord, has a cross as a sceptre, a portrait with six sheep in a quiet bucolic scene.
Christ is shown in the fullness of his kingship, young, without a beard, the Lord of time and history.
The lunette of San Lorenzo
The martyr San Lorenzo follows the martyrdom of Christ.
Just as Christ triumphed with the cross, so will Lorenzo (and Galla Placidia) have the salvation of the cross as preached by the apostles, especially Peter and Paul who point to the cross. The arrangement of Christian funerary symbols is completed with the pair of doves at the gushing fount of water in the four walls of the tambour and the deer depicted in the lunette that express the baptismal water of life. (Psalm 41, 1-3). The abstractly starry sky of the vault with plant, flower and fruit decorations signifies the abundance if life in the Kingdom, the ultimate goal of the entire human existence in the history of salvation.