Santa Maria in Trastevere: detail of apse mosaic, photograph used by kind permission of Kalervo Koskimies, Finland
Santa Maria in Trastevere: detail of apse mosaic

Santa Maria in Trastevere: A glimpse of Heaven

    The mosaics in the semi-dome of the apse in Santa Maria in Trastevere are among Rome's most spectacular. Jesus Christ and his Mother are sitting enthroned beside each other with Jesus holding his arm around his Mother's shoulder. To the right of Christ and the Virgin are St Callistus, St Lawrence and Pope Innocent II offering his church to Mary; on the left are St Peter, St Cornelius, St Julius and St Calepodius. On the surrounding triumphal arch we can se Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the symbols of the Evangelists. Beneath them there are caged birds, reminding the faithful how Jesus imprisoned his own spirit in an earthly body to redeem the sins of the world. During the Romanesque period mosiac art was still influenced by the Byzantine style: the Virgin is adorned with gold like an Empress, the group of figures betrays a certain oriental rigidity and loses some of its expressive force in the multitude of detail (the Virgin's dress). The rich colouring, and nervous yet controlled line of these mosaics reflect the classical revival in Byzantium, an influence to which the Italians, however much they hate to admit it, owe many of their own advances in late medieval and Renaissance art. At the top is a representation of Paradise with the hand of God placing a crown on Christ's head; at the bottom are lambs, symbols of the Apostles, coming from the cities of Jerusalem and Bethlehem and facing the Lamb of God.