Seminar delivered by The Rev'd Ron Browning on May 16, 2001
Four main ideas came from a talk on early Christian mosaic art, given in May
to the Institute for Spiritual Studies. The Rev'd Ron Browning is Vicar of
Holy Trinity, Williamstown, and an enthusiast for the stone art of 5th
century Ravenna in Italy. He wished to make us more aware of the following:
- Mosaic art elicits a genuine response based in a grounded spirituality.
The very nature of mosaic is brokenness, that is broken glass and stone. We
cannot get away from brokenness in our lives or in the world. Mosaic
exemplifies the Christian truths of strength in weakness and weakness in
strength. We have to piece things together into unity. The use of gold in
the art of this time is also very important, an expression of both radiance
- Placement and movement of the figures in this art have a dynamic
character. Dynamic form is suggestive of discipleship. The movement of the
apostles and martyrs is a guide to our own forward movement as disciples.
The art of Ravenna shows a pilgrim people on the Way. There is also an
acknowledgement of the humanity of Christ, he is not too exalted, unlike
later Christian art, for example the Greek Pantocrator or the full blown
power figures of the Middle Ages and beyond.
- Christian art form always needs to include things in the culture, as well
as being a part of the culture itself. The central image of Jesus' baptism
in the Jordan, depicted on the ceiling of the Ravenna Baptistery, includes
not only the figures of Jesus and John the Baptist, but also the Greco-Roman
god Neptune. In our own Australian culture, we need to be aware of
Aboriginal and other local forms to depict Christian truth, as indeed
- In the Ravenna art, nature is expressed through the iconography of the
period. Palm trees feature often, symbols of sacrifice and glory. The
pastoral image of the sheep is common. The importance of nature needs to be
an integral part of Christian art. This is an art that reminds us of healing
and of our part in the wholeness of Creation.
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