17 Jan 2023


The Fresco of Christ Teaching the Apostles and the Mosaic of Theodora

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A church in its outward appearance is different from other buildings. A church building can be viewed as clothing for the liturgy, in that it assumes the form of the liturgy. In this sense, the external design works from inside out; beginning with the amplitudes and size. The relationship between the church and the wall paintings and mosaics are noticeably dishevelled. Frescoes were mostly made during the late medieval period and the Renaissance, specifically in Italy. Frescoes, which were ceiling or wall paintings done on wet plaster, are frequently found in the catacombs. Most of the fresco paintings portray biblical subjects that reflect the Christian’s hope of eternal life and salvation (Cunningham, 2015). 

On the other hand, the mosaics consist of numerous small pieces of colored glass strategically assembled and placed to create an artistic impression. Linked to the great demographic upsurge of Christian converts, the earliest particularly Christian frescoes began appearing in the Rome’s catacombs at the beginning of the third century. Jesus Christ teaching the Apostles portrays a Eucharist banquet; one typical concept of this era is the holy communion of Jesus at the Last Supper as an outlook of the holy banquet that expected all the Christians to be there in the next life (Cunningham, 2015). The Christ’s teaching of Apostles appears to be dull since the colors are running together as if revealing the actual feelings that people held at the time. The feeling that they were living for eternal and that they were realists, however, it does not necessarily need to be any colored glass per say. 

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The frescoes lead to future artistic leitmotifs such as the mosaic, which became the more elaborate over the years. The mosaic of Theodora depicts her inner beauty and it is lit up by the range of colors of well-arranged glass. The golden background of Empress Theodora created a light that reflected the surface as a symbol of Jesus Christ’s self-proclaimed role as the light of the world. Additionally there is a lack of a love and naturalism for elaborate patterns in Empress Theodora’s mosaic, which the opposing fresco shows perfectly. Mosaics and frescoes were broadly used as decoration techniques (Cunningham, 2015). The mosaic art was initially used as a flooring decoration before the introduction of glass mosaics during the Hellenistic period. 

The mosaic of Empress Theodora has a halo, wears imperial purple, and carries a liturgical vessel in her hand. This vessel was the chalice that held the Eucharistic wine to be donated to the church. Her elaborate jewellery includes a wide embroidered collar and jeweled garment. A crown can be seen hanging with long strands of pearls thought to safeguard the wearer from diseases. Her attendants are also depicted wearing rich jewellery and textile of Byzantine court. The theme of the mosaic decoration is centered on offering and extended into the theme of the Eucharist, similar to the fresco of Jesus and his Apostles during the Last Supper. Additionally, a group is seen standing by a fountain at the church’s courtyard, and they are depicted as being very flat since the figures do not cast any shadows and their outlines are quite prominent, unlike the fresco ones. At the same time, a 3D space is depicted by the overlapping of figures. Both the mosaic and fresco artistic impressions were designed to be durable enough, in that after the conversion of the church into a mosque, all the inscriptions and Christian symbols; frescoes and mosaic decorations were not destroyed as they have been able to survive until today. 


Cunningham, L. S. (2015).  Culture and values: A survey of the western humanities . Place of publication not identified: Wadsworth. 

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