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Please note that this is art analysis, the boring stuff is in the description, so if you have ADD skip to the iconography and read on.
For historical information on the emperor see Justinian, and also the empress Theodora.
Justinian and his Attendants, artist unknown, is a 547 A.D. colorful and detailed apse Mosaic, in a Byzantine style. It depicts a centered emperor in front of many military personal and clergymen. The two dimensional landscape can be found in the Church of San Vitale, Ravenna. The emperor stands out in a rich dark toga in front of a group of men. The men are in a row and are of equal height, even though the attendants are either behind or in front of one another. This does however give order and prestige while keeping unity in the piece. The military personal are on the left, the senators are in the middle, and the clergymen are on the right. Most of the religious attendants are in predominately white robes with the front man wearing a brown over shirt. The military personal are in a mixture of brown and green just like a forest. The senators have white robes with a diagonal brown stripe just under the arm and down the abdomen. There is a circle around the emperor’s head, like a halo, a crown on his head, and ornate white earrings hanging from his ears. The emperor is holding the bread used in bringing the Oblation at Mass, and in Empress Theodora and attendants his wife is holding the wine. In the background there is a signature that reads Maximianvs. There is a sense of seriousness on the men’s faces, but gentleness in their posture. They all look forward, but their arms are comfortably holding items or are behind their backs. There is a border surrounding the men full of vibrant and ornate designs.
Every item or person in the work represents something larger than itself. Many Christian symbols are seen throughout the work. The emperor symbolizes Jesus Christ, and his attendants the twelve apostles. The cross is seen in the ornaments and clothing, a Chi Rho monogram on the military personal, even a jeweled cross, and a gospel book is held by one of the religious attendants.
The basic style is representational. The serenity and thoughtfulness of this work of art portrays humanistic qualities, with the emperor as the focal point. The hierarchy of the piece is seen when the emperor is in the front of the group and all of them follow him. The emperor represents Jesus, a Lord to be worshipped. The attendants represent the apostles, following the Lord’s orders and commands. The cross represents the atonement, the white robes represent purity, and the toga represents sacrifice. The halo represents Godliness, being ordained to do God’s work. The crown is the earthly side of the halo, symbolizing his power as a king. The spears give the military power to enact his will upon his dominion. The clergymen hold the items representing the ability to perform rituals.
The four most important art elements in this piece are color, overlapping, line, and space. The color is the most important because the emperor is in a purple toga. He stands out from the white of the clergymen and the browns and greens of the military. It gives power to the emperor by helping him stand out, as purple is the color of power. Every man is wearing white and black footwear except the king who wears darker shoes to match his purple toga. The background is tan, allowing each person to be seen separate from each other. The overlapping supports the color element. Every man is overlapped by someone else except the emperor, who overlaps everyone else. The emperor’s entourage have a ranking system that allow the more important attendees to be in front of their individual groups behind the emperor, but all members are the same height. Although it does not make logical sense for the men to all be the same height because of overlapping, line creates unity. It is not very often that a king works in-sync with both military and religion, and line supports the emperor’s control over both. The border also creates line, centering the group of men like a portrait would. Line also separates each man from each other; the clothing all flows downward toward the feet, where all the feet are pointed outward. The piece is linearly divided both horizontally and vertically, creating symmetry. The symmetry gives even more unity and dominance to the emperor and intensifies the balance of the piece. Finally space is important because the figures are spaced according to rank, and some are closer together and some are farther apart. Although the men overlap each other, they still create a horizontal line at their heads. “The figures in Byzantine art, while owing much to Roman painting in their treatment of drapery and facial features, tend to ‘float’ in space without weight and solid mass, without occupying a three-dimensional space.” (Medieval Italian Art)
The mood is somber yet quaint, giving a feeling of importance to the emperor’s message. He is ordained to rule, and has the power to do so. Without the emperor there would be no salvation. The apostles are also faithful to this man, backing him up, which means he is a good leader because of faithful followers. The work suggests that the viewer would gain from realizing and accepting this message, or face the wrath of both the military and religion. Because the emperor represents Jesus Christ and his attendants the twelve apostles, it is a time old story that is important to be remembered. The Christian symbols that started in the early beginnings of Christianity are seen in this work and still exist today. The painting was probably made as both a message to his people of his dominance and prestige as much as it was for his own desire. The emperor probably liked to see and be seen as a powerful figure. The art piece itself may be a symbol of his power. Regardless of the reason it was created, it is a very powerful and dominating piece in today’s world of art.
See also Empress Theodora and attendants