Publication details

Hidden Treasure and Precious Pearl : Sant'Agnese fuori le mura, its Apse Mosaic, and the Experience of Liturgy



Year of publication 2023
Type Chapter of a book
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Description With the present study we hope to fill some of those lacunae. We will, of course, pay special attention to the aesthetics of the mosaic, but then we will turn to a discussion of the space as a whole. Our reflections are conceived for a book entitled “From Words to Space: Textual Sources for Reconstructing and Understanding Medieval Sacred Spaces,” and the texts which will serve as our starting point in this essay come from two homilies by Gregory the Great (590–604), both delivered at Sant’Agnese at the end of the sixth century before the church was rebuilt by Honorius. We will scrutinize Gregory’s homilies because they are commentaries on gospel passages that were traditionally read at Sant’Agnese. These passages, which were crucial to the ritual life of the Honorian basilica, are part of the context from which the architectural project for the new church later emerged. From this information about the liturgy and from archaeological evidence, we will attempt to reconstruct the form of the Honorian basilica at the time of its construction in the 7th century, focusing on its ritual and devotional functions. Finally, we will discuss the birth of a new aesthetic around the turn of the 7th century, and propose that the apsidal image at Sant’Agnese be treated as an “Icon of Space”, i.e. a visual act that helps construct the experience of the church as a whole, not simply as an immobile and inert picture. In other words, we will analyze the church and its decoration as a harmonious dialogue between text, image, and sacred space. The ideas of Alexei Lidov and Horst Bredekamp will serve as critical tools for this new reading of one of the pearls of Roman visual culture.
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