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Emperor Justinian
And his Retinue

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Empress Theodora And
Her Retinue

On the viewer's left, facing the Enthroned Christ mosaic or the apse, is the mosaic of Justinian and his retinue. Justinian is wearing the same imperial robes as Christ. This is very significant and symbolic. The purpose of the mosaic is to clearly depict Justinian as Christ's representative on earth, and to show him as a worthy successor to Constantine (referred to by the Chi-Rho shield of Constantine's) - to express his power as head of both Church and State. This power is further implied by the significant placement of the mosaics. Justinian is present in the main altar of the church, the most sacred part, where only the priest could stand. Thus, by including himself, Justinian wields his power over the priest, perhaps even suggesting his holiness, which is suggested through the halo..

The mosaic displays obvious hierarchic characteristics in the symmetry, frontality, stiffness of pose, centrality of Justinian. An iconic elevation of Justinian's person was intended here. He is portrayed as the saintly emperor eternally present at the celebration of the Mass in San Vitale.

Opposite the Justinian mosaic is the Empress Theodora and her retinue. She to is wearing the purple royal robe. She is also crowned with a halo. She is bringing a gift, echoed by the three magi bearing gifts which is embroidered on her robe. The prominent position of Theodora's mosaic shows her status as co-regent, it is subordinate to Justinian's only by being on Christ's left, a less exalted position than Christ's right.

Theodora was known for her ravishing beauty as well as her ruthless manner and haughty disposition. She was responsible for Justinian's victory in Constantinople, he was going to flee, to give up, she refused, and so he stayed and consequently was victorious. Framed in huge, towering tiara with emeralds, pearls, diamonds, and sapphires, Theodora peers out, the proud queen. She died a year after this portrait was made.

We can see in both works the lack of naturalism, the love for elaborate patterns and repetition. Their diagonal feet are not supported by a three-dimensional floor. A good example of typical Byzantine disregard for perspective can be found in the fountain in Theodora's mosaic. The bowl tilts forward, which in a natural setting would spill the water forward.

Light, as expounded by the abundance of gold backgrounds, their reflected surfaces is symbolic of Christ's self proclaimed role as "light of the world".

The same spiritual quality found in the light within the mosaics is found is other Byzantine architecture as well.

Back in Constantinople, Justinian devoted himself to rebuilding the city on a magnificent scale befitting the city that ruled the world, He built public baths, new government buildings, and aqueducts and cisterns to supply t he city with water. He dedicated 25 churches in the city and its suburbs. His crowning achievement was the church of Hagia Sophia.