Apse Mosaic at San Clemente

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Name: Apse Mosaic at San Clemente

Artist: Masolino da Panicale

Location: Church of San Clemente, Rome

Date: 12th Century AD

Medium: Mosaic






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Although there is still speculation over who really painted the Apse at San Clemente, it is most commonly accepted that it is the work of Masolino da Panicale. Even the exact date remains a mystery as it could have been completed anytime during the early to mid 12th century AD. The Apse at San Clemente is filled with symbolism and such magnificent beauty that it will leave you in a state of admiration. At first glance it seems as though the Apse is a jumbled mess surrounding a simple crucifixion scene, however, the symbolism is simply genius as every image and character depicted holds great importance.

The center of the mosaic is a complete crucifixion scene with the Virgin Mary on Jesus’ right and John on the left. The Apostles are represented several different ways in the mosaic. First, the apostles appear as doves surrounding Jesus on the cross. In the Catholic faith doves are symbols of peace and is a sign of the Holy Spirit filling the earth on Pentecost. The Apostles are again represented at the very bottom of the Mosaic as twelve sheep. Due to the traditional golden halo around his head, Jesus can be found represented as a lamb in the center. Jesus used the metaphor of sheep throughout the New Testament and was also referred to as the Lamb of God. Jesus is the sacrificial lamb from God. Located at the base of the cross you will notice a tree, considered to be the tree of life. The tree of life is a reference from Revelations 22:2. “On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” Through the crucifixion people of all nations are saved. Some may even refer to the cross itself as being the tree of life which can be seen with the way the cross emerges out of the tree and is then wrapped with the vines. Branching out from the tree on both sides are swirling vines that cover the entire mosaic branching out to all of humanity. Underneath the tree of Life, there are four streams of water coming out of the tree that signifies the four rivers of Eden. Two deer are drinking these waters flowing out the tree of life. This scene comes directly from the verse Psalms 42:1, “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.”  If you look closely behind the deer there are two peacocks, one on each side of the mosaic. The peacock is also a popular symbol used by the Catholic Church and can be found all throughout early Christian art. According to ancient beliefs, the Peacock had pure immortal flesh, which is exactly why it became associated with the resurrection of Christ. Masolino da Panicale filled this mosaic with early Christian symbolism, which makes for a very interesting piece to observe and to reflect upon. There are what seem to be endless amounts of symbols in this mosaic and each time you look at it there is something new to analyze.

I encourage you to look at this picture of the Apse Mosaic of San Clemente and discover other symbols that Masolino da Panicale created and post them in the comment section below.

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Hayes, Holly. San Clemente, Rome. May 10, 2010. http://www.sacred-destinations.com/italy/rome-san-clemente (accessed November 28, 2011).

 Stracke, J.R. The Apse Mosaic at San Clemente. 2011. http://www.aug.edu/augusta/iconography/sanClemente/apse.html (accessed 2011).

 Tucciarone, Tracy. Christian Symbols. http://www.fisheaters.com/symbols.html (accessed December 3, 2011).

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