Semester of Graduation

Spring 2024


Master of Arts (MA)


Art History

Document Type



This thesis uses the evidence concerning the design and building of the Church of San Vitale in Ravenna to reconstruct, as far as it is possible, the sequence of decisions, activities, and methods that led to the construction of the church, made of bricks and mortar, and whose interiors are covered by glorious colored mosaics and marbles. The historiography on the Church of San Vitale begins with the historian Agnellus, who wrote the Liber pontificalis ecclesiae Ravennatis in the 830s to 840s. According to Agnellus and other sources, the Church of San Vitale was founded by Bishop Ecclesius around 525, while Ravenna was still under Ostrogothic rule, and consecrated by Bishop Maximian in 547, under the reign of Emperor Justinian I. The double-shelled octagonal structure of San Vitale associates it with the new centrally planned domed churches built in Constantinople in the first half of the sixth century. The thesis re-examines scholarship contextualizing the design of the Church of San Vitale with its Byzantine predecessor in Constantinople, Justinian’s Sts. Sergius and Bacchus, possibly seen by Ecclesius in 525. Designs travelling between Constantinople and Ravenna may have included plans, and directly influenced the choice of materials for San Vitale. The thesis outlines detailed, logical steps for the ground-up construction of San Vitale. Bricks were made in Ravenna of the same style and size as those being used in Constantinople. Workshops of makers, masons, and mosaicists produced materials and performed the necessary labor. The long-standing influence of Byzantine imperial culture and authority emanating from Constantinople arrived in Ravenna with the peaceful capture of the city by the imperial army in 540, at the end of the first campaigns of the Gothic Wars. The evidence suggests that most of the construction of San Vitale occurred after this date. It is reasonable to assume that, once inaugurated, the building became a synthesis of Byzantine architecture, decoration, and power in Ravenna. One of the main achievements of this thesis is to show – through the reconstruction of the process of design and construction of the building and its decoration – how it happened.



Committee Chair

Geymonat, Ludovico V.