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Seminar delivered by The Rev'd Ron Browning on May 16, 2001

Four main ideas came from a talk on early Christian mosaic art, given in May to the Institute for Spiritual Studies. The Rev'd Ron Browning is Vicar of Holy Trinity, Williamstown, and an enthusiast for the stone art of 5th century Ravenna in Italy. He wished to make us more aware of the following:

  1. Mosaic art elicits a genuine response based in a grounded spirituality. The very nature of mosaic is brokenness, that is broken glass and stone. We cannot get away from brokenness in our lives or in the world. Mosaic exemplifies the Christian truths of strength in weakness and weakness in strength. We have to piece things together into unity. The use of gold in the art of this time is also very important, an expression of both radiance and revelation.

  2. Placement and movement of the figures in this art have a dynamic character. Dynamic form is suggestive of discipleship. The movement of the apostles and martyrs is a guide to our own forward movement as disciples. The art of Ravenna shows a pilgrim people on the Way. There is also an acknowledgement of the humanity of Christ, he is not too exalted, unlike later Christian art, for example the Greek Pantocrator or the full blown power figures of the Middle Ages and beyond.

  3. Christian art form always needs to include things in the culture, as well as being a part of the culture itself. The central image of Jesus' baptism in the Jordan, depicted on the ceiling of the Ravenna Baptistery, includes not only the figures of Jesus and John the Baptist, but also the Greco-Roman god Neptune. In our own Australian culture, we need to be aware of Aboriginal and other local forms to depict Christian truth, as indeed happens.

  4. In the Ravenna art, nature is expressed through the iconography of the period. Palm trees feature often, symbols of sacrifice and glory. The pastoral image of the sheep is common. The importance of nature needs to be an integral part of Christian art. This is an art that reminds us of healing and of our part in the wholeness of Creation.

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