Lamb of God | Art for A Epiphany 2

John 1:29 John saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!..”

Lamb of God
Lamb of God
Basilica of Cosmas and Damien
Basilica dei Santi Cosma e Damiano (Rome, Italy)Click image for more information. 

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

(Click for other images from this commentary).

The Lamb of God (detail), Mosaic, 527, Basilica of Santi Cosma e Damiano, Rome, Italy

In Rome, Italy, many of the structures built by the ancient Romans remain in prominent areas of the city. In the Forum of Vespasian are the Temple of Romulus and the Library of Peace. In the sixth century, Theodoric, king of the Ostrogoths, conqueror of Rome, and an Aryan Christian, donated a portion of the two buildings to Pope Felix IV. Pope Felix used the space in AD 527 to build a basilica dedicated to Saints Cosmas and Damian.

According to tradition, the twin brothers, Cosmas and Damian were third century Christian physicians who practiced the art of medicine in provinces of Rome that are now in southern Turkey and northern Syria. The brothers provided healing free of charge and attracted many to the Christian faith. They were martyred in Syria, and because they accepted no payment, they were placed in a category of saints known as “Holy Unmercenaries.”

The layout of the mosaic above the apse of the Basilica of Saints Cosmas and Damian, is balanced bisymmetrically with Christ robed in gold at its center. He is much larger in size than the other figures and exists in a heavenly realm. Below him in the left foreground, Saint Paul is presenting Saint Cosmas to Christ and in the right foreground Saint Peter is presenting Saint Damian. Cosmas and Damian each have a crown of martyrdom in their hands. Behind St. Cosmas on the left is Pope Felix IV holding a model of the basilica and behind St. Damian is St. Theodore.

A row of lambs serves as a visual base or foundation to the scene of Christ in heaven with the saints. Christ, The Lamb of God (shown here), is in the center of the row facing outward toward the viewer. Twelve lambs – six on each side – represent the apostles; they are in profile facing the Lamb of God who is shown standing on a mound and wearing a halo. From the base of the mound flow the four rivers of paradise representing the Gospel going out to the four corners of the world through the apostles.

Photographs of the full apse mosaic convey the dramatic, colorful effect of Christ in heaven and the martyred physicians being presented but they do not show the Lamb of God. In the early seventeenth century, Baroque architect Domenico Castelli designed a new altar for the basilica; it extended upward and blocked a direct view of the lower central portion of the mosaic. The lambs that represent the apostles may be seen but the center lamb representing Christ (the detail that is shown here) is behind the altar.

Hovak Najarian © 2014

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