Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Mosiac of Pharisee and Publican in Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy

The Pharisee and Publican in Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy

Both the mosaic of the Separation of the Sheep and Goats parable (discussed in the previous post) and the mosaic of the Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 18:10-14) are found in the nave of the church in the upper level of the north wall. These two mosaics make up part of thirteen mosaics that depict events of Jesus' life. The Sheep and Goats is fourth, and the Pharisee and the Publican is sixth (they are separated by a mosaic depicting the story of the Widow's Mite).

The entire set of 13 images on the north wall of the nave look like this. They are at the very top:

Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, north wall of the nave

Of the thirteen mosaics in the upper-left section of the nave, this depiction of the parable of the Pharisees and the Publican is the only one that does not include the figure of Jesus in it. In this mosaic, both figures stand near a door in/to the temple. It is more likely that the Pharisee stands on the right with his hands up in prayer, and the tax collector is on the left, since his head is bowed down and his hand is near his breast (cf. Luke 18:13). It is possible--but not likely, however--that the conclusion in Luke 18:14 is being depicted, with the reversal of fortunes being portrayed in the mosaic (and hence the newly-justified tax collector is on the right and the "humbled" Pharisee is on the left). The depiction of the Widow's Mite, for example, clearly shows the point at the end of the story where Jesus speaks about the woman's act of giving (interpretations of the text itself today vary about whether Jesus is merely praising the woman's giving and/or criticizing the economic system that produced her dire situation).

An additional possibility is offered on the website by J. R. Stracke (professor emeritus at Augusta State University; which is now part of Georgia Regents University). The website notes that the appearance and the clothes of the man on the left are very similar to a man who appears as among Jesus' accusers in the mosaic of the Trial before the Sanhedrin. It is one of the thirteen images that are found on the opposite side of the nave, on the south wall (again, at the uppermost level). These thirteen images begin with the Last Supper and end with Jesus appearing to the Apostles. Here is the Trial before the Sanhedrin (the man with similar clothes and appearance to one of the men in the Pharisee and Publican mosaic is on the far left):

Trial before the Sanhedrin

In addition, note a similar person who appears in the mosaic of the Way to the Cross, also on the south upper wall of the nave of the church (again, he is on the far left):

The Way of the Cross

Stracke thus offers the possibility that the man on the left in the Pharisee and the Publican mosaic could be the Pharisee who possibly reappears in these two later mosaics as one of Jesus' accusers. This interpretation is possible; the iconography of the other figures is fairly stable (although there is a small amount of variation in the Jesus' face though out the images), although I still lean to the interpretation (as noted above) that the Pharisee is on the left. Pictures, like texts, can be polyvalent.

I send this post as I get ready for our college's convocation this evening. Jim Wagner, the president of Emory University, is giving the address. My first two classes of the semester are tomorrow, and I'm looking forward to meeting with them! Both classes are taught in our "Ways of Inquiry" approach.

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