Transfiguration of Christ Essay

Byzantine art stands out as one of the most magnificent, breath – taking pieces of the human artistic genius. This period of art spanned almost 1,000 years and is divided into an early ca. 527 CE – 726 CE, middle 843 CE – 1204 CE, and late periods 1261 CE – 1453 CE (Stokstad 270). It is from the early period that we find the Transfiguration of Christ, a beautiful mosaic found in the church at the Monastery of Saint Catherine in Mt. Sinai, Egypt; it has been dated to the middle part of the sixth century, between 549 CE and 564 CE (Stokstad 274).

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Located in the church’s apse, it is likely a result of the patronage of the great Emperor Justinian I (Stokstad 274). In the center of the mosaic, we see the transfigured Christ in great power and glory. He is surrounded by a beautiful blue halo known as a mondorla. His feet do not touch the ground; rather, His body hangs in the air, above the mere mortals beneath Him. His elevation above the other figures in the mosaic appears to be a new, hieratic form.

While being of similar size, and therefore not the hieratic scale of the ancient Egyptians, the prominence of Christ, His clear elevation above the others, and His mondorla are clear indications that He was meant to stand out in the mosaic; His Divinity and Supremeness on the hierarchy is clearly shown and is clearly the meaning of the whole mosaic. Surrounding Christ, and acting as part of this new hieratic style, is a golden sky and rays of light that emanate from Christ, further testifying to His Divinity.

Around Him, we see standing the greatest prophets of the Old Testament – Elijah, who was taken to Heaven in a great whirlwind, and the leader of Israelites in the desert, Moses. They stand tall, showing their favored status with the Divine Being, while the Apostles present in the mosaic have fallen to their knees in fearful reverence of the Eternal Son (Stokstad 274). These Apostles are three. To the left of Christ is the Apostle John. To His right, we see the Apostle James, leader of the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. Directly below Christ we see the Apostle Peter, the Rock on which Christ would build His Church (Matt. 6:18). The border of the mosaic is successive images of various men. There are too many to be only the Apostles; perhaps they are early Church fathers or famous Old Testaments figures. The Transfiguration of Christ stands out as a beautiful example of Byzantine art. It is also a very fine example of the use of icons in early Christian history, especially that of the Eastern Christian Church. Human society is indeed fortunate that this masterpiece survived the madness of Iconoclasm.

Works Cited

Stokstad, Marilyn. Art History. New Jersey: Pearson Education, 2005.

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