Ravenna as a Capital: Art and Display as Discourse in Late Antiquity and Beyond
thesisposted on 03.07.2018, 14:24 by Brittany Marie Thomas
Ravenna is renowned for its collection of exceptionally well-preserved fifth and sixth century mosaics. As a body of data, these mosaics and the buildings which house them are generally accessible and easy to view, making them widely used in the study of Late Antiquity and no secret to modern tourists. However, numerous analyses of Ravenna’s artwork have taken for granted that access to it might not have been so straightforward in other historic periods. This thesis seeks to answer new questions about ‘old’ data in order to provide a critical examination of the relationship between Ravenna’s historic and modern audiences. This is achieved first through an archaeological and architectural survey of the late antique cityscape during Ravenna’s life as the later Roman, Ostrogothic, and early Byzantine capital (c. AD 400-600). This survey is accompanied by re-visioning the way ancient viewers were able to access and receive certain imagery. Second, it analyses how we ‘curate’ different forms of display (buildings, monuments, artwork) for today’s tourists in a UNESCO city. Many of the assumptions about modern viewership began with the Grand Tour and became more solidified in Italy in the nineteenth century with Italian unification and the creation of regional offices in charge of conservation and restoration. Drawing on gaze theory, sociological theories of space and place, and a large bibliography of art historical analysis, this thesis draws conclusions about how ‘viewers’ have helped create both scholarship and public knowledge over the longue durée, and how buildings often contextualise social and personal interaction with artwork.