Dio da dio. La maschera di Cristo, Giove Serapide nel mosaico di Santa Pudenziana

Title in English God from god. The mask of Christ, Jupiter Sarapis in the mosaic of Santa Pudenziana


Year of publication 2015
Type Article in Periodical
Magazine / Source Convivium. Exchanges and Interactions in the Arts of Medieval Europe, Byzantium, and the Mediterranean. Seminarium Kondakovianum Series Nova
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Field Art, architecture, cultural heritage
Keywords Santa Pudenziana; Christ: Serapis; Migration of faces; Conversion of Demons
Description The representation of Christ portrayed in the mosaic at S. Pudenziana (402-417) is one of the most important images dating from Late Antiquity. Usually considered a visual echo of Imperial images or of pagan gods, it has always been studied in the context of the decoration of the whole apse. The present contribution, instead, intends to concentrate specifically on the face and figure of Christ, which show the same features as the images of Jupiter Serapis. In the context of early 5th century Rome, a similar resemblance cannot be accidental. From the archeological investigations we know that the image of Serapis was widely present all over town. On the other hand, by Christian authors Serapis was considered the incarnation of the devil, and his ‘confusion’ with Christ seems at a first glance unacceptable. This paradox, instead, can be understood in the years immediately following the destruction of the Serapeum in Alexandria, in 391. Historians and theologians witnessed the idea, circulated after the destruction of the temple, that Serapis had foreseen his own death and the victory of Christianity. The extreme interpretation of this event was when Jerome wrote: «Iam et Aegyptius Serapis factus est Christianus». Christ would therefore have adopted the visage of his converted enemy. This occurrence is particular- ly understandable in the context of Christian triumphalism – witnessed in an exemplary way by Ruffino of Aquileia – who saw Theodosius's edict as the final victory of Christianity and the actual end of history. For this reason it seems important to antedate the mosaic, which is generally considered to follow the sack of Rome in 410, to the years 402-410. The apocalyptich context described by the mosaic is not that of the besieged city, but on the contrary, it is the eschatological triumph of the cross. Christ therefore takes the face of Serapis in order to signify the latter's defeat; the mecha- nism at the origin of this ‘migration of faces’ is equally interesting, nonetheless, and it might be explained with a well-known anthropological phenomenon, studied in the context of tribal cultures: to win one’s enemy, ritually, was to wear his face. This general observation seems to be all the more appropriate, because at the end of the 4th century the text of the Pseudo-Clementine Apocrypha, where a very similar phenomenon is described, was translated into Latin.
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