Santa Costanza--page 1 (of four pages)

350 C.E. (Some scholars suggest it was built in two phases, one between 337-351, and a second, after the death of Constantina in 354.)


Although this building was consecrated as a church in 1256, it began as a mausoleum for Constantine's daughter, Constantia (also known as Constantina or Costanza), who died in 354 AD.. The plan is circular, borrowing from the antique tradition of funerary architecture. (See plan here.) There is a narthex or porch, which leads to the central domed space, which is surrounded by a barrel-vaulted ambulatory. Originally there was also an external colonnaded ambulatory, traces of which can still be seen. Twelve clerestory windows light the central space. (See below.)

Note that some of the images were taken with a flash, some with high speed settings on the camera; thus the color is different.

Pairs of columns

Twelve pairs of coupled Corinthian columns define the central space and support the dome.

Views of the barrel-vaulted ambulatory

The vault is decorated with mosaics some depicting narrative scenes relating to the grape harvest, and some with geometric motifs. See pages 2 and 3 for details.
Niches, alternately round and square, are spaced around the ambulatory. Niches at the chief axis were enlarged like apses. The four main niches may suggest a cross, just as the twelve windows of the clerestory may suggest the Apostles. Mosaics in two of the larger side niches (or apse-like chapels) are thought to be 7th century restorations of 5th century mosaics. The first, to the left from the entrance, depicts the Traditio Clavium, in which Christ hands over the keys to the kingdom of Heaven to St. Peter (Matthew 16:9); other scholars have suggested it is Christ delivering the Law to Moses. But the dating and subjects have occasioned scholarly debate.

Continue to page 2

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© 2006 Mary Ann Sullivan. I have photographed (on site), scanned, and manipulated all the images on these pages. Please feel free to use them for personal or educational purposes. They are not available for commercial purposes.