Overall: 101 x 169.5 x 25.5 cm (39 3/4 x 66 3/4 x 10 1/16 in.)
John L. Severance Fund 1948.25
This marble altar was likely in a Byzantine church that was opulently decorated with mosaics, rich textiles, and gilded lamps. Worshipers would have witnessed the rituals of faith that occurred at the altar, enshrined behind a barrier called a templon, and accessible only to the clergy.
This carved marble panel resembles the front of an Early Byzantine sarcophagus, or coffin. While its decoration is typical of those produced in the Italian city of Ravenna during the 500s, its size is considerably smaller, indicating that the panel may instead have been made as an altar front. It is likely that the small window between the center columns with its opened curtains once allowed the faithful to contemplate a precious reliquary placed inside. The decorative repertoire of the panel includes both architectural forms--arches, pediments, and columns--and a number of symbols commonly found in Early Christian art including scallop shells, lambs, palms, and crosses that represent the concepts of life, the sacrifice of Christ, victory over death, and eternal life.
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