Detail from the Dome of the St. George Rotunda

4th century
Mosaic
Thessaloniki, Greece

The dome of what had been a pagan temple or mausoleum was provided with mosaics on the orders of Constantine the Great. This is a detail from the shoulder of the dome, which comprises a number of images of ecclesiastical structures. The structure illustrated here appears to be a baptistery, with a hexagonal canopy over a rectangular baptismal font. A dove representing the Holy Spirit descends toward the tall fountain in the center of the font. On the upper tier of this structure are peacocks and kantharoi, symbols of the resurrection and immortality that are the promise of Baptism.

The tall borders between the images also derive from the image type that has peacocks or stags approaching a kantharos or fountain. At the base of each is a vessel from which rise a series of visual elements crafted to suggest both vegetation and spouting water.

The two men who gesture the viewer toward the font wear purple tunics over togas, indicating elite status. The inscriptions behind them are not clear, but the first word on the left seems to be βαCιλιCκου, "princelet, chieftain." Clearly not ecclesiasts, they may be representatives of the Emperor.

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Read more about peacock and kantharos symbols.

Photo © by Jan Piebe Tjepkema