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Fear and diplomacy in Torcello's Cathedral 

Published May 20, 2022
Updated Oct 27, 2022

📍 🇮🇹 Fear and diplomacy in Torcello's Cathedral

Remembering the early dramas that account for the sobriety of its external appearance, one can confidently peek inside the byzantine-inspired Cathedral now (our picture is merely a postcard, as it is forbidden to take pictures inside the Cathedral).

Perhaps you'll immediately catch the key difference with Saint Marc Basilica and most other Byzantine churches of the 10th-12th century CE: the (surprising) intensity of light inside. Mosaics are fabulously highlighted; their themes as well, very anxious, deeply religious: the Crucifixion and the Last Judgment. A need to believe in Jesus' story of itinerancy - a fate so close to the daily life of these lonely Venetians - but also a way to induce the protection of Byzantine emperors in Constantinople against multiple pagan threats.

Interestingly, Martin (2016) states that craftsmen and the raw glass itself "probably came from Syria"... The same raw glass that was used for the fantastic "Last Judgment mosaic", Venice's earliest jewel (~1050/1100 CE). One should note first that it combines Crucifixion, Resurrection AND Last Judgment. Both these themes were educational, and new at the time.

Compare this with the Sistine Chapel and you will find less fluidity in art at Torcello. Although with less technicality, the art shows much more courage & true fear (kings and monks can also go to hell, no purgatory for them...). Perhaps to cheer up the mood a bit, the capitals above all pillars offer foliage of rare sophistication for the time. Greek acanthus above, and vines below.

Will you notice the one that’s a bit odd in the mix?

____ Sources ____

>> John Ruskin, “The Stones of Venice”, 1851
>> Patrick Martin, "The Last Judgement mosaic at Torcello", 2016
>> Elisabeth Crouzet-Pavan, “Venice Triumphant : The Horizons of a Myth”, 2005

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