The beautiful mosaic in the apse of the church of Santa Maria in Domnica was commissioned by Pope Paschal I (r. 817-24).
In the centre of the mosaic, flanked by a throng of angels, sits the Madonna and Child. The Pope, who sports a square halo (indicating he was still alive when the mosaic was executed), kneels by the Madonna's right foot, which he cradles in his hands. The ground is carpeted with flowers.
The mosaic on the outside of the arch depicts Christ in a mandorla, an oval-shaped aureole. He is flanked by two angels, St Paul (left) and St Peter, and ten apostles. Larger figures of St John the Baptist (left) and St John the Evangelist stand at a lower level.
Of ancient foundation, Santa Maria in Domnica was mostly rebuilt at the beginning of the 16th century by Cardinal Giovanni de' Medici, the future Pope Leo X (r. 1513-21). Thankfully, the mosaics survived.
Santa Maria in Domnica is also known as Santa Maria in Navicella, after the small stone boat (navicella) that forms part of the fountain in front of the church.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private and
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