On entering the ancient church of San Clemente, one’s eye is drawn immediately to the stunning mosaics in the apse, some of the most beautiful to be seen anywhere in Rome.
The mosaics were probably commissioned by Pope Paschal II (r. 1099-1118). In the centre is Christ on the Cross, flanked by the Virgin Mary and St. John. The Cross is decorated with twelve doves, possibly a reference to the twelve Apostles. The whole of the semi-dome is filled with the vine tendrils of The Tree of Life, which spring from the foot of the Cross, where two harts drink from the rivers of Paradise. The deer recall the words of the psalmist, ‘As a hart longs for the flowing streams, so longs my soul for thee, O God.’
The vine tendrils are inhabited by a whole host of figures and creatures, which can best be seen with the help of a pair of binoculars.
Above the Cross is the Hand of God holding a wreath and below the Agnus Dei flanked by twelve lambs, with the cities of Bethlehem and Jerusalem at either end.
In the centre of the choir arch is a roundel of Christ flanked by symbols of the four evangelists. Below, on the left, are St Lawrence and St Paul, and, on the right St Peter and St Clement. At a lower level are the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah.
Blogging about Rome:
its art, history and culture.
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
small-group walking tours
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