Santa Maria Maggiore (St Mary Major), one of the four papal basilicas, was built by Pope Sixtus III (r. 432-440) shortly after the Council of Ephesus (431) agreed to promote the veneration of the Virgin Mary as the Mother of God.
The mosaic in the apse of the church, which has been hailed as the finest in Rome, depicts the Coronation of the Virgin Mary. It is the work of Jacopo Torriti and was completed in 1296.
In the centre of the mosaic Mary shares a throne with Christ, who solemnly places a jewelled crown on her head. The scene is set in a roundel with a star-studded blue background representing the firmament, with the sun and the moon beneath their feet.
Christ's crowning of Mary is being witnessed by a host of angels and saints. Pope Nicholas IV (r. 1288-92) and Cardinal Jacopo Colonna have also inveigled an invitation.
The mosaic is signed in the left hand corner: IACOB(U)S TORRITI PICTOR H(OC) OP(US) MOSAIC(UM) FEC(IT).
In the lower apse are a series of mosaics depicting scenes from the life of Mary. Directly below the Coronation is the Dormition of the Virgin. Mary is lying on a bed, flanked by the Apostles, as a host of angels prepare to transport her body to Heaven. Jesus cradles her soul in his arms, while at the base of the bed two diminutive Franciscans and a layman kneel in prayer.
Blogging about Rome:
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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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