Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Paschal I, Praxedes, Paul, Christ, Peter, Pudentiana, and a deacon, likely Zeno
  • Creator:
  • Description:

    The church of Santa Prassede was rebuilt by Pope Paschal I (817-824 AD) when he sponsored an extensive decoration program and transferred martyrs’ relics. This mosaic is located in the apse, and it depicts Christ at the Second Coming. Christ holds a scroll of the law and stands in the middle of his devoted followers: saints Paul and Praxedes and Pope Paschal are located on the viewer’s left, and saints Peter, Pudentiana, and a deacon, likely Zeno, on the right.

    The virgin sisters, Praxedes and Pudentiana, were celebrated for their support of Christian martyrs. They both wear what appears to be the dalmatic (the vestment of deacons), as well as a jeweled circlet and a necklace. Diadems surround their heads, and blue earrings shine on gold hoops. The hems of their sleeves are trimmed with pearls and gems, and their hands, which hold virgins’ crowns set with precious stones, are veiled by a white loros. The loros was a long scarf studded with precious stones and was worn by the Byzantine emperor and empress and others of high status. According to emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos, it symbolized the cross as the instrument of Christ’s victory. Typically, one section of the garment fell straight down the front of the wearer’s body, and the other looped around to rest over their arm. Praxedes and Pudentiana wear their loroi in this way. Finally, their feet are adorned with red shoes, which the Byzantine emperor and his family were always depicted wearing. In Byzantine art, the Virgin Mary was also often represented wearing these shoes, as were archangels when they were clad in the imperial loros.

    In the mosaic, Paschal stands modestly apart from Praxedes, the titular saint of the church, as he presents to her his model of her church. He seems to inhabit a different order from her and the other saints, and his square, blue nimbus informs the viewer that his is a true portrait taken from life. A black and gold phoenix with a radiant blue halo sits on the lowest branch of the palm that grows by his side. The dedicatory inscription at the bottom of the mosaic makes clear that this traditional symbol of immortality represents Paschal’s hope of salvation through the intercession of St. Praxedes and the other martyrs whose remains he preserved.

    The gesture of introductio or praesentatio made by the “patrons” Peter and Paul to Christ coming in glory is typical of early Roman apse compositions. However, the arrangement of the figures in Paschal’s apse mosaics are unique. Paul places his arm comfortably around Praxedes’ shoulders, and Peter bestows the same gesture on Pudentiana. Consequently, they seem to share an engaging familiarity. In her research, Mary Schaefer references the work of Cettina Militello who notes that Roman apses are the only ones to contain female figures other than the Virgin. Militello concludes that gestures of introductio suggest an important role, exceeding that of patronage, for women in Rome. Thus in the case of this apse mosaic, the intimate gestures shared between Paul and Praxedes and Peter and Pudentiana speak to a close collaboration and an affectionate relationship between religious men and women.

  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public Domain
  • Subject (See Also): Apocalypse Jesus Christ Nimbus, Square Paschal I, Pope Paul, Saint Peter, Saint Praxedes, Saint Pudentiana, Saint Rome- Church of Santa Prassede Zeno, Saint Women Clergy Women in Religion
  • Geographic Area: Italy
  • Century: 9
  • Date: 9th century
  • Related Work:
  • Current Location: Santa Prassede, Rome
  • Original Location: Santa Prassede, Rome
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images: Mosaic;
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Tessere
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): //
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Kazhdan, Alexander P. Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. Vol. 2. Oxford: Oxford University Press (1991). Pgs. 795-796, 1251-1252;
    Osborne, John. "The Portrait of Pope Leo IV in San Clemente, Rome: A Re-Examination of the So-Called 'Square' Nimbus, in Medieval Art." Papers of the British School at Rome. Vol. 47. (1979). Pgs. 58-65;
    Schaefer, Mary M. Women in Pastoral Office: The Story of Santa Prassede, Rome. New York: Oxford University Press (2013). Pgs. 39-41, 60-63;
    Sundell, Michael G. Mosaics in the Eternal City. Tempe, Arizona: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (2007). Pgs. 18-21;
    Thunø, Erik. The Apse Mosaic in Early Medieval Rome: Time, Network, and Repetition. Cambridge University Press, 2015;
    Wisskirchen, Rotraut. Die Mosaiken der Kirche Santa Prassede in Rom. Mainz am Rhein: P. von Zabern (1992). Pgs. 14-22.