Church of San Vitale in Ravenna

We know him best from one portrait, made when he was in his sixties and shimmering in colored mosaic stone on the walls of the church of San Vitale in Ravenna, a building he never saw in a city he never visited. Middle height, ordinary-looking, round-faced, brown-eyed—without the purple cloak and diadem, he could be like any other soldier turned courtier. He faces across the altar in San Vitale an equally famous portrait of Theodora. He has a bishop, clerics, and soldiers with him; she has attendants and great ladies, much more purple, and a cascade of jewels. Together they are bringing the bread and wine for the liturgy to unfold among the living on the altar below. The portraits capture them at a moment of high ceremonial drama, atypical in a way, but not so far from the truth—for the trappings and ceremony of empire meant that few people ever saw them except on display, self-consciously dramatic and seeking to make a great impression.

Justinian similarly

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