The Mausoleum of Galla Placidia is the oldest complete building left to us in Ravenna, for it dates from well within the first half of the fifth century, whereas the baptistery, altered and transformed as it was by S. Neon, is as we see it a work of the first years of the second half of that century. Simple as it is, without, a cruciform building of plain brick, within it is so sumptuously and splendidly adorned that not an inch anywhere remains that is not encrusted with mosaic or precious marbles. These mosaics were, before their radical “restoration,” perhaps finer and more classical than those of the baptistery. It might seem, indeed, that they were perhaps the finest and subtlest work done in the Roman realistic tradition, nor was there perhaps anywhere to be found so noble a representation of the Good Shepherd as that which adorned this great monument. It is, however, impossible to speak with any confidence of what we see there now, for all has been restored again and again, and is now little better than a rifacimento of our own time, a copy, faithful perhaps, but still a copy, of the work of the fifth century.
Nevertheless, the impression of the whole is very splendid and solemn. The roofs and dome are covered with mosaics of a wonderful and indescribable night blue, powdered with stars. In the cupola is a cross and at the four angles are set the symbols of the four Evangelists, glorious heraldic figures.
Above the door we see Christ the Good Shepherd, youthful, classic in form and repose, very noble and Roman, seated on a rock in a broken hilly landscape, a cross in His left hand, caressing His sheep with His right. This figure even after “restoration” gives us more than a glimpse of what it once was. Nowhere had Christian art produced so majestic a representation of its Lord; nor had the subject of the Good Shepherd been anywhere more splendidly treated than here.
Over the great sarcophagus, opposite the entrance, we see a very different scene. Here is no longer a youthful Christ, with the hair and the noble aspect of Apollo, but a bearded and majestic figure in the fullness of manhood, His eyes full of anger, His draperies flying about Him, moving swiftly, the cross on His shoulders, in His left hand an heretical, probably Arian, book which he is about to cast into the furnace in the midst. Upon the extreme left is a case or cupboard in which we see the books of the four Gospels. In the other lunettes we see very gorgeous decorative work of arabesques and stags at a fountain and two doves drinking from a vase. Above in the spandrils of the arches are figures of apostles or saints. Nothing in the world is more solemnly gorgeous in effect than this beautiful rich interior. The pavement is composed of fragments of the same precious marbles as those which line the lower parts of the walls.