Reexamining Syncretism in Late Antique Iconography of a Vault Mosaic


Late  Antiquity,  third  to  seventh  centuries,  is  a  period  recognized for the continuity and change of Roman culture despite a  new  religion  and  political  instability.  This  continuity  allowed space for syncretism: an amalgamation of different art, religion,  and  culture  in  the  Empire. In the following pages, I discuss the understanding of a vault mosaic featuring a charioteer or solar figure within the necropolis in Vatican City, Rome, Italy. For this paper, I  use  material  culture  from  Rome  and  Constantinople that dates from the first to fourth centuries in order to contextualize the mosaic with other syncretic works of art and to demonstrate multiple readings of artworks. My focus for this paper is the vault mosaic found in Tomb M, built in the second century (Figure 2). I begin with an examination of the decorative programs of the necropolis including the room with the vault mosaic. Next, I briefly investigate iconographies of the ascension  to  demonstrate  a  concern with the afterlife by different audiences. Then, I analyze visual evidence of continuity and change in meaning of imperial iconography on material culture during the reign of Constantine I (r. 306–337) to show more examples of syncretic art by a single patron. My methodological approach decenters Christianity—a point to which I will return—seeking a more accurate contextualization of Late Antique material culture.
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Copyright (c) 2022 Sonia Dixon


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