By S.J.B. Barnish
Studia Patristica, Vol.38 (2001)
Introduction: Several years ago, when introducing a translated selection from the Variae of Cassiodorus, I suggested that the more elaborate might be read as chants of a liturgy of secular government; I compared the glittering figures which they laud and idealise to the processions of saints in S.Apollinare Nuovo at Ravenna. I will now take as my starting-point the mosaic of St.Matthew in S.Vitale: the evangelist is depicted as a scribe, seated at his writing-stand, with a codex on his knees and a capsa full of scrolls nearby; pen on page, he looks up at the hand of God emerging from Heaven to direct him. Late antiquity tended to see earthly rule as an image of heavenly, and monarchy had a sacral aura; can we use this portrait of an evangelist to illuminate the work of that official draftsman, the Quaestor of the Sacred Palace, and his relation to king or emperor?