Milan, S Aquilino Chapel in S Lorenzo Maggiore

Era 4AD
Location Corso di Porta Ticinese, 35, 20123 Milano MI, Italy
Placement Chapel in church of S Lorenzo Maggiore

The exact date, function and patron of the chapel of S Aquilino, attached to the church of S Lorenzo Maggiore, is unknown. S Lorenzo Maggiore itself is a quatrefoil main church surrounded by three centralised chapels, S Aquilino, S Ippolito and, S Sisto, and the whole complex was almost certainly lavishly decorated with marbles and mosaics.

The surviving S Aquilino mosaics are in the vestibule. They consist of two registers of standing figures with inscriptions: the lower represent the Twelve Tribes of Israel; the upper the twelve Apostles. There were probably martyr saints on the side walls, though these may have been later. In the rotunda, two mosaics survive: the conch of the south-west niche depicts Christ, looking like a classical philosopher, presenting the laws to the assembled Apostles; the conch on the south-east has a scene which has been variously interpreted as the Ascension of Elijah on the Fiery Chariot or, possibly, Christ-Helios (like the mosaic in the tomb of the Julii under St Peter’s).

There are echoes of S Costanza, and, as in that building, the gap between Christian and pagan iconography is not as wide as some might like it to be: in St Aquilino, both Elijah and the putti alike ride in chariots. Like S Costanza, S Aquilino may have been a mausoleum, perhaps that of the emperor Gratian, possibly that of Valentinian I, and its surviving mosaic decoration fits the mausoleum theme. Its patron, however, may have been either Bishop Auxentius (355-74) or Bishop Ambrose (374-97), with the latter frequently seen as the more likely, though this may simply be because he is the better-known.