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Bill Thayer

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Focal Point

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The "stars" of the basilica: the Cosmatesque ciborium or baldacchino (11‑12c) and the fresco of Christ and the Virgin with SS. George, Peter and Sebastian, one of the now very rare surviving works of Pietro Cavallini (late 13c).

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I did not have the sense to take a picture of the front of the altar and the confessio of St. George, which is the true focal point: it's on my list for my next trip to Rome.

Still, this side view of the ciborium is clear enough: although the origin of such altar canopies is Byzantine, this one is of a specifically Roman type, in which the dome characteristic of the Eastern model has been replaced by a very elegant, light, pointed octagonal turret (turritus apex). The supports are reused columns from Antiquity with Corinthian capitals, of which we are rather playfully reminded in the triple-tiered turret itself. For a front view, see the main page for the interior of S. Giorgio.

The high window you see in the background, one of many down both sides of the basilica, is in the same general style. It too is of very white marble: the quincuncial grillwork lets in light while not requiring glass.

The matching Cosmatesque pavement in the choir has suffered; the altar is the focal point of any church and the areas around it are often prone to damage. Here for example I also wonder what happened to the original marble throne; to form an idea of it, see what must always have been a much more splendiferous example, the papal throne in St. John Lateran.

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Page updated: 18 Feb 00