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This refrain recurs in Pound’s Cantos, most fully as, “In the gloom, the gold gathers the light against it” (Canto 11) and in Canto 21 he links it to the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna: “Gold fades in the gloom,/ Under the blue-black roof, Placidia’s”

Maus. di Galla Placidia

This mausoleum is a jewelled appendage to San Vitale in Ravenna which holds the best-known ceiling mosaics in the world (and almost as good as the ceiling mosaics in Monreale in Sicily, albeit they are 600 years earlier than those). I have always thought the reference to gold is to the golden tesserae of which the mosaic is composed adjacent to the blue ones (see photo). These are set on the ceiling catching the light in the gloom as the spectator peers upward.maus-2

But to actually be in the mausoleum in the late afternoon, what is really golden are the windows catching the declining sun since they are made not of glass but of alabaster, a translucent stone cut in thin slabs to make windows. They have an inherent wave pattern in them, like grain in wood, and the light effect they produce is of catching flame. So now I think that this is what Pound may have been referring to rather than the gold tesserae.


In my mind a further imaginative leap can be made, for the words are an apt description of the screen in a darkened cinema.

This is the first musing on a recent visit to the Romagna in Italy. The next two will be on Antonioni in Ferrara, and on Giorgio Bassani whose great novel The Garden of the Finzi Continis (made into a so-so film in the 1970s) is set in Ferrara.