Pesaro, mosaics in the Cathedral, the iconography of a man-eating shark deserves great attention

Pesaro, mosaics in the Cathedral, the iconography of a man-eating shark deserves great attention
Pesaro, mosaics in the Cathedral, the iconography of a man-eating shark deserves great attention

by Roberto Malini

Among the masterpieces of art that embellish Italian cathedrals, there is a rare gem that is worth a trip to Pesaro just to admire it. In the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, the city’s cathedral, where Romanesque blends with other styles, up to Neoclassical, an ancient floor mosaic preserves an iconography that is almost unique for the Christian Middle Ages: a shark devouring a human being. The work is now clearly visible thanks to the new windows in the floor of the church, which have just been inaugurated. Naturally, in addition to the shark, all the mosaics of the Cathedral, dating from the 6th to the 13th century CE, constitute an extraordinary cultural and tourist attraction.

From the first centuries, early Christian art favored images of animals as symbols of virtues and spiritual concepts: the dove for the Holy Spirit, the lamb for Christ, the peacock for immortality. This highly codified visual language continued into the Middle Ages, often deriving from bestiaries that allegorized real and imaginary creatures.

Yet, the shark, a ferocious marine predator, remained an unusual presence in the Christian imagination at least until the 15th century. This is what makes the Pesaro mosaic, dating back to the 11th century, a true iconographic jewel.

Entering the nave, the faithful cannot help but be struck by the gruesome yet powerful image: the open jaws of the shark devouring a human body. A warning as explicit as it is rare to represent the sin that tears the soul, against which only faith in Christ can be a shield.

This extraordinary mosaic work is not the only attraction of the Cathedral of Pesaro, which boasts masterpieces such as the fresco of the Madonna della Misericordia, a precious wooden crucifix or the Madonna with child and saints Peter and Jerome by Giovanni santi: three works from the 15th century. Yet, that terrifying icon of the man-eating shark alone is enough to justify a visit, perhaps during a seaside holiday in the capital of the Marche region, to discover the exceptional testimony of an iconography that is both arcane and of notable visual impact.

Press

 
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