“Since my experience in the baptistery in Ravenna,
I have known with certainty that something interior can appear to be exterior, and that something exterior can appear to be interior”.
(C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Collins 1971)
After the father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud, Carl Gustav Jung also visited Ravenna in 1913, and returned once again twenty years later, in 1933. He was not only greatly fascinated, but also deeply unsettled, so much so that, in his writings and reflections, he would fully describe the power of the imagery and the awe he experienced in the presence of such masterpieces of mosaic art.
Perceiving the splendour of the decorations of the Battistero Neoniano (Neonian Baptistery), the light, colour, strength and infinity, Carl Gustav Jung would also recount having gone through “one of the strangest events” of his life.
In the volume Memories, Dreams and Recollections (published in Italy in 1965), Jung writes that “Even on the occasion of my first visit to Ravenna in 1913, the tomb of Galla Placidia seemed to me significant and unusually fascinating. The second time, twenty years later, I had the same feeling. Once more I fell into a strange mood in the tomb of Galla Placidia; once more I was deeply stirred.”
When he then visited the Battistero Neoniano with his assistant, he said that he was at first struck by the mild blue diffused light: “Here,I did not try to account for its source, and so the wonder of this light without any visible source did not trouble me. I was somewhat amazed because, in place of the windows I remembered having seen on my first visit, there were now four great mosaic frescoes of incredible beauty which, it seemed, I had entirely forgotten. I was vexed to find my memory so unreliable. […]The fourth mosaic, on the west side of the baptistery, was the most impressive of all. We looked at this one last. It represented Christ holding out his hand to Peter, who was sinking beneath the waves.(…) Initiations of this kind were often linked to the idea that life was in danger, and so they served to express the archetypal idea of death and rebirth. Baptism had originally been a literal immersion, alluding to the danger of drowning”.
Back home, however, Jung’s surprise and dismay were enormous when, in search of photographic images that could document the scene of this interesting archetype, he discovered that the mosaic actually represented the baptism of Jesus Christ in Jordan. Jung and his assistant, therefore, had merely perceived it.
At that moment, according to the psychoanalyst, the vision did not differ at all from reality.