Consul Areobindus Dagalaifus Areobindus

Leaf of a Diptych with Consul Areobindus, 506 AD, elephant ivory bas-relief, 39x13cm, Musée de Cluny, Paris, France (my amateurish attempt at Photography)

Devant une tribune, write the Cluny Museum Experts, paré de ses insignes, Areobindus est entouré d’assesseurs. La main droite levée, il lance les jeux avec la “mappa”, sorte de linge qui servait à signaler le début des jeux du cirque. En dessous sont représentés ces jeux : des gladiateurs combattent des animaux sauvages. On the 10th of May, 2023, I was in Paris, at the Cluny Museum, paying my respects to Consul Areobindus Dagalaifus Areobindus. It was a moment I will always cherish!

Let’s answer some questions starting with Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How…

What do we know about Late Roman / Early Byzantine Consular Diptychs? They were a form of ceremonial and commemorative artwork that originated in the late Roman Empire. They were created in the form of hinged wooden panels, often covered in ivory or other valuable materials. Consular diptychs typically consisted of two panels, known as leaves, which were decorated with relief carvings and inscriptions. These diptychs were presented as gifts to friends and supporters, by newly appointed consuls, who were the highest-ranking officials in the Roman Empire. They served as a record and celebration of their consulship. The inscriptions on the diptychs included the consul’s name, the names of the emperor or emperors in office during their consulship, and sometimes additional details such as the consul’s accomplishments or notable events from their term.

What do Consular Diptychs usually feature as their decoration? They often featured intricate and detailed relief carvings depicting various scenes, including mythological figures, military victories, and allegorical representations of virtues. These carvings were highly symbolic and conveyed messages of power, prestige, and legitimacy. Many consular diptychs have been lost or damaged. However, a number of surviving examples provide valuable insights into the art, culture, and political context of the late Roman / Early Byzantine Empire. They are significant historical artifacts that shed light on the individuals who held the highest offices in the Roman / Byzantine state.

Leaf of a Diptych with Consul Areobindus (detail upper part), 506 AD, elephant ivory bas-relief, 39x13cm, Musée de Cluny, Paris, France

Who was Consul Areobindus? Areobindus Dagalaifus Areobindus was a high-ranking Byzantine official and military leader during the reign of Emperor Anastasius I Dicorus (c. 431 – 518) in the 6th century AD. Areobindus was a scion of an extremely distinguished family of Roman and  Alanic-Gothic heritage. He was married to Anicia Juliana, the daughter of Olybrius, briefly the western Roman Emperor in 472, and his wife Placidia, thus, connecting Areobindus to the Theodosian dynasty. Along with his wife, considered to be the most aristocratic and the wealthiest inhabitant of Constantinople, Aerobindus spent a life of military and administrative distinction. In 506 AD, he served as consul of the Byzantine Empire. The consular office, though it had lost its administrative functions by this time, was still an important honorific title. The period of Areobindus’s consulship corresponded with the early period of Byzantine history, which was characterized by frequent wars with Sassanid Persia, the Germanic tribes, and other neighbors, as well as a flowering of Greek and Roman art and culture.

Leaf of a Diptych with Consul Areobindus (detail – faces), 506 AD, elephant ivory bas-relief, 39x13cm, Musée de Cluny, Paris, France

When was the Consular Diptych of Areobindus created? It was created in 506 AD, in Constantinople, when Areobindus was elected Consul of the Eastern Roman / Byzantine Empire.

How can the composition of Areobindus’s Diptych be described? Areobindus’s Consular Diptych is one of the best preserved and most intricately designed examples of Byzantine Consular Diptychs. Under the inscription C[omite] SAC[ri] STA[buli] ET M[agister] M[ilitum] P[er] OR[ientum] EX C[onsule] C[onsul] OR[dinarius] the artist of the Diptych presents Areobindus, in strict frontality, dressed in consular robes and holding the traditional symbols of the consul’s office, including a mappa circensis (a handkerchief with which the Consul gave the signal for the games to commence) and an elaborate scepter. Flanked by two of his assistants, the Consul is depicted presiding over the circus games sitting on a luxurious chair with curved legs and no back. The quality of the carving and the level of detail in this scene attest to the skill of the artist and the luxury of the object.

Leaf of a Diptych with Consul Areobindus (detail lower part), 506 AD, elephant ivory bas-relief, 39x13cm, Musée de Cluny, Paris, France
Leaf of a Diptych with Consul Areobindus (detail lower part with spectators), 506 AD, elephant ivory bas-relief, 39x13cm, Musée de Cluny, Paris, France

The lower part of the described Diptych depicts scenes of circus games, typically referred to as the venationes. These were staged hunts or fights involving wild animals, a popular form of public entertainment, at the time, alongside chariot races and gladiatorial combats. The venationes depicted in the Areobindus Diptych, showcase a range of exotic and dangerous animals, symbolizing both the consul’s power and the grand spectacle of the games themselves. It is a surprising, delightful scene. The artist exhibits originality, energy, and an unexpected variety of poses and gestures.

Why is the Consular Diptych of Areobindus significant? Simply put, it serves as an exceptional example of Early Byzantine artistry and craftsmanship. Its intricate relief carving depicts an important historical figure of the time, providing valuable insights into the iconography and symbolism of the era. It also serves as a tangible connection to the tradition of Consular Diptychs, which were presented as gifts to high-ranking officials or distributed during official ceremonies. It exemplifies the use of art and objects as a means of political communication and the display of status and authority during the Early Byzantine period.

Leaf of a Diptych with Consul Areobindus, 506 AD, elephant ivory bas-relief, 39x13cm, Musée de Cluny, Paris, France

Where is the Consular Diptych of Areobindus currently located? The Consular Diptych of Areobindus is an invaluable resource for historians studying the Byzantine Empire and the broader late antique period. It is an artifact that connects us directly with the people, events, and cultures of the past. It is part of the Louvre Museum Collection, but it is exhibited in the Cluny Museum, also known as the Musée National du Moyen Age, in Paris.

How can the Cluny Museum best be described? The Musée de Cluny, also known as the Musée National du Moyen Age, or the National Museum of the Middle Ages, is located in Paris, France. It is housed in two significant historic buildings: the 15th-century Hôtel de Cluny and the Gallo-Roman thermal baths dating back to the 3rd century. The museum is renowned for its extensive collection of medieval artifacts, including tapestries, sculptures, manuscripts, and metalwork. Its most famous work is arguably the “The Lady and the Unicorn” series of tapestries, a masterpiece of the late Middle Ages.

The architecture of the museum itself is notable. The Hôtel de Cluny is a fine example of late medieval secular architecture, with its Gothic-style features and well-preserved rooms. The adjacent thermal baths showcase the grandeur of Roman architecture and provide an interesting contrast. The museum is also known for its medieval-inspired gardens. These gardens are designed based on medieval texts and archaeological research and serve as a quiet oasis in the bustling city of Paris. As a whole, the museum provides a unique experience for visitors to immerse themselves in the rich history and culture of the Middle Ages, serving as a testament to the creativity, skill, and artistry of the period.

For a PowerPoint inspired by the Consul Areobindus Dagalaifus Areobindus BLOG POST, please… Check, HERE!

Photo Credits

The Stavelot Triptych in the Morgan Library

Stavelot Triptych, ca. 1156-1158, Wood; copper-gilt frames, silver pearls and columns, gilt-brass capitals and bases, vernis brun domes, semi-precious stones, intaglio gems, beads, champlevé, and cloisonné enamels, Wings open: height: 484 mm, width: 660 mm, The Morgan Library and Museum, NY, USA

The Stavelot Triptych in the Morgan Library tells us the story of Byzantine and Romanesque Art at its finest. Two worlds united in harmony… brilliant, luxurious, and precious, the triptych in the Morgan Library provides a telling meeting ground for East and West. The Eastern symbolic representation of Constantine and Helena is juxtaposed to the Western narrative mode, and Byzantine liturgy and hagiography (in which Constantine is a Saint) are contrasted with their Western counterparts. Magnificent, skillfully made, and radiant, the Stavelot Triptych is an uncontested masterpiece of the 12th-century Renaissance. The Glory of Byzantium: Art and Culture of the Middle Byzantine Era, A.D. 843–1261, pp. 461-463 by William M. Voelkle

Let’s try to answer some questions, so as to better understand the Stavelot Triptych in the Morgan Library…

Why is this amazing work of art named, the Stavelot Triptych? The Stavelot Triptych is a medieval Christian artwork currently housed in the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City. The name of the piece is derived from two key elements: the town of Stavelot and the art form of a triptych. Stavelot is a town in the Belgian Ardennes where the triptych was originally commissioned for the great imperial Benedictine Stavelot Abbey. This Benedictine monastery was an important religious center in the region, and the artwork was created to serve as a devotional object. The word “triptych” refers to the format of the artwork. A triptych is a three-paneled piece, typically hinged together, with a central panel and two side panels that can be folded inwards. These types of works were often used as altarpieces or portable religious objects in the medieval period.

What is so special about the Stavelot Triptych? This is a luxurious masterpiece of Western medieval art that consists of three triptychs, a greater Mosan triptych of gilded bronze decorated with champlevé enamels, and two Byzantine smaller triptychs, attached in the central panel, decorated with cloisonné enamels. The triptych was created as a reliquary of the True Cross, as it includes fragments of the True Cross. The two Byzantine triptychs and the relics were probably a gift of the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Komnenos, to Abbot Wibald during the winter of 1155-1156, when Wibald, on a diplomatic mission to Constantinople, acted on behalf of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa. The Stavelot Triptych represents a harmonious blend of various artistic styles and techniques, such as Romanesque, Mosan, and Byzantine. This synthesis showcases the cultural exchange and artistic interactions that took place during the Romanesque period, making the triptych a valuable example of the transmission of ideas and skills across different regions.

What is the Date of the Stavelot Triptych? According to the Morgan Library and Museum experts… the Reliquary in the Morgan Library comprises of three Triptychs. The two small ones in the center are Byzantine and date from the late 11th or early 12th century. The larger Triptych which houses the two Byzantine works is Mosan and dates circa 1156-1158.

What is the iconographic program of the Stavelot Triptych? Paraphrasing the Morgan Library presentation… The central panel of the Stavelot Triptych contains two Byzantine triptychs decorated with cloisonné enamels. The upper triptych depicts the Annunciation (presented in the outer wings) and the Crucifixion with Mary and John the Evangelist flanking the Cross in the central panel. The lower, larger, triptych depicts the four Evangelists (in the outer wings), four Byzantine military saints (inner sides of the wings – George and Procopius on the left, Theodore and Demetrius on the right), and Constantine and Helena flanking the relics of the True Cross in the central panel beneath busts of the Archangels Gabriel and Michael.

Stavelot Triptych (Detail), ca. 1156-1158, Wood; copper-gilt frames, silver pearls and columns, gilt-brass capitals and bases, vernis brun domes, semi-precious stones, intaglio gems, beads, champlevé, and cloisonné enamels, Wings open: height: 484 mm, width: 660 mm, The Morgan Library and Museum, NY, USA
Stavelot Triptych (Detail), ca. 1156-1158, Wood; copper-gilt frames, silver pearls and columns, gilt-brass capitals and bases, vernis brun domes, semi-precious stones, intaglio gems, beads, champlevé, and cloisonné enamels, Wings open: height: 484 mm, width: 660 mm, The Morgan Library and Museum, NY, USA

The inner sides of the Romanesque Stavelot Triptych wings contain six champlevé enamel medallions (three in each wing) narrating the legend of the True Cross. The left-wing medallions tell the story of Constantine’s conversion to Christianity. Starting with Constantine’s dream of the Cross, the night before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, the middle medallion shows Constantine’s victory at the Milvian Bridge, and the upper medallion shows Constantine being baptized just before his death, by Pope Sylvester I. The three medallions on the right wing tell the story of Saint Helena’s discovery of the True Cross. Starting with the bottom medallion, Helena is depicted questioning Jewish leaders. The narration continues with the middle medallion showing Helena watching as servants dig up the Cross on Mount Calvary, and culminates with the upper medallion, and Helena is testing the three crosses on a sick man to find the one True Cross that has the healing powers.

In summary, the Stavelot Triptych is important in art history due to its synthesis of various artistic styles, exceptional craftsmanship, religious significance, and its role in the preservation of medieval art. It provides insight into the artistic and cultural landscape of the 12th century and serves as a testament to the skill and creativity of the artists who produced it.

For a Student Activity on the Stavelot Triptych in the Morgan Library, please… Check HERE!

Pendant with the Bust of an Empress

Chain and Pendant with the Bust of an Empress, 379–395 AD, Gold, garnet, sapphire, glass, 6.4 cm, The J. Paul Getty Museum, CA, USA

St. Ambrose describes her, Aelia Flacilla, wife of emperor Theodosius I, as “a soul true to God” (Fidelis anima Deo. – “De obitu Theodosii”, n. 40, in P. L., XVI, 1462). In his panegyric, St. Gregory of Nyssa bestowed the highest praise on her virtuous life and pictured her as the helpmate of the emperor in all good works, an ornament of the empire, a leader of justice, an image of beneficence. He praises her as filled with zeal for the Faith, as a pillar of the Church, and as a mother of the indigent. Theodoret in particular exalts her charity and benevolence (Hist. Eccles., V, xix, ed. Valesius, III, 192 sq.). He tells us how she personally tended cripples and quotes a saying of hers: “To distribute money belongs to the imperial dignity, but I offer up for the imperial dignity itself personal service to the Giver.” Could the Pendant with the Bust of an Empress in the Getty Collection depict this extraordinary Early Christian Empress?

Let’s answer some questions.

When did the Getty Museum acquire the Pendant with the Bust of an Empress? Yes, we do… Barbara Deppert-Lippitz, a most reputable expert archaeologist in ancient gold, contributed an article, titled A Group o f Late Antique Jewelry in the Getty Museum (pages 107-140) in Studia Varia from the J. Paul Getty Museum: Volume 1 (OPA 8), 1993. Let me quote… The majority of Late Roman and Early Byzantine jewelry that we do have has no known provenance and is undated. Our knowledge of jewelry of the period is based mainly on a few larger hoards with recorded find spots but without any external evidence for dating. It is therefore fortunate that in 1983 the Getty Museum was able to acquire a group of fifteen pieces of jewelry buried around A.D . 400. page 107

Where were the Late Antique pieces of jewelry, including the Pendant with Empress, found? We do not exactly know… but according to Barbara Deppert-Lippitz… As all pieces had a similar patina, it need not be doubted that the group was, indeed, found together. They are all in very good condition, except for missing pearls on some items. Nothing is known about the previous history of this hoard, but no treasure corresponding to the present one is recorded as having been excavated anywhere during this century There are, however, certain indications that the hoard must have come from the eastern part of the Roman Empire. Further interesting observations point out that… The Getty hoard belongs among the well-known treasures from the Hill of Saint Louis in Carthage, Tunisia, and from Ténès in Algeria, both now generally agreed to belong to the period around A.D . 400, and the one from Thetford at Gallows Hill, near Thetfordin Norfolk, dated to the late fourth century A.D. All these hoards are dated on a purely stylistic basis, with no external evidence. page 107, and and and

How did the Getty Museum acquire the Late Antique pieces of Jewelry? In 1983, the J. Paul Getty Museum purchased the group of fifteen pieces of Late Antique pieces of jewelry from the Company of “Robin Symes, Limited,” founded in 1977 and dissolved in 2005.

Chain and Pendant with the Bust of an Empress, 379–395 AD, Gold, garnet, sapphire, glass, 6.4 cm, The J. Paul Getty Museum, CA, USA

How can you describe the Pendant with the Bust of an Empress? This is actually a necklace consisting of a chain and a circular medallion. The gold ropelike multiple loop-in-loop chain shows remarkable workmanship. It ends with a hook-and-eye clasp, decorated with openwork circlets as well as filigree and granulation. The medallion-shaped pendant displays a frontal female bust flanked by two Victory Goddesses holding wreaths. A circular outer band, with inset garnets, and blue and green glass beads, serving as a frame to the repoussé medallion, was a rather primitive later addition to the original jewel. Three chain pendants and two strong rings attached to either side of the medallion were also added later. Today, only one pendant chain remains attached to the outer frame, holds an emerald, and terminates in a decorative scroll ornament. pages 109-111.

Chain and Pendant with the Bust of an Empress (Detail), 379–395 AD, Gold, garnet, sapphire, glass, 6.4 cm, The J. Paul Getty Museum, CA, USA

Who is the depicted woman? It most probably is Aelia Flacilla, the first wife of Emperor Theodosius I. According to Barbara Deppert-Lippitz… a small but significant detail, the diadem, the Empress wears, offers valuable information. Based on numismatic evidence, similar diadems have been worn only by the empresses Aelia Flacilla, wife of Theodosius I, whose coinage commenced in A.D . 383 and who died in 386, and by her daughter-in-law Eudoxia, wife of Arcadius (A.D . 383-408). This narrows the chronological range of the medallion pendant to the last two decades of the fourth century A.D. The differences between the coin portraits of Flacilla and of Eudoxia are marginal. However, the oval face with a short straight nose, small mouth with thick lips, and energetic chin seem to be closer to the portrait on certain issues of Flacilla than to that of Eudoxia. page 110

For a Student Activity, please… Check HERE!

Nativity scene from the Menologion of Basil II

Menologion of Basil II, The Nativity of Christ, c. 1000, Illuminated Manuscript, Vatican Library  (Ms. Vat. gr. 1613)

Η Γέννησίς Σου, Χριστέ ο Θεός ημών, ανέτειλε τω κόσμω το φως το της γνώσεως· εν αυτή γαρ οι τοις άστροις λατρεύοντες, υπό αστέρος εδιδάσκοντο, Σε προσκυνείν, τον Ήλιον της δικαιοσύνης, και Σε γινώσκειν εξ ύψους ανατολήν, Κύριε, δόξα Σοι. (Απολυτίκιο των Χριστουγέννων, ήχος δ΄). Your birth, O Christ our God, dawned the light of knowledge upon the earth. For by Your birth those who adored stars, were taught by a star, to worship You, the Sun of Justice, and to know You, Orient from on High. O Lord, glory to You. (Christmas Apolytikion: Fourth Tone)… Merry Christmas… Best Wishes for Peace, Health, and Happines! Enjoy the Day with the Byzantine Nativity scene from the Menologion of Basil II. and

One of the most luxurious of all Byzantine manuscripts, the Menologion of Emperor Basil II (958 – 1025)in the Vatican Library (Ms. Vat. gr. 1613), contains 430 amazing miniatures in 272 folios! It is a treasure cove for Byzantine Art and a high point of the Macedonian Renaissance.

The Byzantine Menologio, a book arranged according to the months, is a liturgical book of the Greek Orthodox church. Simply put, it is a Book of Saints, presenting short information on the saint’s life and martyrion. It is read on the Saint’s feast day, during the morning matins, and serves as a Church Calendar.

The Menologion of Basil II has compiled ca. 1000 AD, under the auspices of the Byzantine Emperor Basil II of the Macedonian Dynasty. It is an unusually opulent manuscript, created at Constantinople for liturgical use, and in its present form, covers the first six months of the Byzantine liturgical year, from September through February. The portrait of Emperor Basil II, one of the most successful military leaders of the Byzantine Empire, shows him as a warrior defending Orthodoxy, standing on a low podium, clad in his military regalia, graciously accepting his enemies’ submission.

The manuscript contains around 430 miniature paintings executed by eight different artists. The artists identified by their name written at the edge of each miniature are: Pantoleon, who seems to have been in charge of the group, Georgios, Michael the Younger, Michael of Blachernai, Simeon, Simeon of Blachernai, Menas, and Nestor.

Menologion of Basil II, The Nativity of Christ, c. 1000, Illuminated Manuscript, Vatican Library  (Ms. Vat. gr. 1613)

The Nativity scene, celebrating the Birth of Jesus and the Annunciation to the Shepherds, was painted by Symeon of Blachernae. It is a well-balanced composition achieved within a typical Byzantine ‘Nativity’ Landscape comprised of a mountain cave executed in the typical ‘broken terrace’ motif of the Greco-Roman tradition.

The central axis of the composition is dedicated to the presence of God, as exemplified by the Bethlehem Star at the very top, the newborn Child in a manger, and a midwife bathing Christ at the lower part of the scene… The Star of Bethlehem is heraldically flanked by two rejoicing angels, festively dressed in sky-blue and taupe-coloured garments. To the right, Simeon of Blachernai presented the Annunciation to a rather rugged-looking Shepherd. To the left, the depicted Virgin sits near Christ, but Joseph, in the lower left corner of the miniature from the Menologion of Basil II, seems distant and thoughtful. What an amazing Nativity scene this is!

Merry Christmas!!!

For a Student Activity inspired by the Menologion of Basil II – The Nativity of Christ Scene, please… Check HERE!

Αn Annotated Picture of the Nativity scene

Interesting to read… The Illuminators of the Menologium of Basil IIby Ihor Ševčenko, Dumbarton Oaks Papers, Vol. 16 (1962), pp. 243+245-276 (43 pages)

Byzantine Silver Bucket

Vrap (it means ‘running’ in Albanian) is a town located in Albania about 20 km south of Tirana, the country’s capital town. In 1901, in the Vrap area, near the ancient city of Durazzo and Via Egnatia, an exceptional hoard of silver and gold was discovered within a buried copper cauldron. This amazing treasure, known today as the Vrap Treasure is over twelve pounds of gold and three pounds of silver, including ten silver or gold vessels; thirty gold belt fittings; parts of a golden candlestick; and several gold bars and strips! My favourite amongst them is a Byzantine Silver Bucket! p. 36

The Byzantine Silver Bucket from Albania is a deep, footed Bowl with geometric, beaded, diamond patterns around the exterior. Set within the diamonds are birds, flowers, and various other objects, like palmettes, baskets, urns, and edifices(?). The design executed in the repoussé technique is simple but well-finished by an accomplished Byzantine provincial silversmith. Was the Vrap Silver Bucket an incense censer or was it used for drawing water? There is no definite answer.

The Vrap Treasure: Silver Bucket (Detail of the Byzantine Seal), 600s, Silver, 18.4×14.1 cm, 481g, the MET, NY, USA and

Scholars have been debating for years over the owner of the Vrap Treasure, and the identity of the silversmiths who created its artifacts. One thing is certain, the Vrap Treasure includes only two objects that most scholars today would describe as Byzantine: the discussed Silver Bucket, and a silver pitcher, both with what appear to be imperial control stamps. The stamp on the Bucket looks hexagonal (?), possibly containing a monogram, but no inscription can be traced. It is also difficult to say whether the stamp was applied before or after the vessel was decorated. and

The ”archaeology” of the Treasure’s discovery is best described by J. Strzygowski in 1917… An Albanian farmer near Vrap . . . uncovered in a field a copper kettle which he appropriated, and concerning himself little with the contents, he sold it, for a pair of medschidjes, to three Albanians, who brought it to their residence tower in the vicinity of Arbõna, a place to the north of Vrap . . . The subsequent attainment of individual pieces dragged on for about five years, in part under romantic circumstances. There would be no scholarly interest in going into more detail. The Vrap Treasure, including the Byzantine Silver Bucket, was bought by J. Pierpont Morgan on April 4, 1912. In 1917 the Vrap Treasure was donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Why these varied objects were brought together remains a mystery. Some scholars have suggested that the objects were part of a treasure belonging to an Avar chief; others have speculated that they were the property of an Avar craftsman. It will be interesting to know… and file:///C:/Users/aspil/Downloads/The_Arts_of_Byzantium_The_Metropolitan_Museum_of_Art_Bulletin_v_58_no_4_Sp ring_2001.pdf page 32

For a Student Activity, please… Check, HERE!

The Vrap Treasure, 600s (bucket)–700s, Gold and Silver, the MET, NY, USA

Breck, Joseph, and Meyric R. Rogers, The Pierpont Morgan Wing: A Handbook. 1st ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1925. p. 35, fig. 15, ill. p. 36.

Melanie Holcomb, Ugly but . . . important’: the Albanian Hoard and the making of the archaeological treasure in the early twentieth century: The making of the archaeological treasure, page 11

Dodd, Erica Cruikshank. Byzantine Silver Stamps. Washington: J. J. Augustin, 1961. no. 88, pp. 246–247

Brown, Katharine R., Dafydd Kidd, and Charles T. Little, ed. From Attila to Charlemagne: Arts of the Early Medieval Period in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York and New Haven: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000. p. 185, 343, fig. 18,16.7.

Miniature Mosaic Icon of Saint Demetrios in Sassoferrato

Mosaic Icon of Saint Demetrios at Sassoferrato, Mosaic Icon: 14th or 15th century, Ampulla: 13th or 14th century, Silver Frame: mid-15th century, Mosaic set into wax on a poplar board, paint, silver-gilt (frame), lead (ampulla), 24.3 X 16 cm, Museo Civico, Sassoferrato, Italy

One of the inscriptions in the Miniature Mosaic Icon of Saint Demetrios in Sassoferratoinforms us that… This ampulla (at the top of the Icon), bears holy oil drawn from the well in which the body of the divine Demetrios reposes, which gushes here and accomplishes miracles for the entire universe and for the faithful… What a remarkable way to remember Saint Demetrios and celebrate his feast day!

In 1472, Niccolò Perotti (1430-1480), secretary to Cardinal Bessarion and archbishop of Siponto, donated to Sassoferrato, the city of his birth, a collection of reliquaries, including the Mosaic Icon of Saint Demetrios. That was a notable donation considering Niccolò Perotti’s position. As Cardinal Bessarion’s secretary, he was able to travel as far as Trebizond in the East, and acquire a collection of valuable reliquaries, manuscripts, and icons. It has been suggested that the Mosaic Icon of Saint Demetrios was gifted to Perotti by no other than Bessarion himself, known to be the owner of a collection of Late Byzantine Mosaic Icons… but there is no proof for this.

The Museu Civico in Sassoferrato is fortunate to hold such an important and rare relic of the Palaiologan Renaissance, the final period in the development of Byzantine art. On a poplar board, slightly excavated at its center, rendered in micromosaic, stands Saint Demetrios, patron Saint of Thessaloniki. He is placed against a gold background and a tiled ground. He is in military garb, holds a lance with his righthand, and, with the left, a blue shield decorated with a heraldic white lion against a ground strewn with gold stylized flowers. Based on stylistic analysis, according to Martin Donnert,  the mosaic icon at Sassoferrato was executed in the 14th century as a typical work of Palaiologan art. This date is further confirmed by the radiocarbon analysis dating of the wooden support of the icon to 1279 ± 26 years, which gives a terminus post quem. Byzantium: Faith and Power (1261–1557), Evans, Helen C., ed., with essays by… pp. 231-233 and

Mosaic Icon of Saint Demetrios at Sassoferrato (details), Mosaic Icon: 14th or 15th century, Ampulla: 13th or 14th century, Silver Frame: mid-15th century, Mosaic set into wax on a poplar board, paint, silver-gilt (frame), lead (ampulla), 24.3 X 16 cm, Museo Civico, Sassoferrato, Italy

The ampulla at the top of the Icon’s frame is a wonderful rarity! It turns the Mosaic Icon into a precious reliquary of Saint Demetrios’s cult. The text, on the right side of the Icon’s frame, explains the reasons why the ampulla was added to the Icon’s composition. Prof. Martin Donnert clarifies that …Since the 12th century, the existence of miraculous oil (the Myron) connected with the cult of St Demetrios is well attested in the sources. He also adds that lead ampullae from the late 12th to the 14th centuries that contained the holy Myron for pilgrims to the saint’s tomb, called koutrouvia… were found at various places in northern Greece and the Balkans. One of these ampullae, a cherished relic in itself, is the one incorporated at the top of the icon frame… showing St Demetrios holding a cross on one side, and, on the opposite side, St Theodora, the second myron-giving saint of Thessaloniki.

The silver-gilt frame, dated during the mid-15th century is rich in information. A number of inscriptions within star-shaped cartouches, along with the imperial symbol of the double-headed eagle and the tetrabasileion, may indicate a distinguished member of the Palaiologan family, to be the original commissioner of the Icon. Furthermore, Prof Martin Donnert suggests Demetrios Palaiologos and the Palaiologoi of Montferrat!

For a Student Activity, please… Check HERE!

Interesting to read: The Historical Significance of the Mosaic of Saint Demetrius at Sassoferrato byA. A. Vasiliev, Dumbarton Oaks Papers, Vol. 5 (1950), pp. 29+31-39 (10 pages)

The Enthroned Christ and Emperor Leo VI the Wise

The Enthroned Christ and Emperor Leo VI the Wise, around the year 920, mosaic decorating the lunette over the Imperial Door in the Narthex of Hagia Sophia, the Great Church of the Byzantine Empire, Istanbul, Turkey

I like what the late Professor Nicolas Oikonomides wrote about the Byzantine mosaics in the vestibule and the narthex of the Great Church of Hagia Sophia… The imperial mosaics of Saint Sophia, beyond their artistic value, are of considerable historical importance… and… mosaics were made in the hope that they would survive ad saecula saeculorurn. Consequently, although representing a particular scene, or event, or idea that prevailed at the time of their composition, they were also supposed to bequeath their presumably understandable message to future generations. I am reading his article, Leo VI and the Narthex Mosaic of Saint Sophia, follow his steps, and learn interesting facts about the Enthroned Christ and Emperor Leo VI the Wise, the mosaic decorating the lunette over the Imperial Door of the Great Church. Dumbarton Oaks Papers, Vol. 30 (1976), pp. 151+153-172 (26 pages) and

In 1930 Thomas Whittemore, an American scholar, archaeologist, and restoration expert founded the Byzantine Institute of America and in 1931 took over the responsibility of recovering the mosaics of Hagia Sophia after receiving the approval of the founder of the Turkish Republic, Kemal Ataturk, who turned Hagia Sophia into a museum four years later. 1n 1933 Whittemore uncovered and restored the mosaic decorating the lunette over the Imperial Door of Hagia Sophia. This mosaic, featuring the enthroned Christ in the center, a Byzantine Emperor in a prostrate position to his right, Whittemore identified him as Leo VI the Wise, and two medallions presenting the Mother of God and the Archangel Gabriel, is most unusual-a hapax in Byzantine art, according to Nicolas Oikonomides. and The Mosaics of St. Sophia at Istanbul by Thomas Whittemore, American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 42, No. 2 (Apr. – Jun. 1938), p 220 and file:///C:/Users/aspil/OneDrive/Blog/Byzantium%20Mosaics/Leo%20the%20Wise%20Oikonomides.pdf

Byzantinologists agree that the Hagia Sophia Mosaic over the Imperial Door (Christ and Emperor Leo VI, the Wise) is to be dated to the second half of the ninth century or the beginning of the tenth. There is a disagreement, however, over the meaning of the whole composition, on which Oikononides gives an explanation I find interesting. file:///C:/Users/aspil/OneDrive/Blog/Byzantium%20Mosaics/Leo%20the%20Wise%20Oikonomides.pdf page 154

The Enthroned Christ and Emperor Leo VI the Wise (detail), around the year 920, mosaic decorating the lunette over the Imperial Door in the Narthex of Hagia Sophia, the Great Church of the Byzantine Empire, Istanbul, Turkey

Prof. Nicolas Oikonomides presents, I believe, a very persuasive argument over the meaning of the composition. He stresses the idea of how unique and unusual the theme of an emperor prostrating himself in front of Christ is in Byzantine imperial iconography and questions… Is the depicted Emperor exhibiting extreme humiliation or repentance? Oikonomides is in favor of repentance over humiliation. To support his case, he recalls that the initial meaning of the Greek word μετάνοια is repentance. He also recalls that since early Byzantine times, the same term, μετάνοια. is used by Orthodox Greeks to mean prostration, because prostration was-and still is, an act of penance, a normal way for the Orthodox Greeks to show repentance. He then compares the Emperor depicted in the Hagia Sophia mosaic to famous manuscript illuminations depicting the Repentance of David, the Biblical King, and he concludes that the Hagia Sophia mosaic of an Emperor in a prostrate position shows a repentant emperor. file:///C:/Users/aspil/OneDrive/Blog/Byzantium%20Mosaics/Leo%20the%20Wise%20Oikonomides.pdf Pages 154-158

For a Student Activity, please… Check HERE!

The Hodegetria Plaque

The Hodegetria with St. John the Baptist and St. Basil, Second half of 10th century, Ivory, 16.3×10.5 cm, Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC, USA

In 1939, John Hanson writes, Mildred Bliss brought this plaque, The Hodegetria Plaque, to Princeton for advice from the most important authority on Byzantine ivory carving at the time, Kurt Weitzmann who, with Adolf Goldschmidt, had published the corpus of Byzantine ivories in 1930 and 1934. He later recalled Mrs. Bliss showing him the piece: When I showed my enthusiasm for this entirely unknown ivory I was courteously reprimanded for having made my judgment too quickly—“It would have taken Dr. Goldschmidt a little longer to make up his mind.”

This amazing Ivory Plaque intrigued me… particularly John Hanson’s reference to the Louvre Ivory relief of St. Theodore… Weitzmann succeeded, Hanson writes, in identifying a relief of St. Theodore in the Louvre as one of the wings for the Dumbarton Oaks ivory. Fascinated, I searched the Louvre Byzantine Collection of Ivory carvings and digitally “reunited” the left wing (in the Louvre) of the original triptych, with the Dumbarton Oaks central plaque. Both Ivories show exceptional quality of artisanship – seen in the subtlety of the drapery folds and the noble bearing of the figuressuggesting an aristocratic owner, perhaps even an emperor. and

The left panel of a triptych: Saint Theodore, Second half of 10th century, Ivory, 16.8×13.4 cm, the Louvre, Paris, France  
The Hodegetria with St. John the Baptist and St. Basil, Second half of 10th century, Ivory, 16.3×10.5 cm, Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC, USA

The Louvre Ivory wing presents St. Theodore as a dignified, and bearded mature man, standing tall, facing the viewer. His head is, however, turned to the left, and presented slightly bent. Although St. Theodore is a military saint, is presented, in this case, wearing civilian clothes. I particularly like his coat… fastened on the right shoulder, and beautifully embellished with embroideries like the “tablion” element, noticeably, and centrally placed.

The Dumbarton Oaks ivory group of Panagia Hodegetria with St. John the Baptist and St. Basil is equally impressive! It is an understated, yet majestic Deësis (intercession) scene. St. John the Baptist, and St. Basil, their heads bent and hands pleading, take the role of intercessors…. while the Hodegetria, tall and elegant, rises over them.

Searching for information and answers… I was charmed by the way Hayford Peirce, and Royall Tyler described the Ivory Plaque as possessing… unobtrusive grace, a reconciliation of the extremes of elegance and austerity and suppleness to drapery, by introducing shallow folds between the deep ones. An Ivory of the Xth Century by Hayford Peirce and Royall Tyler, Dumbarton Oaks Papers, Vol. 2, Three Byzantine Works of Art (1941), pp. 11+13-18 (29 pages)

An article titled Two Images of the Virgin in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection by Sirarpie der Nersessian in Dumbarton Oaks Papers, Vol. 14 (1960), pp. 69+71-86 was equally interesting. The author describes the Hodegetria as exhibiting the finest qualities of the sculpture of the tenth century

For a Student Activity on Panagia Hodegetria with St. John the Baptist and St. Basil, please… Check HERE!

Christ Pantocrator in the Byzantine Monastery of Daphni

Christ Pantocrator in the Byzantine Monastery of Daphni… whose great eyes, dark and exorbitant and cast almost furtively over one shoulder, at total variance with His right hand’s serene gesture of blessing and admonition, spell not only pain but fear, anguish and guilt, as though He were in flight from an appalling doom. The only fit setting for such an expression is the Garden of ! Gethsemane; but this is a Christ-God in His glory, the All-Powerful One. It is tremendous, tragic, mysterious and shattering… writes Patrick Leigh Fermor in his travel book Mani. Travels in the Southern Peloponnese of 1958. and

The sight of the Pantocrator image at Daphni is indeed breathtaking, and I particularly like Fermor’s use of adjectives… tremendous, tragic, mysterious, and shattering! Whether Fermor was right or not in his description… whether the Daphni Pantocrator survives today exactly as it was created by the anonymous 11th century Byzantine master… is not easy to answer, but was expertly addressed by Robin Cormack in his 2009 article Rediscovering the Christ Pantocrator at Daphni. Professor Cormack takes his reader on a wonderful journey as he “deciphers” the secrets of this amazing mosaic and the wondrous ways of mosaic restoration. Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 71 (2008), pp. 55-74 (20 pages) Published By: The University of Chicago Press

Visiting the Daphni Monastery has always been a wonderful experience! Built on the slopes of Mount Egaleo in the grove of Haidari, next to the ancient Athenian Ιερά Οδό (Sacred Road) that connected Athens with Eleusis, the site of the eponymous Eleusinian Mysteries, lies the Byzantine Monastery of Daphni. It is only interesting that the Monastery was built on the location of the ancient sanctuary of Apollo Daphnaios, destroyed during the invasion of the Goths in 395 AD. Unfortunately, of the old temple only one Ionic column still remains in the colonnade of the narthex, while the rest were removed by Lord Elgin in the 19th century.

According to the Greek Ministry of Culture (ΟΔΥΣΣΕΥΣ site), the first monastic community at Daphni was organized during the 6th century AD and was enclosed by strong defensive walls, almost square in plan. The catholicon was a three-aisled basilica which stood in the center of the courtyard. Along the inner NE side of the walls, two-storied buildings were constructed, containing the cells of the monks. A reception hall and a second block of cells were attached on the north wall of the enclosure.

What we see today is the 2nd phase of development and construction, dating from the 11th century (around 1080). The Monastery’s Katholikon is a cross-in-square church of the octagonal type, surmounted by a broad and high dome. It has a narthex, formed as an open portico… The exonarthex was constructed a little later, in the early 12th century and the chapel to the west was added in the 18th century… The porch with the three pointed arches in the west facade of the narthex was added in the 13th century by the Frankish monks and certainly points to western influence… The walls of the church are built in the simple cloisonne masonry with poor brick decoration, restricted on the windows… The monastery is protected by a square enclosure fortified with towers and ramparts, with two entrance gates on its east and west sides.

For a Student Activity, please… Check HERE!

For an interesting Video on the Daphni Monastery, please Check…

Silver Flabellum in the Collection of the Dumbarton Oaks

Flabellum, 565 – 578, silver and gilding, 30.9 x 24.77 x 1.91 cm, Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC, USA

flabellum (plural flabella), in Christian liturgical use, is a fan, made of metal, leather, silk, parchment, or feathers, intended to keep away insects from the consecrated Body and Blood of Christ and from the priest, as well as to show honour. The Apostolic Constitutions, a work of the fourth century, state (VIII, 12): “Let two of the deacons, on each side of the altar, hold a fan, made up of thin membranes, or of the feathers of the peacock, or of fine cloth, and let them silently drive away the small animals that fly about, that they may not come near to the cups.”. The 6th century Silver Flabellum in the Collection of the Dumbarton Oaks is not only liturgical but a work of great art as well!

The Bliss-Tyler Correspondence, always fascinating, provides two references to the purchase of the Silver Flabellum/ Rhipidion (in Greek)/Fan of the Dumbarton Oaks Collection by Robert Woods Bliss in 1936, in Paris, France. The first reference is made in a letter dated February 1, 1936…  I’m much excited about your recent acquisitions. Hurrah for the Drey cross! And for the Rhipidion (fan). And I’m prepared to enthuse about the pyx when I see it or a photo. The second reference is dated March 6, 1936… The rhipidion (flabellum) is certainly early VIe cent. The hallmarks make that certain, and the style is perfectly consistent. and

Riha Silver Group, 6th century AD, silver and gilding, Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC, USA

During the turbulent years (7th century) of the Sasanian and then the Arab invasions of Syria, devoted Christians buried a precious collection of liturgical vessels for safekeeping, hoping they will be able to reclaim them when peace would have prevailed. The silver Rhipidion, along with an amazing Paten and a Chalice, all three of them in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection today, were discovered at Riha, a small village south of Aleppo in central Syria. It has been written by Stephen Zwirn of the Dumbarton Oaks, that the Riha Treasure along with silver treasures from nearby Stuma, Hama, and Antioch were discovered at about the same time, and it has been suggested that these hoards actually constituted one large group brought together for protective burial, which was divided into smaller sets after it was unearthed early in the twentieth century. The original owners never came back to retrieve their treasures… and thus, many centuries later, they ended up in different Museums and private collections around the world! and

The Riha chalice, paten, and fan were each impressed, writes Stephen Zwirn, with stamps that indicate the emperor’s reign during which they were made. The chalice was fabricated during the reign of Justinian I (527–65), while the paten and fan belong to the reign of his successor, Justin II (565–78)… They form a set for use in the Orthodox Eucharist, or Communion: the paten held the leavened bread, still a tradition in Orthodox worship, the chalice contained the wine, and the fan was used to keep insects away from the bread and the wine. It has been suggested that they were produced in Constantinople and purchased by Megalos and Nonnous, a couple named in the inscription of the paten, for presentation to a church in Syria soon after 577. and file:///C:/Users/aspil/OneDrive/Blog/Byzantium/Age_of_Spirituality_Late_Antique_and_Early_Christian_Art_Third_to_Seventh_Century.pdf pages 617-18

Flabellum (detail), 565 – 578, silver and gilding, 30.9 x 24.77 x 1.91 cm, Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC, USA

The silver Flabellun/Rhipidion/Fan in the Dumbarton Oaks is engraved with sixteen peacock feathers around its scalloped rim. On its central disk, the 6th-century silversmith, engraved a tetramorph cherubim, the four-winged creature described in Ezekiel 1:4–21. The same tetramorph has been, summarily, engraved on the reverse side as well. The luxury of all liturgical vessels discovered in Syria indicates the splendor of the Early Christian Church Service, and the magnificent silver Rhipidion in particular, the ceremonial status altar fan had during the Orthodox Eucharist or Communion Service. file:///C:/Users/aspil/OneDrive/Blog/Byzantium/Age_of_Spirituality_Late_Antique_and_Early_Christian_Art_Third_to_Seventh_Century.pdf pages 617-18

For a Student Activity inspired by the Silver Flabellum in the Collection of the Dumbarton Oaks, please… Check HERE!