Gold Sandwich-Glass Vase at the Canellopoulos Museum

Bottom of a Gold Sandwich-Glass Vase with representation of a Christian Martyr, Mid-4th century AD, Diam. 4,9 cm., Canellopoulo Museum, Athens, Greece

The Gold Sandwich-Glass Vase at the Canellopoulos Museum in Athens is a truly rare and precious exhibit. Also referred to as Verre Églomisé, Gold Sandwich-Glass is a decorative technique with a rich history dating back to antiquity, used to craft stunning and opulent objects. The example on display at the Canellopoulos Museum stands as a unique treasure in Greece, inviting keen exploration and admiration!

Displayed at the Canellopoulos Museum in Athens, Greece, this remarkable piece is organized within a tondo, defined by concentric rings, and embellished with gold leaf in the space between the innermost pair. The composition takes on a triangular form, exhibiting simplicity, stability, and balance. Positioned at the very center of the tondo is a male figure, devoid of a beard but adorned with a luminous halo. In his lowered right hand, he clasps a palm branch, a Christian symbol of victory over death, while his left hand extends upward in a gesture of acclamation. The figure, portrayed in a strikingly naturalistic manner, stands upright and is flanked by laurel bushes on either side. The combination of brown hues and gold against a background of transparent glass creates an aethereal, and delicate composition, suitable for a religious shallow bowl (phiale).

According to Constantine Scampavias, the Canellopoulos Museum expert… Although the piece is not inscribed, the halo and the palm branch (as well as the two bushes if they are laurels) identify the figure as a Christian martyr. Perhaps it is the martyr Gereon, whose cult was widespread in the Rhineland and particularly in Cologne, where this bowl was possibly made.

The Gold Sandwich-Glass technique was particularly popular throughout the Roman Empire during the 4th century AD. Images in this technique were etched in gold leaf and then, the leaf was fused between two layers of glass… like a sandwich! Items of Gold Glass were usually created into circular bottoms of luxurious drinking vessels since the Hellenistic period. A popular practice for the Romans of the later period, was to cut out the Gold Glass decorated roundel of a cup and cemented it to the wall of a catacomb Grave to serve as a grave marker for the small recesses where bodies were buried. In Rome, where this practice was particularly popular, archaeologists discovered over 500 pieces of Gold Glass used in this way. Decoration themes for Gold Sandwich-Glass items vary from pagan mythology and portraits to purely Jewish or Christian imagery. Chapter 13 Making Late Antique Gold Glass by Daniel Thomas Howells, pp.112-120

For a PowerPoint on 10 artifacts of Gold Sandwich-Grass, please… Check HERE!

A Teacher Curator POST, on another famous Gold Sandwich-Glass roundel, titled Portrait Medallion of Gennadios

A wonderful Video on the Gold Sandwich-Glass making technique created by the Corning Museum of Glass

Pectoral with Coins and Pseudo-Medallion

Pectoral with Coins and Pseudo-Medallion, ca. 539–50, Gold, niello, 23.9 x 21.9 x 1.6 cm, the MET, NY, USA

Neck rings, such as the imposing gold Pectoral with Coins and Pseudo-Medallion in the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, are cited in early sources as playing a role both in the glorification of military heroes and in coronation ceremonies. They were popular during the Late Roman period and continued well into the Early Byzantine era. Also known as Byzantine Imperial Collars or Byzantine Imperial Torcs, ornate necklaces like the MET example, were worn by members of the Byzantine imperial family and high-ranking officials during the Byzantine Empire (330-1453 AD). These neck rings were made of gold and decorated with medallions, coins, and intricate designs, often featuring Christian symbols.

The Metropolitan Museum pectoral necklace is composed of a plain, hollow neck ring attached to a frame set with a large central medallion flanked by coins, and two small decorative disks. The central medallion, encased by beaded wire, presents an unidentified Emperor in military attire on the obverse, and the enthroned personification of Constantinople on the reverse. Fourteen coins of Byzantine Emperors reigning during the fifth to the sixth centuries, are placed symmetrically, left, and right of the central medallion. The coins are surrounded by beaded wire as well. Crosses in niello, an interesting reference to Christianity, decorate the two small disks on either side of the medallion. The space between the coins and the medallion is filled with small rosettes and larger trefoils. The two ribbed rings at the pectoral’s lower edge once held a large medallion of the emperor Theodosius I (in the Collection of the Freer Gallery of Art). and Age of Spirituality: Late Antique and Early Christian Art, page 318-319

Pectoral with Coins and Pseudo-Medallion (detail), ca. 539–50, Gold, niello, 23.9 x 21.9 x 1.6 cm, the MET, NY, USA
Medallion, consisting of a coin of Theodosius I (A.D. 379-395) set in an ornamental frame, 6th century, Gold, Diam: 0.5 cm, Freer Gallery of Art, Washington DC, USA   

This amazing necklace was part of a hoard of thirty-four pieces of gold jewelry said to have been found at the turn of the twentieth century, possibly at ancient Lycopolis (modern Assiut) or Antinoöpolis (modern Sheikh Ibada), both in central Egypt. The circumstances of the hoard’s discovery remain obscure as the treasure was illegally excavated. The high quality of each piece links the treasure jewels to the imperial workshops in Constantinople. The hoard is now divided among the Metropolitan Museum; the British Museum, London; the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; and the Staatliche Museen-Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin. Whether the pieces were indeed discovered together or were assembled from different sites, they represent the standard of luxury among the elite in Egypt under Byzantine rule and attest to the close connection between the wealthy province and the capital Constantinople. “The Arts of Byzantium”: The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, v. 58, no. 4 (Spring, 2001), Page 19 and “Into the hands of a well-known antiquary of Cairo”: The Assiut Treasure and the Making of an Archaeological Hoard by Elizabeth Dospěl Williams, West 86th: A Journal of Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture, Vol. 21, No. 2 (Fall-Winter 2014), pp. 251-272

The Byzantine Imperial Neck Rings were not just a fashion accessory, they were a symbol of power and authority. The imperial family, for example, wore them on important occasions, such as coronations, to demonstrate their wealth and status. Members of the Byzantine military elite, on the other hand, wore them as trophies of their military distinction. According to Procopius, soldiers were rewarded with money, and honoured with precious necklaces or bracelets. It is interesting to note that during the Early Byzantine period, men and women wore such necklaces alike. Age of Spirituality: Late Antique and Early Christian Art, Third to Seventh Century, edited by Kurt Weitzmann, 1979, page 318-319

For a PowerPoint on the so-called Assiut Treasure, please… Check HERE!

The Monument of Episkopi on Sikinos

The Monument of Episkopi on Sikinos, one of the smallest Cycladic islands, is a Roman mausoleum dating back to the 3rd century. Because of its conversion to a Byzantine church, it was continuously used and has therefore survived nearly intact. Its ancient structure, combined with interventions from several historical periods, offers an incomparable palimpsest of archaeological periods that is rarely preserved in ancient monuments. Severely affected by destructive earthquakes and human interventions throughout the centuries, the monument was abandoned in the 20th century. The Ephorate of Antiquities of the Cyclades decided to restore the building in 2016. In 2022 the monument, fully restored and fully studied by the scientific personnel of the Cyclades Ephorate of Antiquities, reopened to the public.

How can we introduce the Island of Sikinos? Sikinos is a tiny and rocky island with few permanent inhabitants, located in the Cyclades, between the islands of Ios and Folegandros. It has an area of approximately 42 square kilometers and a population of around 300 people. It is a quiet and peaceful island with a traditional way of life. The main village, called Chora, is built on a hill and has narrow streets, white-washed houses, and stunning views of the Aegean Sea. Other villages on the island include Alopronia, a small fishing village with a sandy beach, and Episkopi, where the historic Episkopi Church is located.

Is the Island of Sikinos related to any Greek Myth? According to Greek Mythology, the island of Sikinos is named after the son of Thoas, King of Lemnos, and son of God Dionysos and Princess Ariadne. Ypsipyli, Thoa’s daughter, trying to save her father from the Lemnian women who were killing the male inhabitants of the island, hid him in a wooden box and threw him into the sea. The waves of the sea led Thoa’s box to the island of Oinoe, where the king married the nymph Niida, who gave birth to a boy called Sikinos. It was Thoa’s son and grandson of Dionysos and Ariadne, who gave his name to the island during his reign.

The History of the Island: The island has a long and fascinating history, dating back to ancient times when the island was known for its vineyards and wine production. The island was also known as an important religious center, with a temple dedicated to Apollo the Pythian located on the island’s highest peak. Sikinos’s history parallels that of the other Cyclades islands, passing from Roman to Byzantine rule, and then falling to the Venetians and the Ottomans.

In the 13th century AD, Sikinos was conquered by the Venetians, who built a fortress on the island to protect it from pirates and other invaders. During this time, the island became an important center for trade and commerce, and its wine was exported throughout the Mediterranean. In the 16th century, Sikinos was occupied by the Ottoman Turks, who ruled the island for nearly 300 years. During this time, the island’s population declined, and many Sikinians migrated to other parts of Greece and to other countries. In the early 19th century, Sikinos became part of the newly formed Greek state, and the island began to experience a period of growth and prosperity. The island’s vineyards were revived, and Sikinos once again became an important center for wine production.

Which is the most important monument on the Island of Sikinos? Undauntedly Episkopi, or the monument of the Diocese of Sikinos. According to Dr Dimitrios Athanasoulis, Director of the Ephorate of Antiquities of the Cyclades… The monument of the Diocese of Sikinos, one of the smaller islands of the Cyclades, was, originally, a Roman period mausoleum, built during the 3rd century AD. The mausoleum became a Byzantine church, and subsequently, an important landmark of cultural heritage for the island community throughout the centuries.

What new archaeological information did the restoration of Episkopi bring to light? The archaeological research that took place during the restoration of the monument, Dr Dimitrios Athanasoulis said, enriched our knowledge of the funerary monuments of the Roman period in the Eastern Mediterranean region, as well as of Byzantine church building in the Cyclades. During the restoration work of Episkopi, valuable evidence of the past was revealed, such as inscriptions and fragments of Roman and Byzantine frescoes, for the preservation of which a microclimate monitoring system was installed. The most important find was the hermetically sealed, undisturbed burial of a woman of the upper class, named “Neiko”, with findings that betrayed superstitions and necrophobic notions.

Why was the monument of Episkopi on Sikinos bestowed the Europa Nostra Award in 2022? The monument of Episkopi is a cultural landmark and a source of pride for this small island community. Building materials were reused as much as possible and new masonry was incorporated using locally collected stones. The combination of architectural elements of a Roman mausoleum in a Byzantine church forms a unique monument that is simply striking… emphasized by the Awards’ Jury.

For a Student Activity, please, Check… HERE!

Madre della Consolazione

Madre della Consolazione,15th century, tempera on wood, 0.563×0.45 m, Canellopoulos Museum, Athens, Greece

Given this state of affairs and stepping out as though on the royal highway, following as we are the God-spoken teaching of our holy fathers and the tradition of the catholic church – for we recognize that this tradition comes from the Holy Spirit who dwells in her – we decree with full precision and care that, like the figure of the honoured and life-giving cross, the revered and holy images, whether painted or made of mosaic or of other suitable material, are to be exposed in the holy churches of God, on sacred instruments and vestments, on walls and panels, in houses and by public ways, these are the images of our Lord, God and saviour, Jesus Christ, and of our Lady without blemish, the holy God-bearer, and of the revered angels and of any of the saintly holy men. This is how the Council of Nicaea II, in 787 AD described the Restoration of the Holy Icons. The Madre della Consolazione Icon in the Canellopoulos Museum of our Lady without blemish, and the infant God and saviour, Jesus Christ, is a wonderful example of this declaration…

Paul and Alexandra Canellopoulos Museum in Athens has an important collection of Byzantine and post-Byzantine artworks dating from the formative years of the Byzantine era (4th-7th century AD) to the post-Byzantine and Modern periods (1453-1821). The Museum’s collection includes paintings, miniatures, gold and silverwork, wood carvings, and embroidery, as well as jewelry, coins, mosaics, wall paintings, and Patriarchal documents spanning from the 18th and the 19th centuries to the flourishing icon-painting workshops of Mount Athos. Worth noting is that the artwork in the Collection reveals diverse cultural influences that make up the breadth of Byzantine art, resulting in exceptional elegance and originality.

Going through the Museum’s Collection of Icons I was impressed by the represented high-quality examples of Constantinopolitan, Macedonian, and Cretan styles of Byzantine painting. Particularly impressive is the group of Icons that represents the Post-Byzantine Cretan School. According to the Museum’s experts… almost all the great hagiographers of the Cretan School from the years after the Fall of Constantinople are represented in the Museum, including Nicolaos Tzafouris, Michael Damaskenos, Emmanuel Lambardos, Frangias Kavertzas, Ieremias Palladas, Victor, and Emmanuel Tzanes.

I was immediately drawn to a 15th-century Icon presenting the Madre della Consolazione. How couldn’t I, when the Eastern Byzantine representational style, harmoniously met and adapted to the novel ideas of the ‘Maniera Greca’ style of 15th century Venice. An added bonus to the overall impression of this remarkable Icon is its Baroque wood-carved frame. High-relief open-work decoration of scrolling leaves and fruits, a ribbon passing between them, and five angels, almost sculpted in the round, create an impression of added opulence, and luxury.

The Canellopoulos Museum Icon is a typical example of an ‘Italo-Cretan’ style ‘Madre della Consolazione’ composition. It depicts the Virgin Mary in the ‘bust’ format, against the traditional Byzantine gold background, holding the infant Jesus on her right arm. Mary is depicted with a serene expression, gazing, with slanted eyes, at the child she affectionately holds. The infant Jesus presents the gold globus cruciger of the world with his left hand, and blesses the viewer with his right.

Inspired by the Byzantine tradition, Mary wears a red maphorion trimmed with elaborate gold embroidery of pseudo-Kufic motifs on its edge and carries the three gold stars (only two are visible), which symbolize chastity, on her forehead and her shoulders. The infant Christ, on the other hand, placed on the right side of the composition, is dressed in a white chiton, a deep blue ‘chemise’ of a Western type, embroidered richly in gold, and an orange himation with gold Byzantine striations.

Superbly crafted, and refined in execution, the Madre della Consolazione composition aims to convey a sense of comfort, solace, and maternal love. The overall mood of the Canellopoulos Museum Icon is one of sweet tenderness and compassion.

For a Student Activity, please… Check HERE!

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)