• Byzantine Tales

A wonderful Byzantine cameo in the Dumbarton Oaks collection.

Check the original article here on the Dumbarton oaks website.

This mesmerizing Byzantine cameo belong to the Dumbarton Oaks collection. According to the description om The site, we read that one of these was mounted on Napoleon‘s crown. How fascinating it is to learn that Byzantium is hidden in eras a nd places where no one expects it!

Among the roughly two hundred surviving Byzantine cameos, those carved from sapphire are the rarest. There are no more than a handful, including the Dumbarton Oaks cameo, and another in the Louvre, which was mounted in Napoleon’s crown after the treasury of the Abbey Saint-Denis was plundered during the French Revolution. Because so many carved gems were removed from their original contexts, and because so few can be securely dated from inscriptions, scholars rely on stylistic analysis to date them. In this case, Christ’s narrow head, slightly furrowed forehead, sloping shoulders, and almond-shaped eyes without irises are all features shared by other cameos dated to the twelfth century.
The practice of engraving gems, fashionable in antiquity for portraits, declined during the early Christian period, possibly because of changing attitudes toward personal adornment. Ancient cameos continued to circulate, however, and provided a basis for the revival of the art form in Byzantium from the tenth century on. At this time, carvers tended to favor iconic images of Christ, the Mother of God, or the saints. This image depicts Christ in a strict frontal pose, holding a Gospel book in his left hand, and raising his right hand in a Trinitarian gesture of blessing, a type known as Christ the Pantokrator, or Ruler of All. The epithet appeared in the Apocalypse, (e.g. Rev. 11:15-17; the English translation is usually “almighty” or “omnipotent”) and came to be contrasted with the Devil’s title of Kosmokrator (Ruler of the World). The image of the Pantokrator occurs frequently in monumental contexts in the twelfth century, such as the apex of domes in churches. This cameo was probably worn as a pendant to protect the wearer.
J. Hanson


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