From the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Anatolia remains one of the most important territories of the Byzantine Empire during this period. Eastern Anatolia becomes increasingly militarized in the 600s due to Persian and Arab invasions. The Iconoclastic controversy affects all the empire, including this region, until around 850, when Byzantium restors economic prosperity and military security.
During this period, the Armenians and Georgians established themselves as relatively independent Christian states on the empire's eastern frontier. In Anatolia, Byzantine art and architecture flourishes, particularly in the sixth-century cities along the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts—including Ephesus, Sardis, and Aphrodisias—and in the region of Cappadocia, notable for its medieval, rock-cut structures.
The "Antioch Chalice," first half of 6th century
Byzantine; Made in Antioch or Kaper Koraon (?)
Silver, silver–gilt; 7 1/2 x 5 7/8 in. (19 x 15 cm)
The Cloisters Collection, 1950 (50.4)
When it was discovered at the beginning of the twentieth century, this "chalice" was claimed to have been found in Antioch, a city so important to the early Christians that it was recognized with Rome and Alexandria as one of the great sees of the church.
The chalice's plain silver interior bowl was then ambitiously identified as the Holy Grail, the cup used by Christ at the Last Supper. The elaborate footed shell enclosing it was thought to have been made within a century after the death of Christ to encase and honor the Grail. The fruited grapevine forming the rinceau pattern of the gilded shell is inhabited by birds, including an eagle; animals, including a lamb and a rabbit; and twelve human figures holding scrolls and seated in high-backed chairs. Two of the figures are thought to be images of Christ.
The other ten figures have been variously identified as ten of the twelve apostles, or philosophers of the classical age, who, like the prophets of the Old Testament, had foretold the coming of Christ. The sixth-century chronicler Malalas of Antioch was among those who sought to make such links between Christianity and classical philosophy.
Pair of Jeweled Bracelets, 500–700
Byzantine; Probably made in Constantinople
Gold, silver, pearl, amethyst, sapphire, glass, quartz, and emerald plasma; Diam. 3 1/4 in. (8.2 cm)
Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.1670, 1671)
These elaborately decorated bracelets have richly jeweled exteriors and finely detailed opus interassile (openwork) patterns on their interiors. The luminous beauty of pearls was highly prized in the Byzantine world. These bracelets are only two of thirty-four pieces of gold jewelry from Egypt said to have been found near Lycopolis (now Assiut) or Antinoopolis (Antinoe, now Sheik Ibada) in Egypt at the turn of the century.
Whether discovered together, or later assembled, they represent the standard of luxury common among the elite in Egypt during the period of Byzantine rule and the close connections between the wealthy province and the capital in Constantinople. Multicolored, or polychrome, jewelry was very popular in the Early Byzantine world.
Portrait Bust of a Woman with a Scroll, late 4th–early 5th century
Early Byzantine (Eastern Roman Empire)
Marble; H. 20 7/8 in. (53 cm)
The Cloisters Collection, 1966 (66.25)
This superbly carved portrait bust presents a pensive woman with a compelling gaze. She holds a scroll, the symbol of an educated person.
The delicate, sensitive carving and the highly polished finish suggest that it was carved in Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine empire, perhaps as the funerary monument of a leading member of the imperial aristocracy. Her long fingers draw attention to the scroll in her hand, indicating her pride in being recognized as among the educated elite in an era that prized learning for both men and women.
Icon with the Deesis, mid–900s
Byzantine; Probably made in Constantinople
Ivory; 6 1/8 x 5 1/8 in. (15.6 x 13 cm)
Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.133)
In the Deesis, Christ appears in glory between the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist. Traditionally the first witnesses to Christ's divinity, the Virgin and Saint John came to be seen as intercessors with Christ on behalf of humanity.
This plaque was probably the central panel of a triptych, a deluxe portable icon for personal devotion. Later, in western Europe, the panel may have been used as a cover for a gospel book.
Solidus of Justinian I (r. 527–565), 538–565
Byzantine; Minted in Constantinople
Gold; Diam. 3/4 in. (1.9 cm)
Bequest of Joseph H. Durkee, 1898 (99.35.7406)
Coins connected an emperor to his subjects. Through inscriptions and images, they conveyed imperial ideals and commemorated auspicious events. The emperor paid the army and received taxes in coins, and he was responsible for maintaining their weight and purity.
This coin was minted under Justinian, whose preference for a completely frontal portrait—rather than the traditional profile—would set a standard for the rest of Byzantine history.
Caftan, 8th–10th century
Caucasus Mountain regions
Silk, linen, and fur; Coat: H. 56 in. (142.2 cm), W. 60 in. (152.4 cm); Leggings: H. 32 in. (81.3 cm)
Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1996 (1996.78.1)
The original linen coat (caftan), preserved in part from the neck to the bottom of the hem, is made of finely woven linen. A decorative strip of large-patterned silk is sewn along the exterior and interior edges of the caftan. A minute fragment of lambskin preserved as the caftan's interior attests to its fur lining.
The woven patterns on the silk borders of the caftan include motifs such as the rosettes and stylized animal patterns enclosed within beaded roundels, which were widespread in Iranian and Central Asian textiles of the sixth to ninth century.
The colors used in the textile include a now-faded dark blue, yellow, red, and white on a dark brown ground. The decorated silk fabrics are a compound twill weave (samit in modern classification) and the body of the garment is plain-weave linen. Two slits running up the back of the caftan make it particularly suitable as a riding costume.
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