Length: 428.000 mm
Width: 143.000 mm
Thickness: 9.000 mm
Britain, Europe and Prehistory
M&ME OA 9999
Ivory panel showing an archangel
Byzantine, about AD 525–550
From Constantinople (modern Istanbul, Turkey)
An ivory leaf from a Byzantine diptych
This exceptionally beautiful leaf is the largest surviving Byzantine ivory panel. It depicts an archangel poised at the top of a flight of steps. He holds a staff in his left hand and a large orb in his right, surmounted by a jewelled cross. His wings and body overlap fluted columns with composite capitals and an arch richly decorated with acanthus leaves. A scallop shell niche below the arch contains a ribboned wreath around a cross. The size of the panel is so great that it exceeded the width of the tusk from which it was carved, resulting in angled corners on the left-hand side.
The Greek inscription at the top may be translated as: ‘Receive the suppliant before you, despite his sinfulness’. The magnificence of the panel suggests it was carved in Constantinople, perhaps as an imperial commission. The style of carving relates to other diptychs carved in the AD 520s, and the leaf may have been associated with the accession of the Byzantine emperor Justinian I in AD 527. If this was the case, the angel may have been presenting the orb to the emperor, who could have been depicted on the panel that originally formed the other half of the diptych.
D. Buckton (ed.), Byzantium: treasures of Byzant (London, The British Museum Press, 1994)
A. Cutler, 'The making of the Justinian diptychs', Byzantion, 54 (1984), pp. 75-115
S. Marzinzik, Masterpieces: Early medieval a (London, British Museum Press, 2013)