Art/ Collection/ Art Object
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Ewer of Zenobius

Date:
700s
Culture:
Avar or Byzantine
Medium:
Silver, partial-gilt
Dimensions:
9 1/8 × 5 1/16 in., 20.962 Troy Ounces (23.2 × 12.9 cm, 652g) Other (w/out handle): 8 7/16 in. (21.5 cm)
Classification:
Metalwork-Silver
Credit Line:
Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917
Accession Number:
17.190.1704
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 301
It is unclear whether this ewer, with its Greek inscription, is actually Byzantine. Though five imperial control stamps appear on the bottom, they were in fact not struck but instead engraved to simulate genuine Byzantine stamps. The inscription may have simply been copied by an Avar craftsman from a Byzantine model.

The Avars
The Avars were a nomadic tribe of mounted warriors from the Eurasian steppe. The Byzantine emperor Justinian negotiated with them in the sixth century to protect the Empire’s northern border along the Black Sea. Emboldened by their subjugation of numerous tribes, they unsuccessfully attempted to seize the Empire’s capital, Constantinople. They remained a scourge of both Byzantium and the Western kingdoms until Charlemagne defeated them through a series of campaigns in the 790s and early 800s.

All the money and treasure that the Avars had been years amassing was seized, and no war in which the Franks have ever engaged . . . brought them such riches and such booty. Up to that time the Avars had passed for a poor people, but so much gold and silver was found . . . that one may well think that the Franks took justly from the Avars what the Avars had formerly taken unjustly from other nations.
— Einhard (ca. 770–840), biographer of the Frankish ruler Charlemagne, early 800s

The Vrap Treasure
Tribute payments from the Byzantine Empire and war booty provided the Avars with enormous amounts of gold and silver. Avar goldsmiths created work of exceptionally high quality and were counted among the Avars’ ruling class. This ensemble of objects, all found together in Vrap, in present-day Albania, would seem to attest to the wealth of the Avars. Why this varied group was brought together remains a mystery. Some scholars have suggested that these objects were part of a treasure belonging to an Avar chief; others have speculated that they were the materials of an Avar artist. Others question whether an Avar metalsmith made them at all and assert these objects to be the products of a provincial Byzantine artist.
Inscription: (around lip) Greek uncials equivalent [the voice of the Lord is upon the waters, Pslam XXIX); (on the bottom) equivalent to [Help, Lord, thy servant Zenobius. Amen.]
Found in Vrap, eastern Albania; J. Pierpont Morgan, London and New York (until 1917)
Strzygowski, Josef. Altai-Iran und Völkerwanderung: ziergeschichtliche Untersuchungen über die Eintritt der Wander- und Nordvölker in die Treibhäuser geistigen Lebens, anknüpfend an einen Schatzfund in Albanien. Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1917. no. 12, pp. 19-22, fig. 19, 21.

Rosenberg, Marc. Der Goldschmiede Merkzeichen. Vol. IV. Frankfurt: Frankfurter Verlags Anstalt, 1928. no. 4983, p. 5.

Miner, Dorothy, ed. Early Christian and Byzantine Art: An Exhibition Held at the Baltimore Museum of Art. Baltimore: Walters Art Museum, 1947. no. 415, p. 90, pl. LII.

Rudenko, Sergei Ivanovich. The Culture of the people of Central Altai (Mongolia) during the Scythian period. Moskva: Izd-no Akademii nauk SSSR, 1953.

Rorimer, James J., and William Holmes Forsyth. "The Medieval Galleries." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., 12, no. 6 (February 1954). p. 125.

Dodd, Erica Cruikshank. Byzantine Silver Stamps. Washington: J. J. Augustin, 1961. no. 103, pp. 276-277.

Frazer, Margaret English. "Medieval Church Treasuries." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., 43, no. 3 (Winter 1985-1986). p. 10, fig. 3.

Werner, Joachim. Der Schatzfund von Vrap in Albanien. Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1989. p. 82-83, fig. 11-12.

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. 186, 343, fig. 16.8, 16.9.

Minaeva, Oksana. "On Some Peculiarities of the Shape and Decoration of the Vessels form the Vrap Treasure, Albania." Problemi na izkustvoto 1 (2000-2001). no. 1, p. 13, fig. 2.

Evans, Helen C., Melanie Holcomb, and Robert Hallman. "The Arts of Byzantium." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., 58, no. 4 (Spring 2001). pp. 32-33.

Piguet-Panayotova, Dora. "The Gold and Silver Vessels from the Albanian Treasure in a New Light." Mitteilungen zur spätantiken Archäologie und byzantinischen Kunstgeschichte 3 (2002). pp. 49, 54, fig. 21-22.

"Überlegungen zum Namensmonogramm auf dem byzantinischen Henkelkrug des Awarenschatzes von Vrap." In Ad fontes!: Festschrift für Gerhard Dobesch zum fünfundsechzigsten Geburtstag am 15. September 2004: dargebracht von Kollegen, Schülern und Freunden. Vienna, 2004. pp. 855-858.

McLachlan Elizabeth Parker. "Liturgical Vessels and Implements." In The Liturgy of the Medieval Church, edited by Thomas J. Heffernan, and E. Ann Matter. Consortium for the Teaching of the Middle Ages. Kalamazoo, Michigan: Western Michigan University, 2005. pp. 392-393., fig. 3.

Norris, Michael. Medieval Art: A Resource for Educators. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2005. no. 4, pp. 38-39.

Holcomb, Melanie. "Ugly... but Important: The Albanian Hoard and the Making of the Archaeological Treasure in the Early Twentieth Century." Early Medieval Europe 16, no. 1 (February 2008). pp. 4, 16, fig. 1, 5.

Frings, Jutta, ed. Byzanz: Pracht und Alltag. Bonn: Kunst-und Austellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, 2010. no. 70, p. 177.



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