In 628–29 the Byzantine emperor Herakleios (r. 610–41) successfully ended a long, costly war with Persia and regained Jerusalem, Egypt, and other Byzantine territory. Silver stamps dating to 613–29/30 on the reverse of these masterpieces place their manufacture in Herakleios’s reign. The biblical figures on the plates wear the costume of the early Byzantine court, suggesting to the viewer that, like Saul and David, the Byzantine emperor was a ruler chosen by God. Elaborate dishes used for display at banquets were common in the late Roman and early Byzantine world; generally decorated with classical themes, these objects conveyed wealth, social status, and learning. This set of silver plates may be the earliest surviving example of the use of biblical scenes for such displays. Their intended arrangement may have closely followed the biblical order of the events, and their display may have conformed to the shape of a Christogram, or monogram for the name of Christ.
In order to prove that he can kill Goliath, David describes to Saul how he killed a lion (1 Samuel 17:34–37). The accomplished naturalism of David’s flowing cape and the lion’s fur and mane demonstrates a conscious reference to and continuity of the traditions of Greco-Roman art.
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Title:Plate with David Slaying a Lion
Geography:Made in Constantinople
Dimensions:Overall: 5 1/2 x 15/16 in., 13.7oz. (13.9 x 2.4 cm, 389g) foot: 2 9/16 x 3/8 in. (6.5 x 0.9 cm)
Credit Line:Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917
Cyprus Treasure, found at Karavas, Cyprus, 1902
; [ C. & E. Canessa, Paris (sold 1906)]; J. Pierpont Morgan (American), London and New York (1906–1913); Estate of J. Pierpont Morgan(1913–1917)
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Los Angeles County Museum of Art. "The Middle Ages: Treasures from The Cloisters and The Metropolitan Museum of Art," January 18, 1970–March 29, 1970.
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Ostoia, Vera K. The Middle Ages: Treasures from the Cloisters and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1969. no. 22, pp. 54–5, 253–4.
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Evans, Helen C., and Brandie Ratliff, ed. Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition, 7th–9th century. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012.
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