Plate with David's Confrontation with Eliab


On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 301

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.

While the theme of the set of plates is clear, the subject of each individual plate is sometimes difficult to determine. The scene here has been identified as showing David’s eldest brother, Eliab, accusing David of neglecting his duty as a shepherd to watch the battle with Goliath (1 Samuel 17:28–30). It may also portray Goliath’s challenge to David (1 Samuel 17:41–45) or David’s meeting with the Egyptian soldier (1 Samuel 30:11–15).

Plate with David's Confrontation with Eliab, Silver, Byzantine

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