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.
David, brought before Saul, says he is willing to battle Goliath (1 Samuel 17:32–34). Saul is dressed as member of the Byzantine court. His chlamys, or cloak, worn over a long-sleeved tunic, is fastened with a cruciform fibula, or brooch, the sign of a high-ranking state official. The chlamys is adorned with a tablion, a rectangular embroidered panel indicating the wearer’s rank. The man at the far left wears the Persian costume fashionable at court during the early Byzantine period: short tunic with long sleeves, girdle, long trousers, and boots. Here again the arcade suggests a palatial setting.
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Title:Plate with the Presentation of David to Saul
Geography:Made in Constantinople
Dimensions:Overall: 10 11/16 x 1 9/16 in., 49.3oz. (27.2 x 4 cm, 1397g) foot: 4 5/8 x 9/16 in. (11.8 x 1.4 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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