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 is shown receiving Saul’s armor for his battle with Goliath (1 Samuel 17:38). He stands under an arcuated lintel. In late Roman and early Byzantine art, this architectural structure, suggesting a palace, was used to distinguish the emperor and here implies David’s future role as king. The armor is Roman, a metal breastplate over a short tunic. To David’s right is Saul, who wears a chlamys, or cloak, over a short-sleeved tunic, which covers another tunic with embroidered cuffs, a standard feature of Byzantine courtly dress.
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Title:Plate with the Arming of David
Geography:Made in Constantinople
Dimensions:Overall: 10 1/2 x 1 9/16 in., 49.3oz. (26.6 x 4 cm, 1397g) foot: 4 9/16 x 9/16 in. (11.6 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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Kunst-und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. "Byzanz: Pracht und Alltag," February 26–June 13, 2010.
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Ross, Marvin C. Catalogue of the Byzantine and Early Medieval Antiquities in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection: Metalwork, Ceramics, Glass, Glyptics, Painting. Vol. 1. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1962. p. 22.
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Frings, Jutta, ed. Byzanz: Pracht und Alltag. Bonn: Kunst-und Austellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, 2010. no. 65, p. 175.
Evans, Helen C., and Brandie Ratliff, ed. Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition, 7th–9th century. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012. no. 6d, pp. 9, 16–18, 41, 59, 133.
Spier, Jeffrey. Byzantium and the West: Jewelry in the First Millenium. Paris, Chicago and New York: Les Enluminures, 2012. p. 30.
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