This beautifully carved fragment was once part of the interior architecture of a church, perhaps placed at the top of a tomb niche or altar screen. Archangels were often portrayed, as here, in the ceremonial dress of the Byzantine emperor, the head of Christ's earthly court.
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Title:Capital with Bust of the Archangel Michael
Geography:Made in Constantinople
Dimensions:Overall: 10 x 6 3/4 x 4 3/16 in. (25.4 x 17.1 x 10.6 cm)
Credit Line:Purchase, Gifts of J. Pierpont Morgan, George Blumenthal, and Messrs. Duveen Brothers, by exchange; Bequests of George Blumenthal and Anne D. Thompson, The Collection of Michael Dreicer, Bequest of Michael Dreicer, and Theodore M. Davis Collection, Bequest of Theodore M. Davis, by exchange; Rogers Fund and Mr. and Mrs. Maxime L. Hermanos Gift, 1983
This capital, in the form of a bust-length image of the winged archangel Michael, whose name is inscribed in Greek on its abacus, shows him turning to the right and holding a trilobed scepter, and an orb covered with parallel lines, on which is set a quatrelobed cross. The archangel is dressed in imperial robes, consisting of a divetesion, or tunic, the bodice of which is divided into bands whose raised decoration is meant to represent embroidery, jewels, and pearls, under a himation, or cloak. A wide diadem with a central jewel separates the curls that frame his face and the hair that is pulled straight back toward the halo encircling his head. His blank eyes are deeply set in his round, full face; its surface areas are articulated in a sophisticated manner. It has been suggested that the blank eyes were once painted, as are those of a male head now in the Saint Sophia Museum in Istanbul. A row of acanthus leaves—one survives intact—provided a base for the bust of the archangel.
In the details of the shape of the archangel's face; the design of the hair, diadem, scepter tip, and unusually patterned orb; as well as in the position of the soft full hands, this image is most like a full-length sculpture of the archangel Michael, now in Berlin and said to be from the destroyed Monastery of the Virgin Peribleptos in Constantinople, founded in the early eleventh century. This work has been date variously between the twelfth and the last quarter of the thirteenth century. The designs on the orb held by the present figure, which are without parallel, to my knowledge, except on the example in Germany, support the association of two of the carvings with the same workshop, if not the same monument. The Museum’s bust of the archangel Michael also has been compared to the figures on some late-thirteenth-century and early-fourteenth-century architectural sculpture of similar scale found in Constantinople, especially in the churches of Christ of the Chora (now the Kariye Camii), the Theotokos he Pammakaristos (now part of the Fethiye Camii), and Saint John the Baptist at the Lips Monastery (now part of the Fenari Isa Camii), where they decorated ciborium arches, altar screens, tomb canopies. and freestanding column capitals. The similarities in the scale of the angel and in the use of acanthus leaves on the bases of these monuments argue for a probabe dating of the Metropolitan's archangel to the late thirteenth century.
The sides of the capital are sharply beveled, which indicates that the carving was never freestanding but probably crowned an engaged pilaster or colonnette in a corner inside a church. Related although undecorated capitals are found on engaged colonnettes in two corners in the mid-eleventh-century Church of Nea Mone on the island of Chios. Images of Michael, perhaps accompanied by other archangels, may have been placed similarly in a church in Constantinople (now Istanbul).
Inscription: Inscribed: The rounded triangular abacus under which St. Michael stands is incised with his name: on the left : MHX - on the right: AH. A later hand was scratched weakly into the surface before the M: A (presumably for archangel).
Possibly from the monastery of the Virgin Peribleptos, or All-Seeing (now the Sulumanastir, Istanbul).; [ Robin Symes Limited, London (sold 1983)]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Mirror of the Medieval World," March 9–June 1, 1999.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Byzantium: Faith and Power (1261–1557)," March 23–July 4, 2004.
Metropolitan Museum of Art. Notable Acquisitions, 1983-1984 (Metropolitan Museum of Art) (1984). pp. 13–14.
Parker, Elizabeth C. "Recent Major Acquisitions of Medieval Art by American Museums." Gesta 24, no. 4 (1985). p. 173, fig. 17.
Wixom, William D., ed. Mirror of the Medieval World. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999. no. 108, pp. 92–93.
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). p. 58.
Evans, Helen C., ed. Byzantium: Faith and Power (1261-1557). New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2004. no. 50, pp. 6, 103, 105, 107.
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