The bejeweled woman, holding the measuring tool for the Roman foot, is identified by the restored Greek inscription as Ktisis, a figure personifying the act of generous donation or foundation. The man with a cornucopia, originally one of a pair flanking her, has the Greek inscription “good” by his head, half of a text that probably said, “good wishes.” The fragment, made of marble and glass tesserae (small pieces of colored material), is typical of the exceptional mosaics created throughout the Byzantine world in the 500s. The Metropolitan Museum, after acquiring the two figures independently, has restored them in accordance with a dealer’s photograph showing their original arrangement while in storage before separation.
#2825. Fragment of a Floor Mosaic with a Personifixation of Ktisis
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Title:Fragment of a Floor Mosaic with a Personification of Ktisis
Date:500–550, with modern restoration
Medium:Marble and glass
Dimensions:59 1/2 x 78 5/8 x 1 in. (151.1 x 199.7 x 2.5 cm)
Credit Line:Harris Brisbane Dick Fund and Fletcher Fund, 1998; Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, Dodge Fund, and Rogers Fund, 1999
Accession Number:1998.69; 1999.99
This monumental bust of a richly bejeweled lady who wears large pearls in her ears, a necklace of delicate stones about her throat, and two brooches—one clasping her yellow mantle and another at the tie of her dress—is an example of the exceptional mosaics created throughout the Early Byzantine world in the first half of the sixth century. Both her elaborate diadem and the neckline of her dress are bordered with alternating black and white tesserae meant to suggest pearls. The addition of blue glass to represent sapphires, or "hyacinths," among the red and green glass gemstones on the mosaic is characteristic of sixth-century Byzantine taste. The modeling of the lady's face with small olive-green and beige tesserae highlighted in white and shades of pink and the slightly asymmetrical arrangement of her large, softly staring eyes are typical of Byzantine painting of the period, which survives in the form of icons. Women with similar faces, hairstyles, necklaces, and pearl-bordered diadems carry martyrs' crowns in the early-sixth-century mosaics in the nave at Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna. A mosaic image of the archangel Michael, dated to 549, and in the Church of Sant'Apollinare in Classe, near Ravenna, has the same hair and eyes, as does the mid-sixth-century bust of the "Lady of Rank," thought to be from Constantinople, also in the Museum (The Cloisters Collection, 66.25).
The rod that she holds, the measuring tool for the Roman foot, identifies her as a personification of the abstract concept of "Ktisis," or Foundation, and symbolizes the donation, or foundation, of a building. Personifications of abstract ideas, as developed by the Stoic philosophers, remained popular in the Early Christian era. Images of Ktisis inscribed with her name, and often showing her holding the same measure, survive on the floor mosaics of bathhouses as well as churches throughout the Byzantine Empire, from Antioch and Cyprus to such African sites as Qasr-el-Lebia and Ras-el-Hilal.
[ Georges Lotfi, Lebanon, Paris, & New York (sold 1970s)] [1998.69;1999.99]; Private Collection, Switzerland (1970s–1997) [1998.69]; [ Ward & Company Works of Art (American), New York (from 1997–sold 1998)] [1998.69]; Private Collection, Switzerland (from 1970s–sold 1999) [1999.99]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Mirror of the Medieval World," March 9–June 1, 1999.
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Wixom, William D., ed. Mirror of the Medieval World. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999. no. 38, pp. 32–33.
Soultanian, Jack, and Marika Strohschnieder. "Rejoining Two Sixth Century Byzantine Mosaics." Met Objectives: Treatment and Research Notes 2, no. 1 (Fall 2000).
Eisenberg, Jerome M. "The New Byzantine Galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art." Minerva 12, no. 3 (2001). pp. 24–25, fig. 7.
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). pp. 16–17.
Kalavrezou, Ioli. Byzantine Women and their World. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Art Museums, 2003. pp. 35–36, fig. 6.
Strohschnieder, Marika. Restauro, Zeitschrift für Kunsttechniken, Restaurierung und Museumsfragen (July/August 2004). pp. 312–17, fig. 1–12.
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Barnet, Peter. "Medieval Europe." In Philippe de Montebello and The Metropolitan Museum of Art: 1977–2008, edited by James R. Houghton. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009. p. 25.
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Bolton, Andrew, ed. Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination. Vol. 2. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2018. p. 114.
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