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jordan pickett @jordantpickett
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This is one of the most mysterious objects in Byzantine art - the so-called Trier Adventus Ivory, carved from a single elephant tusk somewhere/sometime in later first millennium AD, and today kept in Trier Cathedral Treasury. Let me tell you why it’s cool / much argued about :-D
#1: There’s general agreement that the scene represents an ‘adventus’ or arrival of a saint’s relics — mules draw wagon with two men wearing priesty vestments, carrying a box. They pass under an arched gate (more on that), through street in front 3-storied portico, to group at R
#2: leading the cortege to R is an emperor wearing insignia, diadem and chlamys or cloak secured by jeweled fibula. He meets and hands off a bundle to an empress, identifiable by similar clothing but here with immense pearl borders on chlamys/pendilia hanging from her crown.
#3: she stands in front of a building that is still under construction, to judge from workers clambering all over its roof. It appears to be a church basilica (crosses on top) with apse
#4: observing all this, meanwhile, are ppl hanging out from arches of three-storeyed arcade or portico behind the procession. The architecture may represent a street, the interior of a courtyard, or perhaps even the hippodrome/circus, or a church bldg. all have been suggested.
#5: this is where the trouble starts! Scholars have labored for more than a century to identify the place from the architecture represented, and the date of production based on features of figures’ dress / insignia, not to mention precisely whose relics were being moved/by whom.
#6: one option argued by Suzanne Spain is that place is the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, the ppl an emperor named Heraclius w/ his niece and wife Martina, sometime 630-638, after Holy Cross refovered from Persia. But Holy Sepulcher didn’t look like this, from what we know of it.
#7: another option argued by Kenneth Holum / Gary Vikan is that scene set in Constantinople, and couple is Theodosius II and his sister Pulcheria, greeting relics of St Stephen the first martyr, brought from Jerusalem to Cple between 421-428. This theory has a bit to recommend it
#8: in particular, the gateway at left bears a portrait at top. This seems to be bust format of a very popular icon type of Christ that was named for the gate called Chalke (‘bronze’) in Constantinople, at the end of the city’s main street that led to the palace: Christ Chalkites
#9: this gate to the Great Palace does not survive, but it’s mentioned in lots of texts, and its icon of Christ Chalkites was copied over and over for centuries. Here’s map + recon of gate, and a few copies of icon from Kariye Camii / Russian icon
#10: but here we have problem of chronology: insignia/dress looks good for 5th c date, but the translation of Stephen’s relics by Theodosius and Pulcheria in 421-8 is only described c. 800, and Chalke icon may not have existed before 600/even 800, depending who we believe!!
#11/11: So, ID of ivory’s scene as Theodosius/Pulcheria translating Stephen’s relics into Cple c 421-428 pretty well accepted now as subject matter, but dates still vary on stylistic analysis/details of iconography! Leslie Brubaker recently suggested 9th-10th bc of these problems
#7b or #12, meant to include earlier but phone was dying: this is the passage from historian Theophanes written c. 800 that describes the translation of Stephen's relics to Cple by Theodosius/Pulcheria in 421-428, upon which the commonly-accepted ID for this ivory hangs!!
Good comparison for costumes of imperial figures on ivory comes from coin commemorating marriage of Valentinian III + Licinia Eudoxia, daughter of Theodosius II, in 437 AD. But does similarity in dress between 5th cent coins + ivory give evid for latter’s date? Hmm!! See below.
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