A ceramic plate representing Saint Theodore
Period: Byzantine, 11th - 12th century A.D.
Dimensions: Approx. 14 x 13.5 x 0.9 cm
Gorny & Mosch, Munich, June 22, 2005, lot 520.
Only a slightly diamond-shaped fragment of the plate is preserved. The painting is in good condition and still partially retains its original luster, the face and the
cloak slightly faded.
A rare white ceramic plate painted in yellow, brown and black, and covered with glaze. The image depicts Saint Theodore (?), identifi ed by a Greek fragmentary inscription that reads: O (?) ??? ?C (Hagios Theo(dor)os). This designation applies to many saints bearing the same name. The most famous are Saint Theodore Tiro (the soldier) and Saint Theodore Stratilates (the General), who are however always represented as militaries, which is not the case here.
The figure is preserved from head to chest. The man is bearded and has an abundant, ear-length hair. His nose is straight and long, his small, full mouth is framed by a thick and point-cropped beard. The saint gazes severely and decisively on a point positioned slightly above the observer. He has sunken cheeks and rings under the eyes. He wears an elaborate garment composed of a tunic (?) and of a richly decorated cloak, fastened on the shoulder with a fl oral fi bula. His right arm is raised to the chest. The fragment reveals a portion of the right hand that wears a gold ring (?) on one fi nger. A fragmentary nimbus surrounds the head of the saint.
The production of painted and glazed ceramic plates is attested in the Byzantine Empire and among its Bulgarian neighbors. This production includes geometric, vegetal and animalistic patterns and religious representations such as icons of the Christ, of the Virgin and Child, and of saints seen full face. Four production centers were identifi ed: Constantinople, Thessaloniki, the southern Black Sea and the major center found in Preslav, Bulgaria. The fi rst plate that has been discovered comes from the Preslav center and shows Saint Theodore in a frontal position. Stylistically, it diff ers from our example, which can be related to other specimens found in Constantinople and dated to the 10th-11th century. Although less achieved and less elaborated in the expression of the faces, they remain the closest parallels for our example. These two plates, now housed in the Walters Art Gallery, in Baltimore, feature two saints seen full face, one of whom has been identifi ed as Saint Nicolas.
The Byzantine sources documenting this ceramic technique are still very isolated. Our plate is therefore a signifi cant object in the history of glazed ceramic painting. In fact, the discovery of the Preslav (Bulgaria) works in the 20th century initiated an important discussion on the attribution of the invention of the technique to Byzantine craftsmen. Until then, this technique was attributed to the Islam artisans who made it one of the most beautiful expressions of their culture.
DURAND J., Byzance, l’art byzantin dans les collections publiques françaises, Paris, 1992, nos. 296 and 297.
EVANS H.C., Glory of Byzantium, art and culture of the Middle Byzantine, New York, 1997, pp. 43-44, p. 329-330.
RICE D.T., Byzantine polychrome Pottery, in Cahiers Archéologiques 7, 1954, pp. 84-94.
TOTEV T., L’atelier de céramique peinte du monastère royal de Preslav, in Cahiers Archéologiques 35, 1987, pp. 65-80.