Byzantine Amethyst Cameo of Christ Pantokrator
Period: 11th-12th century A.D.
Dimensions: H: 2.96 - L: 2.29 cm - Depth: 1.31 cm
Ex-Bela Hein collection, Paris, acquired in Moscow in 1927.
This striking cameo is carved from a very pure amethyst stone, convex on the back and carved in high relief on the front. The edges are beveled so as to facilitate the setting of the piece; the borders show minor break offs. The surface is lightly frosted. Small chips are visible on the nose and forehead area, otherwise the work is very well preserved.
Christ Pantokrator is represented in half-length and full-face, his head slightly turned to the left. He wears a tunic and a cloak that covers his arm, and a side of which hides his right shoulder. He holds the Book in his veiled left hand, and raises the right hand in sign of blessing. A cruciform nimbus surrounds his head. The hair is parted in the middle and frames a short, bushy beard. His face is an elongated oval, divided by the straight ridge of the nose. The eyes are almond-shaped, without pupils. The shoulders are narrow and sloping; the body and face elongated. In the frame, on both sides of the shoulders, Greek characters are engraved: I (…)C X(…)C (Jesus Christ). This remarkable gem is closely linked to the sapphire cameo of St. John the Baptist housed in the Louvre (MS 91). This piece, donated by Comte de Berry to the Treasure of St. Denis, was placed on Napoleon’s crown in 1804. The elongated figure, the median line parting the hair, as well as the treatment of the eyes and beard are very similar. This cameo is attributed to the Constantinople workshops because of the precious material and very fine treatment. Similarly elongated figure and face, sloping shoulders and the eyes without pupils can also be seen on cameos attributed to the 12th century, such as the one of St. Nicolas, in saphirine (Louvre Museum, MR 84) or another one of St. Nicolas, made of agate, kept at the Moscow Museum.
The representation of Christ Pantokrator on a precious stone cameo is very rare. A small group dated to this period was preserved, including a beautiful sapphire cameo, now in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection. The position of Christ is traditional, according to the model followed by our cameo. The surface of the stone; however, is less worn and reveals the fine details accentuated by the brightness of the stone. Yet, this cameo is stylistically differentiated and was attributed to the workshops of the capital city but with 10th century dating. This continuity of models throughout the centuries is not surprising to Byzantine art and more specifically to glyptic art. The practice of this minor art, very popular among Romans, continued during the early Byzantine centuries. It completely ceases in the East between the 7th and 10th century, following the Arab invasions. While stone cutting disappeared from the Levant, the Western Carolingian workshopsresumed this specialty, finding and adapting different techniques of working rock crystal, that had vanished from the West after the fall of the Roman Empire. Byzantium rediscovered an appreciation for glyptic after the iconoclastic crisis, yet exclusively favoring religious subjects showing Christ, the Virgin and the saints in either half or full-length. However, the choice of the stones remained less diversified than during the first centuries and focused mainly on jasper, which was softer and easier to work, whilst amethyst and sapphire were luxury stones used for the most prestigious objects.
ROSS M., Catalogue of the Byzantine and Early Mediaeval Antiquities in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection, vol. I, Washington, 1962, n. 120, pl. LVIII, pp. 99-120.
DURANT J., Byzance. L’art byzantin dans les collections publiques françaises, Exhibition catalogue of the Louvre Museum, November 1992 – February 1993,
p. 287, n. 201-202.
BABELON E., Catalogue des camées antiques et modernes de la Bilbiothèque Nationale de Paris, 1897, n. 342.
EICHLER F., KRIS E., Dier Kameen im Kunsthistorisches Museum, Wien, 1927, n. 129, pl. 20.
DE MÉLY, F., «Le trésor de la sacristie des patriarches de Moscou», in Fondation Eugène Piot. Monuments et Mémoires publiés par l’Académie des inscriptions
et belles-lettres, n. XII, 1905, p. 208, pl XV, 3.