Barberini ivory

Date: First half of sixth century
Location or Findspot (Modern-Day Country): Turkey
Medium: Ivory
Dimensions: 34.2 × 26.8 × 2.8 cm
Description: This ivory is named for a seventeenth-century owner, Cardinal Francesco Barberini, who received it as a gift. Its five panels date to the first half of the sixth century on stylistic grounds, so the diadem-wearing horseman in the center is usually identified as Emperor Justinian (r. 527–65). With the exception of the topmost panel, the iconography is drawn from the ancient Roman vocabulary of military victory. A female personification in the upper right corner of the central panel originally extended a victory wreath to the horseman, who has pinned a non-Roman man wearing pants and a peaked cap behind him with his spear. The seated female personification under the horse echoes the figure of Earth or Plenty on the Ara Pacis in Rome. The one surviving side panel depicts a military figure who offers a Victory statuette to the triumphant rider. At the bottom, the central winged personification holds a trophy while flanking figures make offerings to the horseman from faraway lands (as on the obelisk base of Theodosius in Constantinople). These offerings including exotic animals and a large elephant tusk. The only explicitly Christian imagery is in the panel at the top, where a clipeus of a beardless Christ is held aloft by angels who resemble the Victory personifications below. This affirms that the triumphant horseman is a Christian ruler whose conquests have been blessed by God.

The panel with the imperial horseman has been carved in high relief from a large tusk. This suggests economic power in addition to military prowess. On the reverse of the ivory is a long list of Latin names that includes kings who ruled in western Europe between 575 and 662. These names of the deceased were read aloud during certain liturgical services. The ivory, likely carved in Constantinople, had therefore reached the area of modern France by the late seventh century.
Relevant Textbook Chapter(s): 3
Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons

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