Embassy to Tamerlane: 1403-1406: Volume 7 (Broadway Travellers)

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In Byzantium, however, the future be- longed to the incised metal ring. Byzantium's contribution to the development of finger rings was two-fold: first, her craftsmen systematically exploited the incised metal bezel for effects hitherto achieved primarily in hardstone; and second, they developed a repertoire of bezel devices heav- ily weighted toward inscriptions, in contrast to Rome's preference for figurative com- positions. In addition, of course, the early Byzantine period marked the transition from pagan to Christian iconography in every context, including rings.

Byzantine inscriptional metal rings usually take one of two forms. There are a wealth of those which, like hardstone signets, bear the incised monogram of the wearer fig.

Although specimens are known from the entire Byzantine millenium, they tend to cluster in the period before Iconoclasm A. Interestingly, they show a marked preference for the cross monogram design as opposed to the block, Since the cross monogram developed out of the block monogram beginning in the sixth century, this design distinction suggests a chronological development in early Byzantium from incised stone toward incised metal.

The second popular form of Byzantine inscriptional ring is that incised with a short prayer invoking the help of the deity for the wearer figs.

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Although occasional specimens are known from early Byzantium, the genre saw its flowering in the middle Byzantine period tenth through twelfth centuries. The typical formula begins with "Lord, help Inexpensive bronze rings usually add only a proper name or the anonymous identifica- tion "wearer. By contrast, more expensive gold rings often include the self-deprecating qualifier "your servant," and give the wearer's name and title fig.

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Developed out of Roman prototypes and popular from the fourth to seventh centuries, Byzantine "marriage rings" could take several forms. The husband and wife might face one another en buste or they may appear frontally, to either side of a cross. Two compo- sitional formulae, however, specifically record segments of the wedding ceremony it- self. In one fig. Byzantium popularized a figurative bezel type both in hardstone and metal for which there was no precise antecedent in the Greco-Roman world: the icon.

In essence, ring carvers simply transferred to sealing bezels famous icon types developed in other, more hospitable media. For example, one of the most revered holy images in Constan- tinople was the Virgin Hodegetria, named after the Hodegon Monastery where it was kept. Said to have been painted by St. Luke himself, this famous icon depicted the Blessed Virgin with the Christ Child on her left arm; an eleventh-century manuscript miniature in Jerusalem graphically records one artist's conception of how this famous panel may have been painted fig. Surprisingly, it was only a few decades after Empress Eudocia t imported the famous Hodegetria to Constantinople that local craftsmen began to produce tiny replicas of it on the bezels of metal rings fig.

Yet, Byzantine ring carvers did not limit themselves to simple, single-figure iconic types. At times they condensed onto tiny bezels multi-figured narrative episodes from the life of Christ or the Blessed Virgin.

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Certainly the most impressive specimen among this small group is a gold ring in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection fig. On its l. Associated with the festival day of the Virgin's dormition, August 15th, it shows Christ standing behind His motber's bier, receiving her infant-like soul and passing it toward attendant Of course every Byzantine ring, no matter how humble, served as a piece of personal adornment.

Moreover, a substantial majority of all surviving specimens were incised for purposes of sealing; most, like the Koimesis ring in figure 41, were cut in mirror reversal to achieve a proper impression. There are, however, rings whose bezels were too superficially cut for sealing, as well as those inlaid with niello or enamel; obviously, these rings fulfilled basically different functions. Some "non-sealing" Byzantine rings served as tiny reliquaries. For example, Macrina t , sister of St. And One of the finest examples of this genre is a sixth or seventh-century silver ring in the Menil Foundation Collection fig.

The intaglio ring was certainly the most frequently-encountered sealing implement in Byzantine daily life. Yet it had a sibling, the cone seal, whose design was basically different but whose impressed sealing could be identical. That he chose not to mention the sealing of documents and correspondence implies that a second, stationary device ex- isted for those puposes--very likely a small cone-shaped stamp to be kept with the Athos fig.

And indeed, a wealth of such "cone seals" have survived from Byzantium.

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Second in popularity only to the signet ring, the Byzantine cone or pyramid seal is its functional twin-that is, the sealing impression made by a cone can be indistinguish- able from that of a ring. In one case the intaglio device has been cut into a bezel affixed to a hoop, while in the other, it has been incised on the bezel-like base of a small cone or pyramid with a tiny loop at its apex for suspension fig.

Both types of sealing implement survive in a variety of stones and in a range of metals; moreover, each can function simultaneously as seal and as a piece of personal ornamentone fit over the finger and the other hung around the neck. Surprisingly, the Byzantine cone seal seems to have had no direct antecedent in west- ern Roman society. It represents instead an absorption and adaptation, in Byzantine Anatolia, of a characteristically Persian sealing implement, traceable from Achaemenid through Sassanian times.

Especially "eastern" in material and design is the small sur- In general, they evidence Later, in mid-Byzantine times, steatite was the preferred medium for stone seals; moreover, there was a geHeral decline in the size of the implements and in the technical quality with which they were cut. Nevertheless, occasional mid-Byzantine cone and pyramid seals in semi-precious stone do survive, and some, like a bloodstone St. Theodore in the Menil Foundation Collection, betray an unusually high level of glyptic skills fig.

Such pieces, together with a handful of contemporary hardstone bezels and intaglio amulets, prove that the technique of high-quality gem carving never totally died out in Byzantium. The preferred medium for cone seals in early Byzantium was stone; by contrast, middle-, late-, and post-Byzantine specimens are usually made of metal. The sealing faces of these later implements may be square, circular or cusped; their profiles that of a pyramid, cone or hemisphere. Nearly every example has a suspension loop set off by a protruding ring or "neck" fig.

Because of their generally later date, metal cone seals rarely show monogrammatic devices. Instead, they follow contemporary rings and betray a marked preference for short invocational prayers, such as that appearing in figure "Lord, help Petronas. Mid-Byzantine cone seals depart slightly from contemporary rings, however, in their partiality for icono- Yet, nothing speaks more strongly for the basic fraternity of rings and cones than specimens of the latter implement which are fit with hardstone "ring signets. Very close in design to the famous gold ring of "Basil Parakimomenus" fig.



Certainly, most of the rings and cone seals surviving from Byzantium were made for pri- vate use. Only occasional specimens,like the signet key ring of Panaretos fig. To that select group should probably be added an expertly- carved. Datable to the late ninth or early tenth century, this highly unusual stamp shows a nimbed emperor in full imperial regalia; it probably was used by some state bureaucrat acting on the emperor's behalf. The sealing implerp. And although practically no sealings from implements such as these have survived from Byzantium, at least one contempo- rary text describes their probable makeup.

Or take the example of a signet ring engraved with the imperial image, and let it be impressed upon wax, pitch, and clay. The impression is one and the same in several materials which, however, are different with respect to each other; yet it would not have remained identical unless it were entirely unconnected with the materials.. The same applies to the likeness of Christ irrespective of the material upon which it is represented Thus, its value as a 'lock' was severely lhnited.

From Roman times, however, "seal boxes" were used to overcome this inherent shortcoming. Into the sides of the capsule are cut a pair of channels to accomodate the two ends j! Although the Roman seal box was effective in extending the 'locking' capacity of mal- leable sealings, it was not very convenient, especially for securing documents.

Thus, Byzantium developed a series of closely-interrelated implements for the easy production of two-sided seatings with incorporated cords. Two variant bi-valve types belong to the One, the "clamshell seal," is made of bronze and con- sists of a pair of hinged, shell-like discs with intaglio devices on their inner faces and a suspension loop above fig. The other, called the "disc seal," is usually made of steatite and has its two devices carved into the opposite faces of a single disc fig. Both of these sealing hnplements are characteristically but not exclusively middle Byzantine in date, steatite spechnens being quite rare.

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Not surprisingly, both discs and clamshells gravitate toward the same repertoire of seaiing devices as contemporary rings, including monograms, invocations, icons, and narrative scenes. An unusually fine disc seal in the Malcove Collection shows a rider saint with banrter on one side, and the Presentation in the Temple on the other fig.

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Although carved into a surface less than one-half inch across, the latter scene includes five distinct figures, and at its bottom center, a cloth-draped altar. Clamshell seals are more common and gen- erally less finely incised than discs. Peter and into the other a closely comparable portrait of St. Paul fig. Like rings and cones, bi-valves were iiSed in both the pri- Moreover, the hnperial wax VI, suggesting, of course, that not one but two sides were impressed with seals--very possibly by a clamshell bi-valve.

This was accomplish- ed with lead fig. John and with a sturdy iron sealing implement called a bullo- terion fig. In essence, a bulloterion is nothing more than a clamshell It was first necessary to cast a lead sealing "blank" fig. A cord would then be threaded through its hollow channel and the disc positioned between the two opposing dies. In size and design a completed lead sealing is a virtual twin to one struck in wax with a clamshell bi-valve cf.