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The Barberini ivory is a leaf from an imperial ivory diptych dating from the first half of the 6th century Byzantine Empire. The leaf depicts a heroic Christian emperor riding his noble steed and crowned victorious. The leaf is broken up into five parts, starting with the upper panel. The first part represents the iconography of "Christ in majesty," depicting a youthful-looking Christ on top of a medallion held up by two winged figures characterized as angels or archangels. Symbols of the sun, moon, and star shown on the medallion give the impression of Christ as ruler or lord of the universe. The panel on the left depicts a male figure, a soldier, wearing military garb captured in movement with one foot in front of the other as he holds a small figurine of the goddess Victory. This only further emphasizes the overall message of triumph as the small figurine extends a laurel wreath towards the leading figure in the center of the leaf. The right side panel of this diptych is clearly unfinished. The central part of this diptych depicts the story's main character as he is protruding more outwardly towards the viewer than the rest of the leaf. The figure represents an emperor after returning victorious from battle as his face relays a calm and confident expression. At the same time, his horse also shows a sense of pride in his powerful stance, which is also seen in many Greco-Roman arts illustrations of horses. There is questioning if the leading figure, but most signs point to Justinian based on the dating of the leaf and style of his facial features and crown, which are reminiscent of the Justinian and his attendants mosaic at San Vitale. The figure hidden behind the man's spear is the potential defeated enemy based on the Phrygian cap he is wearing, a symbol of peoples from Eastern Europe and non-Greek-speakers also regarded as "barbarians." Finally, the female at the bottom of the center panel represents the allegorical figure of Gaea, the personification of the Earth. She holds the emperor's foot and offers fruits as a symbol of prosperity while looking up to him in admiration as though he is a god himself. The bottom panel of the leaf depicts two sets of figures from the Western Roman Empire and two from the East with an angel in between. They are portrayed as being in procession to offer the victorious king what they had and accept Justinian as the emperor of the great Byzantine Empire. The stylization of these figures is very reminiscent of the reliefs on the obelisk of Theodosius the First. There are inscriptions on the very back of the ivory leaf that informs us how the work made it to Western Europe and under the ownership of the Frankish queen Brunhilda during the Merovingian dynasty in the seventh century. The inscriptions include names of Frankish kings and the names of her husband, brothers, and children. The ivory was inscribed with a protective prayer for the family and eventually offered to the church as a votive object.
Ivory, Justinian I, Emperor, Byzantine, Victory, Christ
Unknown, "Barberini Ivory" (550). BYZANTIUM: Trade, Treasure, Tradition. 16.