4.3 (curved) x 0.59 x 0.1 in. (11 x 1.5 x .25 cm)
0.861 oz. (24.4 g)
Bequest of David P. Harris ('46), 2020
Purchased by David P. Harris; purchase date and dealer are unknown.
This artifact forms a U-shape. The front of the “U” has a circle with a cross etched inside. Leaves carved into the band form a wreath that points away from the cross. On each side of the “U”, the band narrows as it moves from the cross. One end forms a bulb and the other flattens and forms a hook. The artifact is made of bronze, likely in a mold with the etchings done later by hand.
The nature of this object—what it is and what it does—is unknown. However, the iconography of the cross surrounded by a wreath is found on several other objects from the time and may provide insight into the spiritual purpose of the object. The cross provides protection from evil. In combination with the wreath, it represents a triumph over death. The cross and wreath iconography frequently appears on grave stelae in Late Antiquity. A stele at the British Museum (no. 1979,1017.24) features the cross and wreath, invoking the power of Jesus Christ dying on the cross. The iconography marks the person in the grave as one who has triumphed over death in hopes that they will be sent to Heaven. This iconography was also common on coins (British Museum, no. 1867,0101.982). As currency, the coin denoted a certain amount of transactional value in the Empire. The protective nature of the cross and wreath acts on and through the coin, protecting the Empire it invokes, the citizens who use it, and the transactions it is involved in.
The exact way in which the cross and wreath act through the artifact is unclear as the precise function of the artifact is unknown. However, generally speaking, the inclusion of this Christian iconography was meant to imbue the artifact with the power of protection over the artifact, the individual, and the artifact’s use, whatever it may be. The cheap material, simple etchings, and small size of the object indicate that it was not incredibly valuable. Despite this, the Byzantines were interested in injecting it with the power and agency of this iconography. Regardless of the importance of the object, the Byzantines put thought into its operation in their lives.
Helen C. Evans, and William D. Wixom, eds., The Glory of Byzantium: Art and Culture of the Middle Byzantine Era, A.D. 843-1261 (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997).
Alexander P. Kazhdan, ed, Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991).
Eunice Dauterman Maguire, Henry Maguire, and Maggie J. Duncan-Flowers, Art and Holy Powers in the Early Christian House (Urbana: Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1989).
James Whitley, “Agency in Greek Art,” in A Companion to Greek Art, eds Tyler Jo Smith and Dimitris Plantzos (Malden, MA: Wiley, 2013), 579–595.
Katherine Lyda ('23) for ARHS 110 Introduction to Western Art (Spring 2021).