Saints and Other Sacred Byzantine Figures

  • Enkolpion: Cameo of an Archangel (Michael?)
    40.20.58
  • Intaglio Gemstone with Saint Theodore Teron Slaying a Multiheaded Dragon
    1999.325.227
  • Capital with Bust of the Archangel Michael
    1983.167

Essay

The main focus of Byzantine devotion was the Virgin Mary, but certain other sacred figures were prominent in Byzantine spiritual life as well. A very popular religious figure, for example, was Theodore Teron, the warrior saint traditionally represented with a dark pointed beard and either riding a horse or slaying a beast. On the intaglio gemstone illustrated here (1999.325.227), he is shown slaying a multiheaded dragon with a long lance. The composition of this scene is reminiscent of classical renditions of Herakles slaying the Hydra.

The archangel Michael, who appears in Revelation 12:7–9 fighting a dragon, is another popular saint in Byzantine art. Like Theodore, Michael is depicted with warrior attributes and venerated as a military saint. On a capital depicting a bust of Michael (1983.167), he wears the traditional dress of the archangels and carries a trilobed scepter in his right hand and, in his left, an orb with a cross symbolizing the divine cosmos. Whereas this bust is most likely from the interior of a Late Byzantine church, Michael also appears in smaller and secular works of art. For example, an oval cameo of an archangel (40.20.58) is most likely a portrait of Michael. Here he wears full military costume and holds a sword sheath in his left hand and a sword in his right.

Saint Catherine also appears in many works of art from the period. Catherine was beheaded in Rome and then carried to the top of Mount Sinai by angels. Though this scene is depicted in the French Manuscript, The The Belles Heures (54.1.1 on Folio 20), Byzantine art typically does not feature this bodily transportation. Unlike Western depictions of Catherine, in which she is most often seen with a spiked wheel, Byzantine artists chose to show her in imperial vestments and holding a martyr’s cross.

Annie Labatt
Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

October 2004

Citation

Labatt, Annie. “Saints and Other Sacred Byzantine Figures.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/snts/hd_snts.htm (October 2004)

Further Reading

Brown, Peter. Society and the Holy in Late Antiquity. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982.

Farmer, David Hugh. The Oxford Dictionary of Saints. 5th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Hackel, Sergei, ed. The Byzantine Saint: University of Birmingham Fourteenth Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies. London: Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius, 1981.

Kazhdan, Alexander, and Nancy Patterson Sevcenko "Catherine of Alexandria." In The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, edited by Alexander P. Kazhdan. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Kazhdan, Alexander, and Nancy Patterson Sevcenko "Michael." In The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, edited by Alexander P. Kazhdan. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Kazhdan, Alexander, and Nancy Patterson Sevcenko "Theodore Teron." In The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, edited by Alexander P. Kazhdan. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Seiber, Julia. The Urban Saint in Early Byzantine Social History. Oxford: British Archaeological Reports, 1977.

Vassilaki, Maria, ed. The Mother of God: Representations of the Virgin in Byzantine Art. Milan: Skira Editore, 2000.

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