Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

Saints and Other Sacred Byzantine Figures

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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 main focus of Byzantine devotion was the Virgin Mary, but certain other sacred figures were prominent in Byzantine spiritual life as well.

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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