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Archangel Michael

Middle Byzantine
11th century
28.8 cm x 2.5 cm (11 5/16 in. x 1 in.)

On view


Additional Images
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Additional Image Detail of head and torso
Detail of head and torso
Additional Image Obverse

Middle Byzantine patens are extremely rare. Among the handful that have survived, most are in comparatively base materials, such as copper. The inscription on this one is a passage from the administration of the bread in the Liturgy of St. Basil (c. 329-379), where he combines Christ’s injunction at the Last supper, “Take, eat, this is my body which is broken for you…” with the gloss added by Paul in the first letter to the Corinthians, “…for the forgiveness of sins.” There are a few irregularities in the spelling which reflect changes in pronunciation from classical to medieval Greek. Spelling had been fixed in the classical period, but in the middle ages, copyists and scribes sometimes used vowels which more closely matched contemporary pronunciation. This engraver, for example, used itacisms, i.e. renderings which reflect the voicing of the Greek letter H (eta) as an iota: “ee-ta” rather than “ay-ta”. [perhaps we should omit this point as long as we cannot demonstrate it through Greek letters via Unicode?]

According to Pseudo-Dionysios the Areopagite (fl. c. 500?), the heavens were inhabited by a hierarchy of superhuman beings organized into three strata. The highest stratum contained the seraphim, cherubim (see BZ.1963.23), and thrones; the middle stratum the dominions, hosts, and powers (see BZ.1947.21); and the lowest the principalities, archangels and angels. In imagery, the archangels, among whom Michael was the most prominent, were distinguished from regular angels by imperial regalia. Michael here wears the loros, a long jeweled scarf wrapped around his body, and holds in his left hand an orb surmounted by a cross, and in his right the labarum, a standard associated with Constantine I, the first Christian Roman emperor, all imperial attributes associated with world dominion.

- S. Zwirn

M. C. Ross, Catalogue of the Byzantine and Early Mediaeval Antiquities in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection, Vol. 1, Metalwork, Ceramics, Glass, Glyptics, Painting (Washington, D.C., 1962), 74, no. 90, pl. 49.

Handbook of the Byzantine Collection (Washington, D.C., 1967), 38, no. 139, pl. 139.

A. Ödekan, M. H. Seyhun, and T. M. P. Duggan, "The Remnants": 12th and 13th Centuries, Byzantine Objects in Turkey, exhibition catalogue, Yıldız Hall of the Istanbul Archaeological Museums, June 26th - October 31st, 2007, (Istanbul, 2007).

Acquisition History
Purchased from George Zacos, (dealer), Istanbul, by Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C., September, 1958.

Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Byzantine Collection, Washington, D.C.