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Ring of Michael Attaleiates

before 1080
3 cm (1 3/16 in.)
enamel on gold

On view


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This historically important ring belonged to the jurist Michael Attaleiates (ca. 1020–after 1085). A judge, author of a well-known legal textbook, senator, and historian, he was given the honorific title of proedros. He also endowed religious institutions and participated in the cosmopolitan circles of the intelligentsia in Constantinople.

The bezel or face of the ring displays the bust of the Virgin flanked by the abbreviation “Mother of God," while the hoop has the inscription “Bearer of God, help thy servant Michael Attaleiates." Mother of God and Bearer of God (Theotokos) were the two most widely used epithets for the Virgin in Byzantium after the end of Iconoclasm in the ninth century. Byzantine rings bearing the name of their owners are rare, and a ring connected with so eminent a citizen is extremely rare. It may have been an official award rather than a personal commission and is thus an exceptional document as well as testimony to the inextricable connections between social status, religious ideology, and aesthetic sensibility of works of art made during the Byzantine Empire.

The ring is also noteworthy because it is not executed in the cloisonné technique, the usual technique of enameling in Byzantium. Instead, it is in the champlevé technique, associated with western European production during the Middle Ages. In this technique, the enamel fills a cavity that is carved away or depressed into the supporting background with raised lines, integral to the background, left to define the image. The champlevé technique was capable of bravura details such as the drapery folds crisscrossing the Virgin’s figure and the abbreviations that flank her head. The figure style and the Greek inscription indicate that this technique had been fully mastered by a Byzantine artist.

- S. Zwirn

Exposition internationale d'art Byzantin, exhibition catalogue, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Palais du Louvre, 28 May-9 July, 1931 (Paris, 1931), 147, no. 503.

Walters Art Gallery, Early Christian and Byzantine Art, ed. D.E. Miner, exhibition catalogue, Baltimore Museum of Art, April 25-June 22, 1947(Baltimore, 1947), 106, no. 512.

"Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection--Aquisitions December 1, 1946-November 1, 1947," Bulletin of the Fogg Museum of Art 10.6 (1947): 219-39, esp. 235.

M. C. Ross, Jewelry, Enamels, and Art of the Migration Period, Catalogue of the Byzantine and Early Mediaeval Antiquities in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection 2 (Washington, D.C., 1965, 2nd ed. with addendum by S.A. Boyd and S. R. Zwirn, 2005), 107, no. 156, pl. 72, colorpl. E.

Handbook of the Byzantine Collection (Washington, D.C., 1967), 71-72, no. 256.

L. A. Neville, Authority in Byzantine Provincial Society, 950-1100 (Cambridge and New York, 2004), 75, fig. 3.

G. Bühl, ed., Dumbarton Oaks: The Collections (Washington, D.C., 2008), 152, pl. p. 153.

A. Bosselmann-Ruickbie, Byzantinischer Schmuck des 9. bis frühen 13. Jahrhunderts: Untersuchungen zum metallenen dekorativen Körperschmuck der mittelbyzantinischen Zeit anhand datierter Funde, Spätantike, frühes Christentum, Byzanz: Kunst im ersten Jahrtausend. Reihe B: Studien und Perspektiven (Wiesbaden, 2011), 381, fig. 67.

D. Krallis, Michael Attaleiates and the Politics of Imperial Decline in Eleventh-Century Byzantium, Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies (Tempe, Arizona, 2012).

Exhibition History
Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, "Exposition d'art byzantin," May 28 - July 9 1931.

Baltimore, Baltimore Museum of Art, "Early Christian and Byzantine Art," April 25 - June 22, 1947.

Acquisition History
Purchased from Joseph Brummer (dealer) by Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC, August 15, 1947.

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