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Enkolpion with Enthroned Virgin, Nativity, Adoration and Baptism

Early Byzantine
last quarter of the 6th century (ca. 583?)
7.2 cm x 6.5 cm (2 13/16 in. x 2 9/16 in.)

On view


Additional Images
Click an image to view a larger version
Additional Image Detail, baptism
Detail, baptism
Additional Image Medallion and chain
Medallion and chain
Additional Image Oblique view
Oblique view
Additional Image obverse
Additional Image Reverse
Additional Image With chain
With chain
Additional Image With chain
With chain

The limited scale of the medallion format did not discourage this artisan from including a wealth of narrative details. The obverse shows the Virgin and Child enthroned between angels, with small representations of the Nativity and the Adoration underneath. The reverse narrates the Baptism of Christ. John places his hand on Christ’s head, as the dove of the Spirit descends and two angels approach with towels. God’s hand appears at the top, the iconic counterpart to the inscription, houtos estin ho huios mou / ho agapitos en ho eudokesa (“This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased,” Matt. 3:17). In the water below, two excited male figures emerge from shells while a third reclines with an urn and waves a reed in amazement. These figures are personifications of the Ior and the Dan (the two sources of the Jordan River) and the sea, recalling a verse in the Psalms that Christians associated with the Baptism, “The sea looked and fled, Jordan turned back” (Ps. 113–114:3).

The dating depends on the fact that this medallion was not cast, as others were, but struck like a coin. In all likelihood, then, it was produced, as all gold coinage was, at the imperial mint in Constantinople. It bears a stylistic resemblance to coins minted by Maurice Tiberius (582–602). The choice of the baptism as the main image on the reverse is unusual and may reflect the celebration of an imperial baptism, such as the baptism of Maurice’s son and heir apparent Theodosios in 583/584.

The medallion came from the collection of the influential Austrian art historian Josef Strzygowski (1862–1941).

- J. Hanson

J. Strzygowski, "Ravenna als Vorort aramaïscher Kunst," Oriens Christianus 5 (1915): 96-104, pl. 1.

———, Altai-Iran und Völkerwanderung: ziergeschichtliche Untersuchungen über den Eintritt der Wander- und Nordvölker in die Treibhäuser geistigen Lebens, anknüpfend an einen Schatzfund in Albanien, Arbeiten des Kunsthistorischen Instituts der K.k. Universität Wien 5 (Leipzig, 1917), 44-45.

E. B. Smith, Early Christian Iconography and a School of Ivory Carvers in Provence, Princeton Monographs in Art and Archæology 6 (Princeton, 1918), 80.

W. F. Volbach, Metallarbeiten des christlichen Kultes in der Spätantike und im frühen Mittelalter, Kataloge des Römisch-Germanisches Central-Museums 9 (Mainz, 1921), 17.

J. Strzygowski, Die altslavische Kunst, ein Versuch ihres Nachweises, Arbeiten des I. Kunsthistorischen Instituts der Universität Wien (Lehrkanzlel Strzygowski) 40 (Augsburg, 1929), 207, fig. 197.

J. Strzygowski, G. Millet, and C. Sénéchal, L'Ancien Art Chrétien de Syrie: son Caractère et son Évolution d'après les Découvertes de Vogüé et de l'Expédition de Princeton: la Façade de Mschatta et le Calice d'Antioche (Paris, 1936), 28, pl. 6.

A. H. S. Megaw, "Early Byzantine Art in Cyprus," Kypriaka Grammata 21 (1956): 171-82, fig. 6.

M. C. Ross, "A Byzantine Gold Medallion at Dumbarton Oaks," Dumbarton Oaks Papers 11 (1957): 247-61.

W. F. Volbach and M. Hirmer, Fruhchristliche Kunst; die Kunst der Spatantike in Westund Ostrom (Munchen, 1958), 92, no. 248.

D. T. Rice and M. Hirmer, The Art of Byzantium (London, 1959), 302.

T. Klauser, "Engel: X (in der Kunst)," Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum 5 (Stuttgart, 1960), 287.

J. Beckwith, The Art of Constantinople; An Introduction to Byzantine Art, 330-1453 (New York, 1961), 58, fig. 60.

P. Grierson, "The Date of the Dumbarton Oaks Epiphany Medallion," Dumbarton Oaks Papers 15 (1961): 221-24.

H. Buschhausen, "Frühchristliches Silberreliquiar aus Isaurien," Jahrbuch der Österreichischen Byzantinischen Gesellschaft 11-12 (1962-63): 137-68, esp. 168, no. 155.

Byzantine Art, an European Art, exhibition catalogue, Zappeion Exhibition Hall, (Athens, 1964), 369, no. 399.

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), 33-35, no. 36, pl. 28,29, colorpl. A.

Handbook of the Byzantine Collection (Washington, D.C., 1967), 51, no. 181.

Karavas ed. A. Stylianou and K. Charmanta, (Karavas, 1969), 89-93; 107-108, no. 15, fig. 33-36.

A. Stylianou and J. Stylianou, Hoi Thesauroi tes Lampouses = The Treasures of Lambousa (Leukosia, 1969), 45-49, fig. 33-34.

J. P. C. Kent and K. S. Painter, Wealth of the Roman World : AD 300-700, exhibition catalogue, British Museum, (London, 1977), 115, no. 192.

K. Weitzmann, Age of Spirituality : Late Antique and Early Christian Art, Third to Seventh Century, ed. K. Weitzmann, exhibition catalogue, Metropolitan Museum of Art, November 19, 1977-February 12, 1978 (New York, 1979), 312-313, no. 287.

H. Karpp, "'Christus, unser Gott' Erwagungen zu den Inschriften und dem Bildprogramm eines byzantinischen Goldmedaillons aus der Zeit um 600," in Studien zur spätantiken und byzantinischen Kunst : Friedrich Wilhelm Deichmann gewidmet, Monographien Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum. Forschungsinstitut für Vor- und Frühgeschichte 10 (Bonn, 1986), 121-36, fig. 39.

E. Neubauer, Die Magier, die Tiere, und der Mantel Mariens : über die Bedeutungsgeschichte weihnachtlicher Motive (Freiburg, 1995), 60, 63.

C. Metzger, "Des trésors d'orfèvrerie cachés dans les ruines," Le monde de la bible 112 (1998): 51-56, esp. 56.

G. Bühl, ed., Dumbarton Oaks: The Collections (Washington, D.C., 2008), 84, pl. p. 85.

R. Cormack, M. Vasilaki, and B. Mouseio, Byzantium, 330-1453, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy of Arts, London, October 25, 2008 - March 22, 2009, (London: New York, 2008), 92-93, 387, no. 38.1-2.

I. Kalavrezou, "Light and the Precious Object, or Value in the Eyes of the Byzantines," in The Construction of Value in the Ancient World, ed. J.K. Papadopoulos and G. Urton (Los Angeles, 2012), xxviii, 612 p., [24] p. of color plates, fig. 17.5.

Exhibition History
Athens, Zappeion Exhibition Hall, "Byzantine Art an European Art, Ninth Exhibition held under the Auspices of the Council of Europe," April 1 - June 15, 1964.

London, The British Museum, "Wealth of the Roman World A.D. 300-700," March 25 - Oct. 3, 1977.

New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, "Age of Spirituality: Late Antique and Early Christian Art, Third to Seventh Century," Nov. 19, 1977 - Feb. 12, 1978.

Washington, DC, Freer Gallery of Art & the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, “Ancient and Medieval Metalwork from Dumbarton Oaks,” Dec. 16, 2005 – April 1, 2007.

Acquisition History
Collection of Josef Strzygowski, Vienna, Austria.

Purchased from Walter Strzygowski by Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC, October 1955.

Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Byzantine Collection, Washington, DC.