Icons—images of sacred figures or scenes—were venerated as representations of faith and piety in orthodox Christianity. Although they were believed to possess great spiritual power, some icons had to be protected because of their holiness and because they might be made of fragile materials. This silver-gilt frame with its additions of enamel medallions and rock crystal cabochons physically protected the icon it held, while at the same time emphasizing the icon’s importance, and adding aesthetic and worldly value to the icon’s inherent religious status.
The frame is formed of gilded silver over a wooden core. Eight slightly convex cloisonné enamel medallions on gold are separated by clusters of rock crystals. Each medallion has a bust identified by an inscription. Across the top are Christ, in the center, with cross halo and Gospel book, flanked by the Mother of God (her usual title in Orthodox Christianity) to his right and John the Forerunner (the standard Orthodox title for John the Baptist) to his left. These three figures form a group known as the Deesis (meaning ‘Entreaty’), because Mary and John were considered the most effective intercessors for humankind with Christ. The Deesis suggests the personal character the frame had, along with the original icon, for the owner’s private devotions.
The enamel medallions on the sides are archangels, each holding a staff and an orb marked with a cross, Michael on the left, Gabriel on the right; while across the bottom, from left to right, are St. Peter, St. Elijah (the prophet), and St. Paul.
The quality of the cloisonné medallions is very high and can be associated with workshops that produced enamels for the imperial household.
- S. Zwirn
Exposition internationale d'art Byzantin, exhibition catalogue, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Palais du Louvre, 28 May-9 July, 1931 (Paris, 1931), no. 508.
The Dumbarton Oaks Collection, Harvard University (Washington, D.C., 1955), 139, no. 274, pl. p. 144.
M. C. Ross, Catalogue of the Byzantine and Early Mediaeval Antiquities in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection, vol. 2 Jewelry, Enamels, and Art of the Migration Period (Washington, D.C., 1965, 2nd ed. with addendum by S.A. Boyd and S. R. Zwirn, 2005), 105-106, no. 154, pl. 69, 70.
Handbook of the Byzantine Collection (Washington, D.C., 1967), 71, no. 255, pl. 255.
K. Wessel, Die byzantinische Emailkunst vom 5. bis 13. Jahrhundert, Beiträge zur Kunst des christlichen Ostens 4 (Recklinghausen, 1967, Byzantine Enamels from the 5th to the 13th Century, trans. Irene R. Gibbons, Greenwich, Conn., New York Graphic Society, 1967), no. 41.
S. M. Arensberg, A Mid-Byzantine Icon Frame in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection (unpublished seminar report, Johns Hopkins University, Apr. 17, 1980).
Paris, Musee des Arts Décoratifs, "Exposition de l'Art Byzantin," May 28 - July 9, 1931.
Springfield, MO, Harwood Gallery, Drury College, Nov. 12 - Dec. 19, 1975.
Collection of Alphonse Kann, Saint Germain-en-Laye.
Purchased from Rosenberg and Stiebel, Inc., (dealer) New York, by Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C., January 1950.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Byzantine Collection, Washington, D.C.