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Busts of Two Emperors

late 3rd century - early 4th century
3.5 cm x 4.3 cm (1 3/8 in. x 1 11/16 in.)
chalcedony on gold

On view


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Roman portraiture is sufficiently stylized that it is not always clear who is depicted. The soft, round faces and sleepy, up-turned eyes of these two figures are part of the general facial style of the late empire, especially the third and early fourth centuries, (see, for example the faces of the winged season figures on the Seasons Sarcophagus, early fourth century, BZ. 1936.65). The relative rank of these two figures is a little clearer, given that one is bearded and stands in front of the other. These are probably two co-emperors from the Tetrarchy, a system inaugurated by Diocletian in 293 CE, by which he divided the increasingly unwieldy empire in half geographically, and set each half under the rule of two co-emperors, a senior with the rank of “Augustus”, and a junior with the rank of “Caesar”.

In public monuments depicting the four rulers, sculptors strove to erase the differences among the four rulers, in order to convey the official optimistic view that the tetrarchs ruled as one. Throughout Roman and Byzantine art, however, luxury objects made for the eyes of the elite of the palace, often relaxed the official standards of propaganda. Here, then, the two co-rulers are shown as individuals, with the evidence of their hierarchy.

The gem is cut from a larger work, which might have shown all four tetrarchs. Researchers favor the identification of these as Diocletian and Galerius, who jointly ruled the Eastern half of the Empire from 293 to 305. In this case, the two Western tetrarchs on the missing section would have been Maximian and Constantius Chlorus.

- J. Hanson

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), 94, no. 438.

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

The Dumbarton Oaks Collection, Harvard University (Washington, D.C., 1955), 98, no. 210, pl. p. 101.

G. M. A. Richter, Catalogue of Greek and Roman Antiquities in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection, Dumbarton Oaks Catalogues (Cambridge, 1956), 15-19, no. 11, pl. 4A, B, C.

F. Pavini-Rosati, Enciclopedia dell'arte antica, classica e orientale (Roma, 1961), 922, fig. 1099.

Handbook of the Byzantine Collection (Washington, D.C., 1967), 94, no. 323, pl. 323.

H. G. Niemeyer, "Studien zur statuarischen Darstellung der römischen Kaiser," Monumenta Artis Romanae 7 (1968), esp. 88.

W. von Sydow, Zur Kunstgeschichte des spätantiken Porträts im 4. Jahrhundert n. Chr, Antiquitas. Reihe 3, Abhandlungen zur Vor- und Frühgeschichte, zur klassischen und provinzial-römischen Archäologie und zur Geschichte des Altertums 8 (Bonn, 1969), 145, n. 64.

G. M. A. Richter, Engraved Gems of the Romans; a Supplement to the History of Roman Art, The Engraved Gems of the Greeks, Etruscans, and Romans 2 (London, 1971), 120ff., no. 594, ill.

R. Calza, Iconografia romana imperiale. Da Carausio a Giuliano (287-363 d.C.), Quaderni e guide di archeologia 3 (Roma, 1972), 117, n. 24, 128f, n. 38, pl. 14, fig. 39.

J. A. Black, A History of Jewels (London, 1974).

E. A. Heiniger, J. Heiniger, and E. J. Gübelin, The Great Book of Jewels (Boston, 1974), fig. p. 162.

V. Poulsen, Les portraits romains, vol. 2 de Vespasien à la basse-antiquité, Publications de la Glyptothèque Ny Carlsberg 8, trans. H. Laurent-Lund (Copenhagen, 1974), 31-32.

K. Weitzmann, ed., Age of Spirituality: Late Antique and Early Christian Art, Third to Seventh Century, exhibition catalogue, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, November 19, 1977-February 12, 1978 (New York, 1979), 11-12, no. 4.

D. Korol, Jahrbuch des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts. Ergänzungsheft 94 (1979), esp. 642, n. 64.

J. D. Breckenridge, "Three Portrait Gems," Gesta 18.1 (1979): 7-18.

Zeugnisse spätantiken und frühchristlichen Lebens im römischen Reich: Beiträge von Studierenden der Frühchristlichen Archäologie zu Beständen des Archäologischen Museums der Westfälischen Wilhelms-Universität Münster, ed. S. Hodak, D. Korol and P. Maser, Veröffentlichungen des Archäologischen Museums der Westfälischen Wilhelms-Universität Münster 2 (Oberhausen, 2005), 25-334, pl. 4, 5, 7.

Konstantin der Grosse: Imperator Caesar Flavius Constantinus, ed. A. Demandt and J. Engemann, exhibition catalogue, Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Bischöfliches Dom- und Diözesanmuseum, Städtisches Museum, Trier, June 2-November 4, 2007 (Trier, Mainz am Rhein, 2007), pl. p. 160, CD ROM Cat. 1.4.21.

W.-R. Megow, "Spätantike Herrscherkameen. Beobachtungen zum konstantinischen Klassizismus," Jahreshefte des Österreichischen Archäologischen Institutes in Wien 80 (2011): 167-241, esp. 201, fig. 23.

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

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

Trier, Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Bischöflisches Dom- und Diözesanmuseum, and Stadtmuseum Simeonstift, "Konstantin der Grosse, Imperator Caesar Flavius Constantinus," June 2 - Nov. 4, 2007.

Acquisition History
Collection of Wilhelm Froehner, Paris.

Purchased by Joseph Brummer (dealer) from Aldo Jandolo, November 16, 1943;

Purchased from Joseph Brummer, (dealer), Paris, by Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C., August, 1947. Brummer Inventory Number N5765

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