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Fragment of Chancel Barrier with Holy Sepulcher

Early Byzantine
late 6th century - 7th century
68.5 cm x 57 cm x 2.5 cm (26 15/16 in. x 22 7/16 in. x 1 in.)

On view


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The unusual shape of this marble relief is the result of cutting along the roof line contour of the building seen on one of its sides. This was considered to be the more important side, in that the neck and handles of the amphora on the other side were cut away. The faceted building with columns can in fact be identified as the tomb of Christ, known from many representations in other media. The rectangular opening represents the entry into the tomb, while the irregular diamond shape below is interpreted as the stone that was moved away to open the tomb (Matthew 28:2; Mark 16:4; Luke 24:2; John 20:1).

The large vessel on the other side is an elegant amphora. This type of utilitarian jar was used for storing and transporting wine in the ancient and Byzantine worlds. In an ecclesiastical setting, the wine in such an ornate vessel would take on the liturgical symbolism of Christ’s blood. This allusion to the Eucharistic blood sacrifice of Christ by wine could be understood to balance the relief on the other side with its allusion to the corporeal sacrifice of Christ’s body.

The panel was probably part of a chancel parapet in an early Byzantine church, separating either the bema or altar area from the congregation’s space or, in a baptistery, separating the baptismal pool from the surrounding aisle. In either of these positions, the panel would have been seen by different participants in the religious ceremonies at the same time.

The pronounced, round-edged carving and smooth surface of the marble relate the relief to other marble carving of northern Palestine and Syria in the sixth and seventh centuries.

- S. Zwirn

The Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection of Harvard University, Handbook of the Collection (Washington, D.C., 1946), 20, no. 14.

P. Underwood, "The Fountain of Life in Manuscripts of the Gospels," Dumbarton Oaks Papers 5 (1950): 41-138, esp. 91-93, fig. 39-40.

The Dumbarton Oaks Collection, Harvard University (Washington, D.C., 1955), 18, no. 47.

V. H. Elbern, "Der eucharistische Kelch im frühen Mittelalter," Zeitschrift für Kunstwissenschaft 17 (1963, repr. Berlin, 1964): 1-76, 117-88, esp. 158, fig. 109, 110.

———, Der eucharistische Kelch im frühen Mittelalter (Berlin, 1964), 120 n. 120, fig. 109-110.

L. Kötzsche-Breitenbruch, "Das Heilige Grab in Jerusalem und seine Nachfolge," in Akten des XII. Internationalen Kongresses fur christliche Archaölogie: Bonn, 22.-28. September 1991 (=Jahrbuch für Antike und Christentum, Ergänzungsband 20), ed. E. Dassmann and J. Engemann (Munster, Città del Vaticano, 1995), esp. 275, pl. 28d.

G. Vikan, Catalogue of the Sculpture in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection from the Ptolemaic Period to the Renaissance, Dumbarton Oaks Catalogues (Washington, D.C., 1995), 82-86, no. 34.

M. Biddle, The Tomb of Christ (Gloucestershire, England, 1999), 26, fig. 24.

A. Kirin, J. N. Carder, and R. S. Nelson, Sacred Art, Secular Context : Objects of Art from the Byzantine Collection of Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C., Accompanied by American Paintings from the Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, ed. A. Kirin, exhibition catalogue, Georgia Museum of Art, (Athens, Ga., 2005), 112, no. 56.

G. Bühl, ed., Dumbarton Oaks: The Collections (Washington, D.C., 2008), 116, pl. p. 117.

S. Curcic, E. Hadjitryphonos, K. E. McVey, and H. Saradi, Architecture as Icon: Perception and Representation of Architecture in Byzantine Art, exhibition catalogue, Princeton University Art Museum, March 6 - June 7, 2010, (Princeton, N.J.: New Haven, 2010), 328-329, no. 73.

T. Rainer, Das Buch und die vier Ecken der Welt: von der Hülle der Thorarolle zum Deckel des Evangeliencodex, Spätantike, frühes Christentum, Byzanz. Reihe B, Studien und Perspektiven (Wiesbaden, 2011), pl. XXXVII, fig. 214.

Kaiser und Kalifen: Karl der Grosse und die Mächte am Mittelmeer um 800 (Darmstadt, 2014), 37, fig. 29.

M. Vicelja-Matijasic, "Sanctified Topos to Iconic and Symbolic Model: Two Early Representations of the Holy Sepulchre in Croatia," in Visual Constructs of Jerusalem, ed. B. Kühnel, G. Noga-Banai and H. Vorholt (2014), esp. 115, fig. 11.5.

J. Bogdanovic, The Framing of Sacred Space: The Canopy and the Byzantine Church, Oxford University Press (2017), fig. 5.5.

Exhibition History
Washington, DC, Dumbarton Oaks, "Selections of Sculpture from the Early Byzantine Period," Nov. 1995 - Aug. 1996.

Athens, GA, Georgia Museum of Art, “Sacred Art, Secular Context: Objects of Art from the Byzantine Collection of Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C., Accompanied by American Paintings from the Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss,” May 15 – November 6, 2005.

Acquisition History
Collection of Mildred Barnes and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, DC, 1938-November 1940;

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

Columns | Conical | Cross | Fluted | Rectangular | Tholos | Trilobed