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Roundel with Emperor John II Comnenus

ca. 1110 - 1118
90 cm x 90 cm x 7.5 cm (35 7/16 in. x 35 7/16 in. x 2 15/16 in.)

On view


Additional Images
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Additional Image Detail, head and chest
Detail, head and chest
Additional Image Detail, proper left side showing insert
Detail, proper left side showing insert
Additional Image Detail, torso
Detail, torso
Additional Image Reverse

A half life-sized Byzantine emperor stands on a decorated suppedion before a background of radiating quatrefoils and directly faces the viewer. The vividly decorated ground echoes the gemstones that spangle the several layers of the imperial costume: a sagion (cape), bound at the right shoulder with a simple fibula, over a divitesion (tunic) and a loros (the gemmed scarf wrapped around the emperor’s torso. Imperial attributes symbolize the emperor's power and leadership: in his right hand the emperor holds a labarum, a staff with a square finial; in his left hand he holds an ornate globus cruciger with, in this instance, a leaved patriarchal cross. His head is crowned with a wide, jeweled band decorated with a large central plaque.

Large-scale figurative relief sculpture in Byzantium is rare. Compared to the ubiquitous presence of statues of emperors in classical antiquity, the production of imperial statues came to a standstill in the Byzantine medieval period. The marble for this relief is a horizontal slab that was cut from the top of a column shaft of unusually large diameter. The roundel therefore is a reused architectural element of an ancient monument of considerable size.

The emperor roundel has a counterpart in Venice, set into a wall above and between doors of a small court known as Campiello de Ca’ Angaran. Since the Dumbarton Oaks roundel was in the Veneto until the mid-nineteenth century, it has been assumed that the two almost identical representations of middle Byzantine emperors were once part of the same ensemble.

Who are the two emperors? Imperial regalia—especially the shape and style of the crown and the loros—are well documented for emperors in the late eleventh and twelfth centuries. It has been suggested that these two emperors are Alexios I and John II, father and son, who reigned jointly between 1092 and 1118. Though it is tempting to assume that the two roundels were taken by the Latins from Constantinople to Venice in 1204, the possibility that only one of the two originated in the imperial capital and was copied by a Venetian craftsman--to create a decorative pair--has not been entirely ruled out.

- G. Bühl

H. Peirce and R. Tyler, "A Marble Emperor Roundel of the XIIth Century," Dumbarton Oaks Papers 2 (1941): 1-9, esp. 3ff., pl. 1, 18, 20.

The Art Quarterly (Autumn, 1941), esp. 333.

The Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection of Harvard University, Handbook of the Collection (Washington, D.C., 1946), 25, no. 42, fig. p. 36.

The Dumbarton Oaks Collection, Harvard University (Washington, D.C., 1955), 19, no. 49, fig. p. 34.

C. Diehl, Byzantium: Greatness and Decline, Rutgers Byzantine series (New Brunswick, N.J., 1957), fig. p. 31.

Handbook of the Byzantine Collection (Washington, D.C., 1967), 8, no. 27.

G.-H. Zuchold, "Byzanz in Berlin: der Klosterhof im Schlosspark Glienicke," Berliner Forum 4 (1984): 1-86, esp. 24, fig. p. 27.

A. Cameron, "The Construction of Court Ritual: The Byzantine Book of Ceremonies," in Rituals of Royalty: Power and Ceremonial in Traditional Societies, eds. D. Cannadine and S.R.F. Price (Cambridge, New York, 1987), 106-36, fig. 19.

G.-H. Zuchold, Der "Klosterhof" des Prinzen Karl von Preussen im Park von Schloss Glienicke in Berlin, Bauwerke und Kunstdenkmäler von Berlin 20-21 (Berlin, 1993), no. 22.

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), 104-108, no. 40, pl. 40a-c.

H. C. Evans and W. D. Wixom, The Glory of Byzantium: Art and Culture of the Middle Byzantine Era, A.D. 843-1261, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, March 11-July 6, 1997 (New York, 1997), 200-201, no. 137.

H. Belting, Likeness and Presence: A History of the Image before the Era of Art (Chicago, 1994), 102, fig. 52.

T. F. Mathews, Byzantium: from Antiquity to the Renaissance, Perspectives (New York, 1998) 38-38, fig. 23.

M. Hendy, Catalogue of the Byzantine Coins in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection and in the Whittemore Collection, Vol. 4, Pt. 1, Alexius I to Michael VIII, 1081-1261(Washington, D.C., 1999), 143-50.

D. Eugenidou and J. Albani, Byzantium: an Oecumenical Empire, exh. cat., Byzantine and Christian Museum, October 2001-January 2002 (Athens, 2002). (not in exhibtion)

H.-J. Kotzur, ed., The Crusades/Die Kreuzzuge: Kein Krieg ist heilig (Mainz 2004).

G. Bühl, ed., Dumbarton Oaks: The Collections (Washington, D.C., 2008), 166, pl. p. 167.

D. D. Hill, History of World Costume and Fashion (Upper Saddle River, N.J., 2011), 124, fig. 6-5.

K. L. Marsengill, Portraits and Icons: Between Reality and Spirituality in Byzantine Art, Byzantios; Studies in Byzantine History and Civilization (Turnhout, Belgium, 2013), 388, fig. 70.

B. Anderson, Cosmos and Community in Early Medieval Art (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017), 48, fig. 19

Exhibition History
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, "The Glory of Byzantium: Art and Culture of the Middle Byzantine Era, A.D. 843 -1261," March 11 - July 6, 1997.

Acquisition History
Acquired by Prince Karl Friedrich Alexander of Prussia, before 1860.

Collection of Prince Karl, Klosterhof, Schloss Glienicke, Potsdam.

Collection of Prince Friedrich Leopold of Prussia.

Purchased from H. Fiedler (dealer), Lugano, Switzerland, by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, October 1937.

Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, D.C., October 1937-November 1940.

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

Cross | Crowns | Emperor | Orbs | Quatrefoils | Scepters