Because the figure is dressed in imperial garb--including the loros wrapped around his body and a crown with pendilia, he is most likely the royal St. Constantine. Along with his mother St. Helena, also dressed in royal robes, these saints were often shown flanking a representation of the True Cross. Here, Constantine occupies the left wing of a triptych, indicated both by the direction of his gesture and the tilt of the head, as well as the rounded contour of the right edge of this plaque and the dowel holes in the right side of the top and bottom of the frame, allowing it to open and close. He was, in all likelihood, balanced on the right wing of the triptych by an image of St. Helena, who, in mediaeval tradition, had traveled to Jerusalem and discovered the True Cross. The exterior of the panel has a tall, slender cross balanced atop a complex podium containing a sequence of a trapezoidal, a circular, and a stepped section.
Constantine I, the Great, was the emperor who, through the Edict of Milan in 313, had extended toleration to Chrisitianity and promoted the worship of Christ through the many churches he had built in Rome and the Holy Land. His decision to move the empire's capital city from Rome to Byzantium, renamed Constantinopolls, had a profound and long-lasting effect on the cultural, religious, and political character of the medieval Roman Empire (known as the Byzantine Empire). It is perhaps for this reason that the saint's features resemble those of emperor's of the early and mid-10th century, about the time this ivory was carved. If the identity of the emperor was specificaly Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos, the resemblance creates a complex sign of authority and sanctity, aligning the living emperor with his imperial namesake.
Images of the Byzantine emperor were never straightforward portraits, but rather symbolic illustrations of the union of sacred and temporal power. In Byzantium, the gem-studded loros that criss-crosses the emperor's body was compared to both the cross of Christ and to the winding sheet in which he had been buried. The halo around the emperor's head head had emerged from a different realm of imagery: the pagan emperor's charisma, stressing the superhuman character of the ruler and his status.
- J. Hanson
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