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Leaden Gospels

Although used to secure and authenticate documents, seals were much more than just a means to protect correspondence and records. The design on a seal was a deeply personal choice; the image chosen and the inscription reveal a great deal about the people who commissioned the seal. An individual's seal was at the same time a statement of who that person was, where they were in the social hierarchy, and often a statement of personal piety.

The small size of most seals, as well as the cost and effort expended engraving boulloteria, conspired to make rare the depiction of complicated compositions on seals. It is unusual to find more than a single saint, at most two, included on a seal. In drastic contrast are the handful of specimens which illustrate a narrative scene, many of which include multiple figures and objects. This exhibition is divided into two sections; Engraving Lives considers the seals depicting narrative scenes from the Gospels, while Architects of Faith explores seals that show the authors of the works that make up the New Testament. As the smallest Byzantine sculptures and expressions of faith and status, these seals add another dimension to our understanding of how the Byzantines related to the New Testament.

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