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The Image of the Mother of God on Byzantine Lead Seals: Ubiquitous Presence/ Rare Selection

Dumbarton Oaks
September 23, 2022
06:00 PM to 07:00 PM
This lecture is offered to coincide with the current Dumbarton Oaks special exhibition, "Lasting Impressions: People, Power, Piety" and as a tribute to John Nesbitt, Special Emeritus Advisor in Sigillography, an esteemed scholar of Byzantine history, sigillographer, and colleague.


Of the many sacred figures depicted on Byzantine lead seals, that of the Mother of God is by far the most popular. Thousands of examples survive. Her ubiquitous sphragistic presence, continuous over many centuries, has provided a wealth of material for the fields of art history, history, religious studies, and sigillography, and as a means for studying the expressions of social and individual identity. Popular Marian iconographic types found on seals in light of their chronological frequencies reflect broad and widespread visual cultural and devotional trends within Byzantine culture. At the same time, a rare sphragistic image of the Mother of God, with its accompanying inscription, can reveal much about the personal piety of the seal’s owner and the larger thought-world of the culture in which it was produced.

Speaker Bio

John Cotsonis (His Grace Bishop Joachim of Amissos) is a bishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, the Director of The Archbishop Iakovos Library at Hellenic College/Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, and a Byzantine art historian specializing in the iconography of Byzantine lead seals. His numerous articles devoted to sphragistic imagery have now been published as the two-volume set The Religious Figural Imagery of Byzantine Lead Seals in Routledge’s Variorum Collected Studies series. In addition, Dumbarton Oaks has recently published his full-length study of anonymous seals with bilateral sacred images, Catalogue of Byzantine Seals at Dumbarton Oaks and in the Fogg Museum, volume 7. On a number of occasions, he has lectured on the imagery of seals in the Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Coins and Seals Summer Program. He is also the author of the Dumbarton Oaks exhibition catalogue Byzantine Figural Processional Crosses.