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Engraving Lives

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. The majority of these examples are of New Testament scenes, all of which are celebrated in orthodoxy as the twelve great feasts of the church. Seals engrave the lives of the Virgin and of Christ. In total, the Dumbarton Oaks and Fogg Museum of Art collections have seals depicting nine of the twelve feasts.

This section presents these scenes, with representative seals accompanied by quotations drawn from the Gospels and from Byzantine literature, including acclamations, poems, and homilies. A short commentary for each scene describes what the seals depict, and provides an indication of how often the scene is illustrated and by whom.


Exhibit Items