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Anonymous (eleventh century, second half)

 
 

Obverse

The Virgin orans enclosed within a rectangular frame. Sigla: Μ̅Θ̅ : Μ(ήτηρ) Θ(εοῦ). Border of dots.

Reverse

St Theodore in military costume holding a lance in his right hand and a shield in his left; the figure is enclosed within a rectangular frame. Inscription in two columns: .|Θ̣|Ε̣Ο|||Ρ, : [ὁ ἅ(γιος)] Θεόδωρ(ος). Border of dots.

Obverse

The Virgin orans enclosed within a rectangular frame. Sigla: Μ̅Θ̅ : Μ(ήτηρ) Θ(εοῦ). Border of dots.

Reverse

St Theodore in military costume holding a lance in his right hand and a shield in his left; the figure is enclosed within a rectangular frame. Inscription in two columns: .|Θ̣|Ε̣Ο|||Ρ, : [ὁ ἅ(γιος)] Θεόδωρ(ος). Border of dots.

Accession number BZS.1951.31.5.3494
Diameter 20.0 mm
Previous Editions

DO Seals 7, 5.25.

Credit Line Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Bequest of Thomas Whittemore.

Commentary

This seal is unique in depicting both the obverse and reverse figures not only within the customary circular boarder of the seal but also within a rectangular frame as if they were representations of icons themselves. The only approximate comparison is an early eleventh-century seal depicting a bust of Saint Nicholas on the obverse and the owner’s name on the reverse where both obverse and reverse are within a square border of dots. However, these square borders replace the usual circular border and are not a secondary framing device (see Zacos, BLS, 2, no. 641). Another distant comparison is a twelfth-century seal with an image of the Virgin holding the bust of Christ before her where Christ is not shown in the usual circular medallion but rather within a rectangular frame (see Genève, no. 281).

 Since our seal has the customary circular border of dots for both the obverse and reverse, it is most likely that the secondary rectangular frames encasing the figures are intended to convey the idea of framed icons. The dating of our seal parallels other chronological developments concerning the depiction of fictive icons in scenes in both miniature and mural paintings, indicating their more common presence and expectation on the part of beholders during the eleventh century. For a summary of the literature devoted to this development see Cotsonis, “Contribution,” 410-411.