Near East/Holy Land, Byzantine Empire, ca. 5th to 7th century CE. A large, very slightly convex, thin bronze plaque or medallion depicting scenes from the life of St. Paul the Apostle (Saul). There are three panels incised into the rounded face, each depicting dense scenes of action. The upper one is labeled "SALVATOR PAULUS" and includes a Christogram. The saint stands in the center, surrounded by two figures who look at him. The other two images are less discernible due to wear. The second panel featuring five or six individuals, two of whom are saints. The bottom panel depicts someone on horseback, holding a sword; the horse wears heavy armor decorated with a cross. Around the edge of the round plaque are dozens of tiny perforations, presumably made to sew this item onto a cloth. Size: 6.6" W (16.8 cm); 8.45" H (21.5 cm) on included custom stand.
Religious images like this one are the precursors to the icons so famous from the Eastern Orthodox Church, and some of the earliest religious portraits known are of Christ, Peter, and Paul. This was related to the period of Christianization, after the emperor Constantine I extended toleration of Christianity throughout the Empire in 313 CE - pagans, who were used to images of their gods, converted and then sought images of the major figures of their new religion. By the fifth century we know that there was private ownership of images of saints by elite individuals, and that the interior of shrines became adorned with votive porrtaits.
Provenance: private East Coast, USA collection
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