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Work Wedding belt

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Christian and Byzantine Art

Ceinture de mariage

© 1992 RMN / Martine Beck-Coppola

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Christian and Byzantine Art

Author(s):
Astier Marie-Bénédicte

This belt, consisting of a chain of gold medallions decorated in relief, was probably made in the late 6th century for a wedding. The large medallions represent a wedding scene: Christ is joining the hands of the bride and groom in a gesture of blessing. The Christian ceremony on the large medallions is matched on the smaller ones by pagan dionysiac and allegorical figures in the antique tradition. Such images survived for centuries thanks to their decorative quality.

A wedding belt

The belt consists of 22 round gold medallions, decorated in repoussé relief. A few other similar belts have been found in what was once the Byzantine empire. They are usually made of coins bearing the likeness of various emperors, or more rarely medallions decorated with floral or geometric patterns. The fashion for pieces of jewelry made from coins and for metal belts arose in the West in the 3rd century AD. Examples have been recorded in Gaul and northern Italy. The fashion spread far and wide during the course of the 6th and 7th centuries AD, particularly in the eastern part of the empire. This belt comes from Balanea in Syria. It was probably made in the late 6th century to celebrate a marriage, where it may have been offered as a wedding gift, as is known to have been the case with rings decorated with scenes very similar to those depicted on the large central medallions.

A Christian ceremony

The scene represents a wedding ceremony. Christ, with halo, stands between the bride and groom, joining their right hands in a gesture of blessing. This motif is known in Latin as dextrarum junctio, and is in fact borrowed from the Roman tradition, as the joining of the right hands of the bride and groom was a feature of pagan wedding celebrations. Some sarcophagi are carved with similar scenes with a pagan deity presiding at the ceremony, in particular Juno Pronuba. In the course of the 5th century AD a third character began to appear in these scenes to unite the couple - usually the emperor or, as in this case, Christ. Apart from the presence of Christ, the religious nature of the scene is indicated by a small cross over the head of each of the three figures and the Greek inscription which calls for God's grace on the wearer of the belt. The two inscriptions read "Wear it in good health" and "The grace of God."

The survival of pagan imagery

The Christian iconography of the belt is combined with pagan imagery inherited from antique traditions, which survived for centuries in goldsmith work and in carvings on sarcophagi due to its decorative function. The small medallions are graced with the bust of a follower of Dionysos, doubtless a maenad, shown face-on, crowned with vine branches and holding a thyrsus. The bacchic figures alternate with heads in profile wearing crowns bearing three towers. This is the classical allegorical figure of the Fortune - Tychè in Greek - of a city.

Bibliography

Byzance. L'Art byzantin dans les collections françaises, Paris, Éditions
de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1992, pp. 133-134, n 89.

Technical description

  • Ceinture de mariage

    Fin du VIe siècle après J.-C.

    Balanée (?), Syrie

  • Or, martelage, soudure, repoussé, granulation

    l. : 74 cm.

  • Anciennes collections Pérétié et L. de Clercq ; don H. de Boisgelin, 1967 , 1967

    Bj 2270

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

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Additional information about the work

The two large medallions bear an inscription in Greek.