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Work Medallion with a coin bearing the portrait of the Emperor Constantine

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

Médaillon avec un solidus de Constantin frappé à Sirmium en 321 après J.-C.

© 2006 Musée du Louvre et AFA / Daniel Lebée et Carine Deambrosis

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Christian and Byzantine Art

Author(s):
Astier Marie-Bénédicte

This medallion, decorated with busts in relief and openwork rinceaux, reflects the popularity of coin jewelry from the 3rd century AD. The center is set with a gold coin with the portrait of Constantine, minted in 321 in Sirmium, near Belgrade. The coin commemorates the second consulate of his sons Crispus and Constantine II. The pendant was once linked to three other medallions, now separated, and were probably part of a splendid necklace given by the emperor to a high-ranking court dignitary.

A medallion dating from the 4th century AD

The Louvre purchased this superb gold medallion in 1973. It reflects the remarkable skill of the goldsmiths of the late empire. The pendant is in the shape of a disk decorated with foliage rinceaux in openwork gold leaf. This decorative technique, known as opus interrasile, was developed in the 3rd century AD. It allows the artist to play with the effects of light and shade created by the lacy openwork. The technique was highly popular in late Antiquity. The whorls of foliage thus created are interspersed with six small busts in relief, encircled by a granulation trim (the sixth bust has been lost). Although some of the busts, both male and female, appear to be individual portraits, it is difficult to determine who they are portraits of or whether they are personifications. Their significance remains a mystery. However, applique human busts had already been long present in the Roman sumptuary arts. The Boscoreale Treasure, now in the Louvre, contains a number of striking examples, such as the famous emblema bowl (Bj 1969). The busts on this medallion seem to have a purely decorative, rather than commemorative, function.

A coin bearing the portrait of the Emperor Constantine and his sons

The coin set in the center of the medallion is exceptional. It was worth two solidi, from the Latin term solidus, meaning a gold coin. The Latin inscriptions engraved on either side indicate that it was minted in the workshops of Sirmium, near Belgrade, to commemorate the inauguration of the second consulate of Constantine's sons Crispus and Constantine II, on January I, 321. In accordance with the iconography of Roman emperors in the 3rd century AD, Constantine's portrait takes the form of a bust. His right hand is raised in a gesture of greeting, while in his left hand he holds a globe - the symbol of the universal empire. He is wearing a crown decorated with rays in reference to the power of the sun and the breastplate and cloak of a general (the paludamentum). The reverse side of the coin bears the portraits of the emperor's two young sons, a reminder of the event that the coin was minted to celebrate. Both are wearing the garb of a consul - the heavy embroidered cloak and the laurel wreath - and are holding the eagle scepter.

The fashion for coin jewelry

This pendant was originally part of a great treasure of jewelry and coins of unknown provenance. The collection was broken up and sold by public auction at Christie's in 1970. This medallion was originally linked to three other pendants with similar decoration. The four medallions must originally have been part of a ceremonial necklace made in around AD 325. This type of jewelry made from coins bearing the portraits of members of the imperial family was particularly fashionable from the 3rd to the 6th centuries AD. The emperor often gave such pieces to high-ranking dignitaries to commemorate important events during his reign.

Bibliography

Bénazeth Dominique, Durant Jannic, Metzger Catherine (sous la dir. de), Éclosion de l'art chrétien, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1989, pp. 14-15, n 6.
Deppert-Lippitz Barbara, Late Roman Splendor : Jewelry from the Age
of Constantine, Cleveland Studies in the History of Art, 1, 1996, pp. 30-71, fig. 18-19.
Duval Noël, "Un grand médaillon monétaire du IVe siècle", Revue
du Louvre, 6, 1973, pp. 367-374, fig. 1-4.

Technical description

  • Médaillon avec un solidus de Constantin frappé à Sirmium en 321 après J.-C.

    IVe siècle après J.-C.

  • D. : 9,20 cm.

  • Bj 2280

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Bronzes room
    Room 663

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Additional information about the work

Latin inscription on each side of the coin: "D. N. Constantinus Max. Aug." - "Crispus et Constantinus Nob. Caess. Cos. II - Sirm."