Barberini ivory

The Barberini diptych is one of the most important works of ivory carving. It originated in the late antiquity in Ostrom and is now in the Louvre in Paris (inventory number OA 9063 ).

It is a composition of five panels, four of which are still preserved original. The presentation follows the type of the omnium gentium triumphator (English: Conqueror of All Nations ). In the emperors shown is very likely to Justinian ( 527-565 ), but also Anastasius ( 491-518 ) is not excluded.

On the back there is a list austrasischer Kings, which was commissioned by Brunechildis commissioned and served liturgical purposes. You probably originated around 613 and shows that the diptych had already reached early the Franks, probably as a gift, because there were in the 6th century quite close relations between Gaul and the Eastern Roman Empire.

1625 gave the scholar Nicolas- Claude Fabri de Peiresc the work of the Cardinal Francesco Barberini, which it reached Rome and Barberini was part of the important collection. In 1899 it was acquired by the Louvre.

Art Historical classification

The Barberini diptych is the successor of the two-part ( Consular ) Diyptychen. With the advent of the Code and the declining importance of the tabula cerata the type of the five-part diptychs created. In medieval times, special codes were designed as splendor Code, however, were only carried out in exceptional cases of ivory. Especially from the Carolingian Renaissance, however, can be found classicizing diptychs, which can hardly be distinguished by experts from the late antique models partially self. Nevertheless, the research in the case of the Barberini diptych is agreed that it was built before 613.


The diptych measuring 34.2 × 26.8 cm, the middle panel 19 x 12.5 cm with a thickness of about 2.5 cm.

Originally, the diptych was decorated with several gems, but these are mostly fallen out with the time out of their sockets. In addition, elephant ivory is one of the most expensive commodities in general is ( comparable to gold). Both indicates that the work itself was given by the Emperor in order and then given away to an important personality.

In the central panel, a tab is shown in a magnificent Roman armor and with imperial crown. He rides without stirrups. Remarkably, the depth of the relief parts are fully "à jour" worked. This kind sculptured fretwork are extremely rare in Elfenbeindiptychen and a reason for the Barberini diptych to be among the most important works of this genre. The woman below has clearly allegory character. It corresponds Tellus / Gaia - representations, only that in a Bausch her ​​robe fruits / gifts offereth instead of a cornucopia. They may also be seen as a symbol of a pacified province. The Victoria - representation stands on a small globe on which an x -shaped engraving is attached. It is sometimes spoken of as Christ monogram. The ornamental bands is striking that two different types were used.

In principle, follows the presentation pagan Roman traditions of triumphator omnium gentium ( " conqueror of all nations" ), a Christian connotation receives the diptych only through the top panel, is shown in the Christ as Kosmokrator. This composition has a direct pagan precursor (instead of the figure of Christ was originally a personification of Constantinople ). The hairstyle ( humpback curls ) Christ and the Angels are an important clue for determining the time of origin.

Unusual is the later incised beard of the ranking officer on the side panel. Maybe it involves an ingredient from a later era. The bag bottom right next to him is probably a gold bag, in principle, an attribute of a consul, but here in regard to the subject matter of the triumphator omnium gentium might rather be seen as prey.

On the lower panel are shown (from left to right):

  • Two gifts -making Persians and Orientals ( including the aurum coronarium )
  • A lion
  • Victoria with a Tropaion
  • An elephant
  • Two Indians ( recognition characters: the "horns" on the forehead), of which the first brings an elephant tusk.
  • A Tiger

The style is late antique abstract, but also shows a degree of realism. Due to its high quality, it probably originated in an imperial workshop in Constantinople Opel.


The emperor depicted is probably to be identified with Justinian I.. Within the candidate emergence time (first half of the 6th century ) the representation as peoples slayer seems most likely to refer to him. However, such Herrscherglorifizierungen are accepted with caution; they often follow the convention more than the reality.

Both the barbarian in the background of the central panel and the two on the left side of the lower panels carry Persian costume; So the presentation is perhaps related to the 532 closed between Justinian and the Persian Empire so-called " eternal peace ". Also conceivable is a reference to the Roman victory in the Battle of Dara 530 may was a literary attested equestrian statue of Justinian in the Hippodrome template for the central panel; the same motif is also found on a bronze weight in the Byzantine Museum in Athens, but it will be possibly a fake after the Barberini diptych; in the literature on the diptych, the piece is not mentioned.

Probably the boards like most five-part diptychs were used as the front cover of a splendor Code.