Published: November 7, 2000
NEW YORK CITY – The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection of Byzantine art will return to public view on November 14 with the inauguration of the new Mary and Michael Jaharis Galleries. The installation is in Beaux Arts spaces that have been restored and redesigned to evoke the original architectural plan of 1902.
Also included in the new Jaharis Galleries will be art of the Bronze and Iron Age in northern Europe, the provincial Roman world of the Latin West, and the new cultures that developed in Western Europe with the transfer of the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to Constantinople. A highlight of the new Jaharis Galleries will be the opening, for the first time, of gallery space beneath the Grand Staircase.
“The museum is justifiably proud of its stellar holdings of Byzantine and Early Medieval art, which constitute the preeminent collection in the United States and one of the world’s outstanding collections of this material,” commented Philippe de Montebello, director of the museum. “Mary and Michael Jaharis have made possible the proper installation of a collection that inspired two of the museum’s greatest exhibitions – “The Age of Spirituality” in 1978 and “The Glory of Byzantium” in 1997. Their galleries are the first phase in an extensive project that ultimately will encompass every aspect of the holdings of the department of Medieval art.
“The Mary and Michael Jaharis Galleries include the two great galleries running along the north and south sides of the Grand Staircase and an entirely new gallery linking the two that was created from a storage area under the Grand Staircase. The exposed underside of the Grand Staircase and the brick walls supporting it make the museum’s newest gallery a magical, crypt-like space.”
The objects in the North Gallery reflect the multiple cultural forces of the Fourth through the Eighth Century, including secular art of the early Byzantine Empire, produced from its capital Constantinople to its distant borders. Some of the earliest images developed by the Christian church will also be on display, as well as contemporary works from the surviving Greco-Roman tradition and examples of Judaica. Selections from the museum’s rich collection of provincial Romans and barbarian jewelry will demonstrate the accomplished artistry and ambitions of the diverse people beyond the western borders of the Byzantine state who helped shape early Europe.
Among the most significant works on display are those from the era of the Byzatine Emperor Justinian, when the empire reached from Sinai in Egypt to the coast of Spain. Representing the art of his court will be spectacular consular ivories and portrait sculpture, gold jewelry, and a grand mosaic portrait bust of Ktisis, the personification of generous donation. This recently acquired, monumental portrait of a richly bejeweled lady, dating form the first half of the Sixth Century, is an exceptional example of early Byzantine floor mosaics.
The end of the first artistic flourishing of Byzantium will be represented by the newly conserved silver David plates, which depict – in detail – scenes from the life of the Old Testament King David. Made in Constantinople in the Seventh Century, these plates – each of which is crafted from a solid piece of silver – may be associated with the Emperor Heraclius’ victory over the Persians in 628-629. Outstanding among the works of art from the western border of the Empire during these centuries is the jewelry created by its inhabitants – the Langobards, Goths and Franks among them – vying for power in the wake of the collapse of Rome.
The wealth of Egypt, during the Fourth through the mid-Seventh Century when it was the southernmost province of the Byzantine Empire will be explored in the staircase gallery. The display, focused on a splendid hoard of gold jewelry, also will include a rich variety of secular textiles, ivory objects and architectural sculpture from such major early Christian and Coptic monastic sites as Epiphanius, Bawit and Saqqara.
The South Gallery will display the art of the early Byzantine church and the religious and secular arts of the Middle and late Byzantine centuries through the Crusader period and the fall of the capital city Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. Early Byzantine liturgical arts from Syria will be prominently displayed and the resplendent Attarouthi Treasure, which is made of finely worked silver and silver gilt, comprises ten chalices, three censers, a wine strainer and a dove representing the Holy Spirit. The Antioch Treasure includes most famously the newly conserved Antioch “chalice.” At the beginning of the Twentieth Century, this plain silver cup encased in an intricate open work container of silver gilt was claimed to be the Holy Grail of legend and literature. Recent research has suggested, however, that the vessel – which may have been used as a standing lamp, rather than as a chalice – was part of a large group of Sixth-Century liturgical silver from Syria.
Among the works representing the Middle Byzantine era will be great silver cross and ivory icons. Secular ivories, enamel jewelry and ceramic bowls of the period will demonstrate the quality of the arts of the eastern capital of Constantinople and its artistic influence beyond the borders of the empire. Steatites, gems and icons will display the continuing vitality of Orthodox art in the late Byzantine era.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm