CBOMGS seminar: The Trier Ivory, the Icon of Christ on the Chalke Gate, empress Irene's triumph over Iconoclasm and the church of St Euphemia at the Hippodrome

Arts building, Whitting Room
Arts and Law, Research
Thursday 23rd January 2014 (17:15-18:30)
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The Centre’s General Seminar normally meets in the Whitting Room (436), 4th floor, Arts Building on Thursdays at 5.15pm, unless otherwise stated and is open to all interested in the related concerns of the Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies.

Photo of the Trier Ivory, taken by Ann Muenchow on behalf of the Amt für kirchliche Denkmalpflege Trier


The well-known ivory in the Trier cathedral treasury depicts a procession that involves Byzantine emperors, a reliquary, and a newly built or renovated church, as well as other architecture in the background. The date of the carving and the identities of the depicted are unknown, but the scene is generally understood to allude to past and possibly fictitious events that are placed in a generic setting. This lecture first makes the point that the ivory cannot date from the early Byzantine period, because it shows the main Chalke Gate of the imperial palace at Constantinople decorated with a bust of Christ, and such icons do not yet seem to have been on public display in sixth-century Constantinople. Secondly, the lecture proceeds to suggest an alternative reading of the iconography, according to which it may depict a historical event in its real setting: Empress Irene renovates the church of St Euphemia in front of the Hippodrome in 796, shortly after having put up the bust of Christ on the Chalke Gate. The ivory may therefore commemorate two orthodox deeds of Irene and should be contemporary, because later Christ Chalkites was refashioned not as a bust, but as a full length figure.