Diptych Leaf of Consul Anastasius
Ivory, 36.2 x 12.7 cm
The back leaf of a consular diptych, this ivory is missing irregular sections from the upper and lower right corners. The large holes were used for attachment to another object at a later date.
Across the top, in a tabula ansata, are the titles of the newly appointed official: V(ir) INL(ustris) COM(es) DOMEST(icorum) EQUIT(um) ET CONS(ul) ORD(inarius). The front of this diptych, formerly in Berlin and now lost, bore the full name of the consul—FL(avius) ANASTASIVS PAVL(us) PRO VS SAVINIANVS POMP(eius) ANAST(asius)—which allows the work to be dated exactly: Anastasius assumed office in January 517.
The consul, in triumphal trabea and shell halo, sits rigidly on a lion-legged throne. In his right hand, he ceremoniously raises a mappa, and in his left, a short scepter topped by an eagle in a wreath and three busts. The throne is decorated with medallions of mural-crowned personifications of Rome and Constantinople, and apotropaic gorgoneia. Winged Victories, standing on globes and supporting shields, flank the consul.
This iconic agglomeration of official regalia, maximizing the protocol of the office while minimizing the individuality of the consul, is set in front of a gabled aedicula. Above are three imagines clipeatae of the emperor Anastasius at the apex, flanked by garland-bearing Victories, the empress Ariadne (d. 515) on the right, and, on the left, either Pompeius, a relative of the consul who had held that office in 501 or the incumbent co-consul. The lower section is divided into horizontal registers with scenes from the festivities celebrating Anastasius' accession to office: on top, women lead horses, alluding to circus races, and carry cross-inscribed standards, rare Christian symbols on such traditionally secular objects; below, two scenes from an unidentified farce. Formal elements of the composition, such as different figure scale and compartmentalization of units, had been experimented with on earlier ivories. These formal aspects, pointing to a cohesive atelier tradition in the capital, indicate a concern with ceremonial and symbolic aspects of office over incidental, personal ones. This attitude, in conjunction with the firmly controlled and minutely detailed execution of the carving, is characteristic of the early Byzantine court style.
From the Treasury of St. Lambert, Liittich (Liege), dispersed at the time of the French Revolution. On the backs were parts of a liturgical formula and lists of names, indicating reuse possibly as early as the sixth or seventh century.