Ewer with healing of the man born blind and Christ giving the keys to Peter

Western Mediterranean, 4th-5th century

Silver, 12.9 cm


Numerous fractures and defects; the lower part of one side broken away; handle missing. Executed in repoussé and subsequently engraved.

Around the neck are incised lines and a braided cord pattern. The body shows two scenes in low relief, each with two figures: the healing of the man born blind and Christ giving the keys to Peter, the latter largely destroyed. The type of depiction of the healing of the blind scene, where Christ touches the blind man's eyes, is found in Early Christian art in both East and West. The scene of Christ giving the keys or a scroll to Peter, however, developed only in the West, probably in Rome itself, in connection with the Roman bishops' claims to primacy as the successors of Peter. The scene is found primarily on Early Christian sarcophagi ; one of the earliest examples is in the crypt of S. Pietro in Vincoli in Rome and in the mosaic in one apse of Sta. Costanza in Rome, where Christ is enthroned on a globe. The representations usually show Christ giving a scroll to Peter, the so-called traditio legis or dominus legem dat ; but Paul and Peter always flank Christ.

The style also points to West Rome, but the exact provenance of this and the related pieces has not yet been established. In form and structure, the silver amula of the Bianchini collection (lost and known only from a drawing is the closest parallel.

Such silver ewers of relatively small size might have been used for wine. The Christian decoration makes one think that they were used in the divine service, but in spite of the Christian subject they may just as well have served a secular purpose.

Along with the flagon in Edinburgh and the one with apostle medallions in the Vatican Museo Cristiano, the ewer in London is one of the few surviving Late Antique examples of this type of vessel with Christian representations.

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The Byzantine Legacy
Created by David Hendrix Copyright 2016