Cameo with Saint and Saint Demetrios Blessed by Christ
Byzantine (Constantinople?), 11th-12th century
French, 16th century (mount)
Sardonyx in three layers (brown, blue, and red); enameled gold (mount)
Inscribed: ICXC (Jesus Christ); Ο AΓ ΓEωΡΓΙΟC (Saint George);
Ο AΓ ΔIΜHΤΡΙΟC (Saint Demetrios)
This oval, tricolor cameo depicts Saint George and Saint Demetrios, two of the most popular Byzantine military saints. Both saints are shown full length, standing and facing the viewer. Each is haloed and wears a chlamys, which is pulled back to reveal military armor; the left hand of each figure rests on an oval- shaped shield. Saint George, on the left, raises a sword to his right shoulder, while Saint Demetrios, on the right, touches the top of a long lance with his right arm. Above them a bust-length and cross-haloed Christ extends both hands in the sign of blessing over the saints' heads.
The military aspect of the two martyrs, who were often depicted together during the Middle Byzantine period, became more prominent from the eleventh century on. The previous iconography of the military martyr, the body covered by the chlamys and the right hand holding a cross, was replaced by the exposure of the cuirass and the addition of weapons shown as if ready for use. A very similar cameo, dating from the same period and now the centerpiece of the enkolpion of Gennadios, metropolitan of Serres (early sixteenth century), in the Treasury of the Great Lavra on Mount Athos, shows another popular military pair, the two Theodores (Teron and Stratelates) being blessed by Christ above. The only difference between it and the Paris cameo is that in the Great Lavra enkolpion both saints hold lances. The popularity of this composition may reflect the effort of the Byzantine state to reassess its military power, which in the second half of the eleventh century was rapidly fading.
Worn as an amulet or incorporated in the decoration of a larger religious object, the medallion combines the power of the two saints — emanating from the blessing Christ above them and emphasized here by the slight turning of the saints' heads toward each other — and was probably intended to protect its patron from the dangers of combat. A similar iconographic type, Christ above blessing with both hands the figures below him, is shown in another object in the exhibition, the steatite icon of the three military saints Theodore, George, and Demetrios. The exquisite workmanship of this cameo— which, according to Ernest Babelon, combines in its composition the iconography of the Middle Ages with that of antiquity and the time of Constantine— indicates that it was probably commissioned by a member of the Byzantine nobility, possibly of the military class.