Plaques with Scenes from the Story of Joshua
Byzantine, probably made in Constantinople, 10th century
Ivory, traces of polychromy, gilding, bone
The prosperity and cultural renaissance of the Byzantine empire during the tenth and eleventh centuries are demonstrated by elaborate ivory boxes that may have served as containers for gifts or as luxury objects for display. The plaques illustrated here were once fastened to the wooden core of a box. The plaques illustrate events in the Old Testament story of Joshua's conquest of the Promised Land; each is inscribed with a direct quotation from or paraphrase of the Book of Joshua. On the plaques, Joshua leads the Israelites in ambushing the army led by the king of Ai (Joshua 8:10–23), condemns the king of Jerusalem (Joshua 10:26), and receives the ambassadors from Gibeon (Joshua 9). Each plaque is framed by a border of medallions containing rosettes and bust portraits in profile. The figures are exquisitely carved in naturalistic poses. It has been argued that the traces of paint on the ivories are original. Joshua's story was often invoked in this period, when the Byzantines frequently identified themselves with God's chosen people and likened their own military victories and defeats to those of the Jews many centuries earlier.