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Theodosius II (Obverse), circa A.D. 402-450, Byzantine, gold Solidus [S4288], 7/8 inch diameter. Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature, University of Richmond Museums. Gift of Dr. Pliny A. Price, RR1980.16.0014. Photograph by Katherine Wetzel.
Exhibition
Jan 30, 2009
throughJun 27, 2010

Victories, Orbs, & Angels: Byzantine Coins from the Collection

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The University of Richmond Museums presents Victories, Orbs, & Angels: Byzantine Coins from the Collection on view from January 30 through November 15, 2009, in the Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature. On display are more than twenty-five coins from the museum’s permanent collection that demonstrate how Roman pagan motifs were adopted on bronze and gold Byzantine Christian coins from the beginning of the fifth century to the eleventh century.

The Byzantine Empire ruled over various areas surrounding the Mediterranean Sea from the fall of Rome in 476 until 1453 when the Ottoman Turks conquered the capital Constantinople, which is now Istanbul. Early Byzantine Christian emperors, who ruled under the conviction that they were manifesting God’s will to unify His people, inherited a general population that was largely illiterate, pagan, and did not speak the same language as society’s elite. As a ubiquitous currency amongst all classes, coins became the perfect means for emperors to not only promote Christianity but to emphasize their divine authority. The coins in Victories, Orbs, & Angels show the adaptation of Roman pagan symbols into Christian motifs.

Highlights of the exhibition include a precursor to Byzantine coinage minted during the reign of Eastern Roman emperor Theodosius II (reign 408-450). The obverse — the front of the coin — depicts a bust of the emperor, which would have been a common design on earlier Roman coins. The reverse portrays a personification of the capitol city Constantinople holding a victoriola, a carved statue of the figure of Victory standing on a globe, intended to symbolize the emperor’s world domination. In a later coin minted during the reign of Phocas (reign 602-610), the same motif has been modified with more overt Christian content; instead of the figure of Victory, an archangel holds a globus cruciger, a cross on top of an orb, which signifies the faith’s supremacy. The obverse of the Phocas coin features a bust of the emperor holding a cross.

Also included in the exhibition is a late Byzantine coin of John II Comnenus (reign 1118-1143). This coin demonstrates how removed Byzantine style had become from its previous pagan roots. The obverse of the coin shows Christ enthroned instead of an image of the emperor as in earlier coins. The reverse depicts the emperor being crowned by the Virgin Mary, symbolizing that he receives his authority directly from Christ and the Virgin.

Organized by the University of Richmond Museums, the exhibition was curated by Kelly Hughes, ’09, art history and classical civilization double major, University of Richmond, and the 2008–2009 Collections Assistant, University Museums. The subject of Byzantine coins is the focus of Ms. Hughes’ thesis for both her art history and classical civilization majors.
Past Programming
Thursday, January 29, 2009, 7 to 9 p.m.
7 p.m., Lecture, Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature
The Appropriation of Pagan Roman Motifs in Christian Byzantine Coinage Kelly Hughes, ’09, art history and classical civilization double major, University of Richmond, and the 2008-2009 Collections Assistant, University Museums, and curator of the exhibition
8 to 9 p.m., Reception and preview of Victories, Orbs, & Angels: Byzantine Coins from the Collection
Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature

Tuesday, February 10, 2009, 6 to 7 p.m.
Lecture, Brown Alley Room, Weinstein Hall
Collecting Medieval Art in America: William Randolph Hearst and The Metropolitan Museum of Art Christine E. Brennan, Collections Manager, The Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
In conjunction with the exhibition Victories, Orbs, & Angels: Byzantine Coins from the Collection on view in the Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature


Appropriation of Pagan Roman Motifs in Christian Byzantine Coinage