This gorgeous ivory relief was probably made in one of the finest workshops in Constantinople during the middle of the fifth century CE. It is in my opinion a wonderful example of early Christian ivory art. It records the event of the arrival of relics to presumably the great city of Constantinople.

Beneath the towering Great Palace, an empress (believed to be Pulcheria) is shown receiving the relics of a Christian martyr, probably St. Stephen the Protomartyr. The horse-drawn carriage shows two bishops delivering their precious cargo to the almost complete church on the far right of the ivory relief. The church in question is believed to be St. Mary Chalkoprateia, which was built during the reign of Theodosius II.

However, the record above of this event has more recently been questioned, as to whether it really did take place during Theodosius reign (408-450). This event may in fact be a depiction of Empress Irene commemorating the rebuilding or renovation of the church of St Euphemia in front of the Hippodrome in 796? The depiction of the Chalkes Gate (far left hand corner of the ivory with the Icon of Christ perched on its highest point), also suggest that it could not possibly be a fifth century ivory, because the first version of the Chalkes gate was built during Anastasius’ reign (491-518). Interestingly, Empress Irene restored the bust of Christ on the Chalke Gate following iconoclast period, which controversially suggests, that the ivory just may be in fact an eighth or ninth century relief.

Posted by Robert Horvat

Robert Horvat is a Melbourne based blogger. He believes that the world is round and that art is one of our most important treasures. He has seen far too many classic films and believes coffee runs through his veins. As a student of history, he favours ancient and medieval history. Music pretty much rules his life and inspires his moods. Favourite artists include The Beatles, Pearl Jam, Garbage and Lana Del Rey.

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