Glimpses of Byzantium opens October12

Important Byzantine artifacts from Canada’s best collection

The Royal Ontario Museum is pleased to announce Glimpses of Byzantium, a selection of artifacts from the ROM’s collections and the first in a series of three installations in the Museum’s Centre Block, Level 3. Opening Friday, October 12, 2007, artifacts from the ROM’s impressive Byzantine collection, the most important in Canada and one of the top five in North America, will be on display until December 2008.

Glimpses of Byzantium features a selection of 81 of the most important pieces from the Museum’s holdings. The exhibition, with objects dating mostly from the 6th to 7th century AD, presents and interprets five important themes: Processional Crosses; Reliquaries and Pilgrim Tokens; Gold Jewellery and other Fine Objects; Imagery within Churches; and Liturgical Silver.

The dedication of Constantinople (now Istanbul) as the capital of Byzantium in AD 330 began a new phase in the history of the Roman Empire. Power gradually shifted from the western to the eastern Mediterranean, and the new Byzantine Empire emerged. A common language (first Latin, then Greek), shared Greek and Roman heritages and the Byzantine Church helped bind the Empire's far-flung regions and disparate peoples together. Orthodox Christianity was central to Byzantium's cultural and artistic traditions. Eventually, Byzantine provinces in Europe, Africa and Asia were threatened or conquered by Persian, Arab and Turkish invaders. Constantinople itself finally fell to the Ottoman Empire in 1453.

A 6th century Votive Cross illustrates one role of processional crosses offered in fulfilment of a vow. Reliquaries, like the Silver Reliquary found in this section, as well as pilgrimages associated with particular saints and events of the New Testament played an important role in Byzantium and beyond. Pilgrimages to the Holy Land were undertaken for various reasons including to obtain eulogiai, such as a pilgrim token made from terracotta and impressed with various holy symbols. Eulogia were objects blessed by contact with a saint or holy object, which gave it supernatural powers to counter evil and work miracles. On display are tokens of Saint Symeon Stylites (521-592), a monk who retreated to the top of a column for spiritual solitude, which show him perched on his column, a ladder on one side, and angels flanking.

Fifty-four striking examples of gold jewellery, including earrings, necklaces, brooches, rings and a belt buckle plate decorated with an image of Odysseus are a treat for the eyes. The interior architectural surfaces of Byzantine churches - including domes, arches, and walls - had by the year 500 become adorned with magnificent mosaics and frescoes. Used to teach religious doctrine, they depicted Christ, the angels, Mary, the saints, and various religious scenes, arranged in a hierarchy to present a vision of heaven on earth. One of three very fine and still vivid wall paintings containing the head of an elderly saint illustrates this theme. The final section contains silver vessels used in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy or the Eucharistic service, including a large 6th century silver paten engraved with a Chi-Rho, one of the earliest cruciform symbols used by Christians. The chalice held the wine, the paten the bread, the spoon to mix the water and wine and the censer to bless the elements of the service.

The opening of Glimpses of Byzantium will also coincide with the Byzantine Studies Conference to be held at the ROM and the University of Toronto from October 11-14, 2007. Reflections on Silver in the Byzantine World: From the Sevso Treasure to the David Plates and Beyond, a lecture by Dr. Marlia Mundell Mango from Oxford University, will be held on Thursday, October 11, 2007 at 7 pm in the ROM’s Signy and Cléophée Eaton Theatre. Free Admission.