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Rufus Gennadius Probus Orestes

  • Object:

    Diptych

  • Place of origin:

    Rome (made)

  • Date:

    530 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved ivory

  • Museum number:

    139-1866

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 8, The William and Eileen Ruddock Gallery, case 2

Consular ivory diptychs were produced to mark the appointment of consuls (the highest civil and military magistrates). They consisted of two hinged panels with carved exterior surfaces, typically depicting the consul holding his sceptre, with flanking officials and an inscription.
The outside bears carved decorations while the wax field on the inside was for inscribed messages. These were sent by newly appointed consuls to friends and members of the senate to announce their accession to the year-long position.

Despite the problem with the dating of the diptych, it visually conveys perfectly the two strands of argument: Faith and Power. The two figures of the consul stand for the old order in Rome and Constantinopel with its power while the cross above him and the portraits of Amalasuntha, daughter of Theodorich and her son Athalaric represent the Ostrogothic regents of the Western empire and their faith.

With the abolition of the Consulate in 541 by the Emperor Justinian (527-65), the production of conuslar diptychs ceased and the main centres of ivory production in Rome and Constantinople declined, although some fine early Byzantine ivories continued to be produced in Constantinople.

Physical description

Consular Diptych of Rufius Gennadius Probus Orestes, one of the Western consuls in 530. The consul is represented on both leaves seated on a curule seat, holding in one hand the mappa circensis (with which he gave the signal for the games to begin), in the other a sceptre. A female figure, a personification of Constantinople with a disk and staff flanks the consul to his right; to his left stands a female personification of Rome holding the fasces. Clipeate portraits of Amalasuntha and her son Athalaric whom the consul served are above the inscription, flanking the cross. Below the consul two children empty sacks of money. At the top of each leaf are busts of an Emperor and Empress; below, two figures empty sacks of money.

Place of Origin

Rome (made)

Date

530 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Carved ivory

Marks and inscriptions

'RVF(II) GENN(ADII) PROB(I) ORESTIS / V(IRI) C(LARISSIMI) INL(USTRIS) CONS(UL) ORD(INARIUS)'
above the consul's head, on labels

Dimensions

Height: 34 cm, Width: 11.6 cm, Depth: 0.8 cm, Weight: 1.52 kg

Object history note

From the Webb collection. Formerly in the the Museum Septalianum and in the Trivulzio collection in Milan, then in the Soltykoff collection until 1861 (sale 1861, No. 381).

Historical context note

Consular diptychs are formed by two panels hinged together. The outside bears carved decorations while the wax field on the inside was for inscribed messages. These were sent by newly appointed consuls to friends and members of the senate to announce their accession to the year-long position

Despite the problem with the dating of the diptych, it visually conveys perfectly the two strands of argument: Faith and Power. The two figures of the consul stand for the old order in Rome and Constantinopel with its power while the cross above him and the portraits of Amalasuntha, daughter of Theodorich and her son Athalaric represent the Ostrogothic regents of the Western empire and their faith.
Volbach assigns the diptych to Ravenna, pointing to the busts of Amalasuntha and Athalaric and stating that Orestes was resident in Ravenna. Also, the diptych copies that of Clementinus (513) from Constantinople (now in Liverpool). Nancy Netzer suggests that the present diptych was made in Constantinople at the time of Clementinus and that it was re-cut in certain areas in about 530.

Descriptive line

Consular diptych, carved elephant ivory, of Rufus Gennadius Probus Orestes, Rome, Italy, 530

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Wolfgang Fritz Volbach, Avori di scuola revennate nel V & VI secolo, Ravenna, 1977 pp. 10, 23, 37.
Nancy Netzer, 'Redating the consular ivory of Orestes', in Burlington Magazine, CXXV, 1983, pp. 265-71
Inventory of Art Objects acquired in the Year 1866. Inventory of the Objects in the Art Division of the Museum at South Kensington, arranged According to the Dates of their Acquisition. Vol. 1. London : Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O., 1868, p. 16
Volbach, Wolfgang Fritz. Elfenbeinarbeiten der Spätantike und des frühen Mittelalters. Mainz am Rhein: Von Zabern, 1976, n. 31
Trusted, Majorie. ed. The Making of Sculpture: the Materials and Techniques of European Sculpture. London: V&A Publications, 2007, p. 116, pl. 207
Volbach, Wolfgang Fritz. Avori di Scuola Ravennate nel V e VI Secolo. Ravenna: Longo, 1977, pp. 10, 23, 37
Cameron, Alna. Anthusa: Notes on the Iconography of Constantinople. In: Eight Annual Byzantine Studies Conference, 1982, Abstracts of Papers. p. 41
Delbrück, Richard and Capps, Edward Jr. The Style of the Consular Diptychs. Art Bulletin. X, 1927, pp. 61-101
Jürgense, Frank. Die Stile und der Umkreis der Maximianskathedra in Ravenna. Hamburg, 1972. pp. 73-75
Williamson, Paul. Medieval Ivory Carvings. Early Christian to Romanesque. London, V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2010, pp. 46-49, cat.no. 6
Netzer, Nancy. Reading the Consular Ivory of Orestes. The Burlington Magazine. 125, 1983, pp. 265-271
Cameron, Alan and Schauer, Diane. The Last Consul: Basilius and His Diptych. Journal of Roman Studies. 72, 1982, pp. 126-145
Osborne, J. A Drawing of a Consular Diptyque of Anastasius in the Collection of Cassiano dal Pozzo. Echos du Monde Classique Reviews. XXXV-N.S. 10, 1991, p. 242
Olovsdotter, Cecilia. The Consular Image: an Iconological Study of the Consular Diptychs. Oxford: John and Erica Hedges Ltd., 2005, pp. 30-34
Webster, Leslie and Michelle Brown (eds.), The Transformation of the Roman World, AD 400-900, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Materials

Ivory

Techniques

Carving

Subjects depicted

Consul; Sceptre; Roundel; Toga; Stars; Female figure

Categories

Access to Images; Images Online; Sculpture

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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