Heraclius

French (Burgundy)
Medieval
about 1400
Possibly by Michelet Saulmon (French)


Object Place: Europe, France, Burgundy

Catalogue Raisonné

Kress 525.

Dimensions

Diameter: 9.5 cm (3 3/4 in.)

Accession Number

67.291

Medium or Technique

Metal; bronze (88% copper, 9.5% zinc with small amounts of lead and tin)

On View

Alyce Morrissey Gallery (Kunstkammer) (Gallery 143)

Collections

Europe

Classifications

Medals

Circular medal of Heraclius (Byzantine Emperor AD 610-41).

Obverse: Profile bust of Heraclius looking to proper left and set into a crescent shape below, wearing a crown; rays of light above; inscribed at edge in Greek across field “[first word in Greek]·LLVMINA·VVL·TVM·TVVM·DEV”, and on crescent shape “·SVPER·TENEBAS·NOSTRAS·MILLITABOR·IN·GENTIBVS·”.

Reverse: A carriage being pulled by three horses and lead by a squire with seated Heraclius, holding a cross in his left hand, moving to proper left; four lamps hang above cart and horses; inscribed at edge “+SUPER+ASPIdEM+ET+BAXILISCVM+AMBVLAVIT+ET+CONCVLCAVIT+LEONEM+ET+dRACONEM+” and across field in Greek.


This inspired image of the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius (610-641) was likely designed by Michelet Saulmon, a court painter to Jean, Duke de Berry. Heraclius was celebrated as the heroic leader who recovered the relic of the True Cross, looted from Jerusalem by the Persians. With sharply turned head, he lifts his eyes to rays of light, and wears a splendidly ornamented crown, his fingers wrapped in his beard, his body supported by a crescent moon. These elements might be interpreted as signs of his virtues (divine inspiration, kingship, wisdom, and dominion, for example). This work is a French forerunner of the two-sided portrait medal that would become a characteristic type in Renaissance art throughout Europe.

Inscription

Obverse: Inscribed at edge in Greek ["Heraclius, faithful in Christ our Lord, king and emperor of the Romans, victorious and triumphant, forever exalted"], across field, first word in Greek and then "·LLVMINA·VVL·TVM·TVVM·DEV" ["Cause thy face to Shine, O Lord"], and on crescent shape "·SVPER·TENEBAS·NOSTRAS·MILLITABOR·IN·GENTIBVS·" ["Upon our darkness; I will make war upon the heathen"].

Reverse: Inscribed at edge "+SUPER+ASPIdEM+ET+BAXILISCVM+AMBVLAVIT+ET+CONCVLCAVIT+LEONEM+ET+dRACONEM+" ["He has trodden on the asp and basilisk and trampled on the lion and the dragon" from Psalm 90:13] and across field in Greek ["Glory in the heaves to Christ the Lord, for Emperor Heraclius has broken through iron gates and set free the Holy Cross"].

Provenance

Made for Jean, Duc de Berry (1340-1416). Possibly from "the Neuburg Collection, Leitmeritz," Czechoslovakia [see note 1]. By 1967, with Blumka Gallery, New York, NY; 1967, sold by Blumka Gallery to the MFA. (Accession date: March 8, 1967)

NOTES:
[1] According to a handwritten notation by Hanns Swarzenski, Curator, in MFA curatorial file.

Credit Line

Theodora Wilbour Fund in memory of Zoë Wilbour