Late Antique, Early Christian and Jewish gems: large banded agates

A small number of gems of exceptional size and quality, all made of banded agate, may be products of an imperial workshop in Constantinople of 6th century date. Two examples in Munich (60 and 70 mm in length respectively) may have once been set in large gold fibulae of imperial Byzantine manufacture, surviving examples of which are set with unengraved stones of similar size and material. One agate depicts Christ enthroned, surrounded by the apostles, while the other shows a crowded scene of the twelve apostles standing before a large cross. An even larger agate (nearly 100 mm in length) in Vienna portrays Peter and Paul standing before a large cross above which is a bust of Christ and the inscription "Emmanuel".

Gem image

The twelve apostles stand at the foot of a large cross. Above, the emperor and empress(?) are enthroned and approached by two flying angels.

Munich, Staatliche Münzsammlung, inv. 1206. Banded agate, 71 x 61 mm.

Gem image

Saints Peter and Paul stand at the foot of a large cross above which is the bust of Christ. The Greek inscription is the epithet of Jesus, "Emmanuel".

Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, inv. IX 2607. Banded agate, 98 x 67 mm.