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Lapis lazuli cup

The convex wall of this magnificent cup is carved in relief with two busts between crosses with flaring arms.  The figures, one bearded, the other beardless, are both nimbed and shown in officers’ regalia.

As to their identity, in the absence of inscriptions we cannot be absolutely certain, but they conform to the iconographic types associated with the famous military saints Theodore (bearded) and George (beardless).  A laurel wreath, or ‘glory’ forms the footring which encloses a cross formed by four juxtaposed heart motifs. 

Lapis lazuli, the material from which this cup was fashioned, was one of the most precious and sought-after hardstones in antiquity and the medieval world.  The light parallel veining of the lapis and the presence of tiny gold flecks testify to its source being the fabled ancient mines of Afghanistan.

East Roman Empire, probably Constantinople

Height: 5.1 cm
Diameter: 6.2 cm at rim

Private Collection TA, U.K., by inheritance from her father (d. 1968-9)
Private Collection TG, London, 2010
Acquired by AXIA 2017

ALR Search report No. S00125977