Consular diptych

Consular diptych
One of the consular diptychs of Areobindus Dagalaiphus Areobindus, consul in 506, showing him in a imago clipeata (Louvre)

In Late Antiquity a consular diptych was a particular type of diptych (a pair of linked panels, generally in ivory, wood or metal and decorated with rich sculpted decoration) which could function as a writing tablet but was also intended as a deluxe commemorative object, commissioned by a consul ordinarius and then distributed to reward those who had supported his candidature as rewards and to mark his entry to that post.



The chronology of such diptychs is clearly defined, with their beginnings marked by a decision by Theodosius I in 384 to reserve their use to consuls alone, except by an extraordinary Imperial dispensation, and their end marked by the consulship's disappearance under the reign of Justinian in 541. Even so, great aristocrats and Imperial civil-servants bypassed Theodosius's ban and produced diptychs to celebrate less important posts than the consulship – Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, for example, distributed some to commemorate his son's quaestorian then praetorian games in 393 and 401 respectively.

Consular diptych of Magnus), who was consul of Constantinople in 518. He sits between figures representing Rome and Constantinople. Louvre

The oldest diptych that can properly be called a consular diptych, held in the cathedral treasury at Aosta, is one commissioned by Anicius Petronius Probus, consul in the Western Empire in 406 – it is unique not only for its extreme antiquity but also as the only one to bear the portrait of the Emperor (Honorius in this instance, to whom the diptych is dedicated in an inscription full of humility, with Probus calling himself the emperor's "famulus" or slave) rather than that of the consul.

Later, consular diptychs systematically carried either a more or less elaborate portrait of the consul on the most richly decorated examples or a dedicatory inscription to him within a geometric and vegetal scheme on the simpler examples. The simpler examples were probably produced as a series from models prepared in advance, with the more sophisticated (and thus more expensive) diptychs reserved for the inner circle of the Roman aristocracy. The workshops responsible for their production were to be found in the Empire's two capitals at Rome and Constantinople, but the fall of the Western Empire in 476 was probably responsible for the disappearance of western production at the end of the 5th century, with all surviving consular diptychs of 6th century date originating from Constantinople. The most common motif on 6th century consular diptychs from Constantinople shows the consul, standing, presiding over the consular games which marked his entry to the consulship.

By their very nature consular diptychs are a valuable tool for the prosopography of the late Roman Empire as well as for the study of the art of this period. Large numbers of them have survived to the present day, in many cases due to their re-use as book covers for medieval ecclesiastical manuscripts. Some were also used in churches as grand bindings for lists of bishops and similar records.[1] The Barberini Ivory is a much rarer Imperial diptych, probably of Justinian.


In chronological order of production:


  1. ^ Google books Medieval Italy, an Encyclopedia, p. 566, Christopher Kleinhenz ed. Routledge, 2004, ISBN 0415939305, 9780415939300


  • Alexander Kazhdan (editor), The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, 3 vols., Oxford University Press, 1991 (ISBN 0195046528), s. v. "Diptych", vol. 1, 636-637.
  • Bente Kiilerich, Late Fourth Century Classicism in the plastic Arts : studies in the so-called Theodosian Renaissance, Odense University Classical Studies 18, Odense University Press, 1993.
  • (French) Danièle Gaborit-Chopin, "Les ivoires du Ve au VIIIe siècle" in J. Durant (éd.), Byzance, l'art byzantin dans les collections publiques françaises (catalogue of an exhibition at the Louvre, 3 November 1992-1 February 1993), Paris, 1993, 42-45.
  • (German) Richard Delbrück, Die Consulardiptychen : und verwandte Denkmäler, Berlin, 1929.

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Diptych — • A sort of notebook, formed by the union of two tablets, placed one upon the other and united by rings or by a hinge Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin Knight. 2006. Diptych     Diptych      …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • Diptych — Ivory consular diptych of Areobindus, Byzantium, 506 AD, Louvre …   Wikipedia

  • Diptych —    Two tablets, usually of wood or ivory, joined by hinges. Consular diptychs (examples survive from 428 541) were presented to senators, friends, and relatives by each of the annual consuls (q.v.) to commemorate their year in office. Each… …   Historical dictionary of Byzantium

  • Imperial diptych — In Late Antiquity, an imperial diptych is a theoretical type of ivory diptych, made up of two leaves of five panels each and each with a central panel representing the emperor or empress. They are so named in contrast to consular diptychs. They… …   Wikipedia

  • Manlius Boethius — Consular diptych of Boethius Nar. Manlius Boethius (died circa 487) was a Roman aristocrat, who was appointed consul for 487. Life He was probably the son of the Boethius who was the Praetorian prefect of Italy …   Wikipedia

  • Barberini ivory — The Barberini ivory is one half of a Byzantine ivory imperial diptych dating from Late Antiquity, now in the Louvre. It is carved in the classical style known as late Theodosian, representing the emperor as triumphant victor. It is generally… …   Wikipedia

  • Western sculpture — ▪ art Introduction       three dimensional artistic forms produced in what is now Europe and later in non European areas dominated by European culture (such as North America) from the Metal Ages (Europe, history of) to the present.       Like… …   Universalium

  • Medieval art — Byzantine monumental Church mosaics are one of the great achievements of medieval art. These are from Monreale in Sicily from the late 12th century. The medieval art of the Western world covers a vast scope of time and place, over 1000 years of… …   Wikipedia

  • Flavius Felix — (380 ndash; 430), was a Consul of Rome in the West [cite book |title=The Numismatic Chronicle |author=Vaux, W.S.W, John Evans and Fred W. Madden, eds. |publisher=John Russell Smith |date=1861] in the year 428. His carved ivory consular diptych is …   Wikipedia

  • Roman consul — This article is about the highest office of the Roman Republic. For other, see Consul. Ancient Rome This article is part of the series: Politics and government of Ancient Rome …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”