December 2, 2020


Dumbarton Oaks, Harvard University’s Center for Byzantine Studies, has announced the newly published volume by His Grace Bishop Joachim (Cotsonis) of Amissos, Catalogue of Byzantine Seals at Dumbarton Oaks and in the Fogg Museum of Art, Volume 7: Anonymous, with Bilateral Religious Imagery (Dumbarton Oaks: Washington, DC, 2020). A distinguished and globally recognized Byzantinist, His Grace is Director of HCHC’s Archbishop Iakovos Library and Learning Resource Center and a 1979 graduate of Holy Cross.

The new volume, which also marks the return of the ongoing print series of Dumbarton Oaks seal catalogues, presents a distinct part of the collection: 572 anonymous lead seals bearing sacred images on both sides. These specimens include depictions of Christ, the Virgin, various narrative scenes, a number of saints (including rarely depicted or unique examples of holy figures on seals), or the cross—on both sides, with inscriptions identifying only the religious figures. The seals, almost all previously unpublished, are fully illustrated in color and accompanied by a detailed commentary that also provides transcriptions of the identifying inscriptions. This volume represents the first attempt to analyze this type of seal chronologically and typologically. The extended introduction outlines the significance of such seals, establishing an accurate and consistent terminology, their relationship to other collections, the nature of their selectivity, their iconographic types and distribution, the pairings of sacred figures, the method for determining obverse and reverse, establishing dating criteria, and placing this type of seal within the historical, artistic, and religious trends of Byzantine culture. The variety of these images, enhanced by references to examples in other collections, will also enable scholars to compare the renderings of holy figures on lead seals to those appearing in other Byzantine religious images. This catalogue makes a significant contribution to Byzantine sigillography as well as to the broader realm of Byzantine art and religious studies, with a focus on personal piety. As one reviewer wrote, “Although largely wordless, these seals are hardly silent witnesses.”

Here is a link to the Dumbarton Oaks online newsletter announcing the volume and its significance for Byzantine studies in general: