210 • An Important Pierced and Gilded Bronze Roundel

210 • An Important Pierced and Gilded Bronze Roundel

Anatolia, 11th century
Size: 12.5 cm diameter

The iconography of this outstanding plaque is fascinating and extraordinary. A man in a belted tunic is standing on the head of a fabulous beast with a human head, big antlers and two bodies, each with four legs ending in claws and a long curling tail. Four other beasts occupy the leafy vines all around, similar except that they have raptor’s heads, two each side of the central beast, two each side of the man. The man has his hands stretched out to the side, but his relationship with his beasts is unclear.

The iconography refers to the legend of Digenes Akritis, the warrior of the borderlands between Byzantium and the Muslim Turks, also called ‘of the two geneologies’ i.e. Christianity and Islam. Signed on the tang: ‘The Work of Saleh’. It is intriguing that the iconography is basically Byzantine, albeit rendered in typically Seljuk mode, while the craftsman who made it was a Muslim.

This iconography appears on two related plaques, in the al-Sabah Collection, Kuwait, and in the collection of Rifaat Sheikh al-Ard in Riyadh. They are smaller, probably harness decorations, but what is striking is how much more conventional they are, even Westernized, in what they show. Each has a princely figure on horseback fighting a serpentine dragon, a design that lacks the mystery and power of this unique roundel.