Empress Ariadne

unknown490 AD - 510 AD

Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien
Vienna, Austria

In late antiquity a two-leaved folding writing tablet, the diptych, was in common use. From it were derived decorative objects made in several parts of precious material. In classical antiquity, ivory from the tusks of African and Indian elephants was already considered a precious and rare material and was primarily used for artworks for the ruling classes and in the religious sphere. The present depiction of an empress, which comes from the Riccardi collection in Florence, conveys an impressive picture of the Byzantine court ceremonial but differs considerably from the monuments of the preceding Roman imperial age. Personal aspects were suppressed in favour of the ruler’s attributes, making it difficult to identify the empress. It is probably Ariadne, the wife of the Byzantine emperors Zeno (reigned 474 – 491) and Anastasius I (reigned 491 – 518). She died in 515 AD. Clad in richly decorated robes, the empress sits enthroned under a shell-shaped canopy flanked by two eagles. It is supported by fluted columns with Corinthian capitals. Two curtains are fixed to a rod and wound around the columns, thus exposing the empress to view. The throne with its pillows, high back and foots too ladds to the exaltation of the depicted figure. In her left hand the empressholds a globe (Greek: sphaira, ball) surmounted by a cross, while her right hand is raised in a gesture of blessing. Ariadne is wearing an embroidered chlamys (short mantle) decorated with beadsor pearls and a bejewelled collar over her tunic as well as a disc-shaped fibula on her right shoulder. Her head is adorned with the characteristic crown with twoknobs (cornula), a pearl diadem and ear-rings with attached hanging chains, so-called pendilia. The trapezium-shaped inset on the chlamys is decorated with a heavily worn bust. Well-preserved remnants of gold leaf further underscore the value of this ivory plaque depicting an empress. The eyes, ear-pendants and arms of the throne were originally set with stones. © Kurt Gschwantler, Alfred Bernhard-Walcher, Manuela Laubenberger, Georg Plattner, Karoline Zhuber-Okrog, Masterpieces in the Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities. A Brief Guide to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna 2011


  • Title: Empress Ariadne
  • Creator: unknown
  • Creator Death Place: unknown
  • Creator Birth Place: unknown
  • Date Created: 490 AD - 510 AD
  • Style: Late Antiquity - Early Byzantine
  • Provenance: 1753 known to be in the Collection Riccardi, Florence; in Vienna since 1816
  • Physical Dimensions: w127 x h265 x d19 cm (entire)
  • Inventory Number: ANSA X 39
  • Type: equipment
  • External Link: http://www.khm.at/en/collections/collection-of-greek-and-roman-antiquities
  • Medium: Ivory

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