The Silver plate of the Battle of David and Goliath is from the Byzantine art period. The Byzantine plate was created in 629 to 630. Within the Byzantine Empire, it shared Roman legal and political traditions, customary Greek culture, and Christianity. This stunning plate is the major plate of the set of nine; it displays the scene of the King David’s life in the Old Testament. The artist interpretation will be examined. This study of plate will trace the subject matter of iconography, function and composition of the work and style.
Byzantine art was focused on necessities of the Orthodox Church, by means of the painting of icons and the decoration of churches with frescoes and mosaics. The subject matter will be analyzed through the comparison of the three registry of the plate. The top register (Figure 2) depicts towers of the two towns the Israelites and the Philistines. These sides are almost about to clash before David, confronts Goliath. The seated character between the towers is given a human form to representing a stream. This is proposed by the swamp grass he has in his hand as well as the water that drizzles from the jug at his side.
The hand of God pointing to David, symbolizes God’s protection from the heavens. By means of His shepherd’s staff he has been transformed into a one with holiness. The center register (Figure 3) has David’s left arm raised toward Goliath’s with his weapon advance. While moving forward, David prepares his slingshot in his right hand. The Israelite and Philistine soldiers stand behind their leaders. At the bottom register (Figure 4) David beheads Goliath with a large sword. On the backs of all the plates are control stamps of the emperor Heraclius.
These stamps, together with the details of the plate suggest a link of the David Plates to Heraclius’ reign. Together the arrangement of the nine plates may have followed the biblical order of the events. David is called from his flock of sheep to meet prophet Samuel; he is appointed as the new king of Israel by Samuel. David hears about the incentive for killing the giant Goliath, the champion of their enemy Philistines. David offers to fight Goliath, argue against Saul’s (the original king of Israel) worry that he is just a boy.
David says that he has killed the lions and bears that have endangered his sheep. Saul provides David with armor for his approaching battle, but David chooses not to wear it. David and Goliath meet each other and the young conqueror slays the giant (presented in three register scenes). Finally, David married Saul’s daughter Michal, as part of his reward for defeating Goliath. Intricate dishes such as the David Plates were used for display by the upper classes as well as royal court of the Byzantine Empire.
The dishes’ exclusive material and skillfulness were signs of the wealth of their holders, while ordinary classical themes of the decoration specified their education. The low-relief events on the David Plate—body movements, drapery style, precision and balance of the masterpieces-propose confirmation of the connection of Greco-Roman traditions in Byzantine art. The original function of the Byzantine silver plates in the perspective of the domestic form; were expensive display pieces of tableware.
Rather than seeing the plates as means of lordly self-representation, as did the authors of the earlier articles, it may have been proposed in the area of the Christianization. The fine quality of the David Plates was produced in the palace workshops of Constantinople, which assisted in a control on the manufacture of particular luxury goods. Each plate began with hammering out pure silver into a round outline from a single cast-silver slab. The plate showing the Battle of David and Goliath weighs twelve pounds and ten ounces .
Artfully inspired by text illustrations of David’s life, an artist traced the shapes of pictures on the surface of the plates. Continuing with the hammers, the silversmiths raised the uneven forms from the rest of the background. Then, using fine chisels, the artists formed the bodies and costumes in low relief. With the final touches, the fine details of the armor, facial features, and hair were created by pressing, etching, and chasing. The artists who produced these plates were highly skilled, following the custom of the times, but they did not sign their names.
This portrayal is strikingly similar to that of the Sinai mosaic, and here again David functions in relation to Christ, as author of the Psalms, which were seen to prophesy Christ’s deeds. By dressing David in contemporary imperial costume, the artist has added another layer of meaning to an already complex visual message, reminding the viewer that David was a king as well as a prophet, and that as a divinely ordained king, he is also a type of the Byzantine emperor, who in his turn represents the divine ruler Christ on earth.
Within the study of objects and viewing of the Metropolitan Museum, we learn about other cultures and have an appreciation for history. Sometimes through the study of works of art we learn other traditions. Unfortunately not all works of art are legal and many have actually been illegally presented in museums and later returned to their rightful heir.