Pulichene: ‘One Whose Name was Writ in Wax’: Reflections on the Medieval Reuse of Consular Diptychs

A remarkable, though under-studied, group of late antique Roman ivories known as consular diptychs exist today in some forty complete and fragmentary works, originally dated ca. 400-540 C.E. These pairs of hinged tablets are primarily known to art historians through their original function in commemorating a Roman official’s ascent to the consular office, for the diptychs’ exterior surfaces often bear distinctive double portraits of the new consul and were distributed as gifts to the Roman elite. Almost entirely ignored in scholarship is the fact that the interiors of these diptychs were carved out to accommodate wax writing surfaces. Although the wax has long sense fallen away, the ivory supports still bear legible traces of centuries of subsequent re-inscription by communities of medieval Christians residing in Western Europe. This dissertation investigates how the images, names, and liturgical documents recorded in these diptychs forged a relationship between the Roman imperial past and Christian communities, specifically in the context of the memorialization of the dead. By investigating the parallel function of the portrait and the personal name as signifiers of bodily presence, the list as a tool for visually articulating and imposing order on the natural and the supernatural, and the generative role of both inscription and erasure in the construction of identity in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, I argue that consular diptychs testify to broader concerns for establishing community, familial, and imperial legitimacy in a Christian empire reoriented toward Western Europe.

Projektmitarbeiter ZI