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Current time:0:00Total duration:2:38

Byzantine Plate with the Battle of David and Goliath

Video transcript

This is one of a group of plates that tell the life of the biblical hero David. And one actually doesn’t tend to think of silver plates—‘cause this is, presumably, decoration for your dining table—being quite as emotionally involving. Most Byzantine official art is very symmetrical and very static. Here, you have action and real motion and a whole story being told on one plate: the battle with Goliath. This is an exceptionally sophisticated work of art, on an intellectual level of how to tell the story, what scenes have been selected from the story. It’s like a film is unrolling. You’ve had the action set up in the top: the hand of God, blessing David. It’s not as easily clear because Goliath is smaller than David. David is larger by his virtue. And then the middle is the great battle scene, Goliath appearing to feel confident in his victory, but then your eye expands to the sides as Goliath’s troops are beginning to flee. The bottom: suddenly and for the first time you have a giant. In the end, David, he’s reduced to what he is: a young boy who has saved his people. These plates are connected with the Byzantine emperor Herakleios; an allusion to the idea that the battle of Herakleios, with his smaller army against this massive Persian army, was a variant on the biblical story of the Israelites and David and may have been used in elaborate dinners, where it was kind of a competition as to who could most accurately fill in the narrative. I find it quite fascinating that we’re seeing the moment before what one would traditionally think of as the climactic moment— the man has his head bashed in by a rock and dies. You’re helping the movement along, making it more alive. They’re made for people to look at and to become involved in, in a way that we don’t necessarily think of as much today except when we think of watching movies.