Oranament of Empire, Pillar of the Church — Empress Flaccilla

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Waiting around in the Byzantine gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, this head caught my attention. My first thought was that she had to have been someone. I’ve since gone to look at other pictures online of this bust, but I like mine better. In these two shots, the facial features are softened in relation to the background. Perhaps it because the face seems young, even girlish. I didn’t really notice at the time standing there at the Met how tough she looks. Not someone with whom to trifle, maybe it’s the broken nose, pinched mouth, and the glare to the eye.

With nothing particular to call attention to her, she is easy enough to pass by and overlook in the museum. But certainly she was a woman of great stature. A quick google search underscores her power and piety. The first is from the wall text at the Met. The second is from Wikipedia. She was, undoubtedly, an important person in the propagation of the Christian faith, 4th century.

“The hairstyle and facial features are those of Aelia Flaccilla, wife of Theodosius I. In about 382 she was the first woman officially to be crowned empress since Constantine the Great’s mother and his wife far earlier in the century. Flaccilla was described at her death in 387 as ‘this ornament of the Empire, this zeal for the faith, this pillar of the church.’ During her husband’s reign Christianity was established as the official religion of the state.”  

“She was a fervent supporter of the Nicene CreedSozomen reports her preventing a conference between Theodosius and Eunomius of Cyzicus who served as figurehead of Anomoeanism, the most radical sect of Arians, who believed that Jesus was in no way similar to the Father. Ambrose and Gregory of Nyssa praise her Christian virtue and comment on her role as “a leader of justice” and “pillar of the Church”

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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