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Earliest Numismatic Portrait of Christ

525384. Sold For $5250

Justinian II. First reign, 685-695. AV Solidus (18mm, 4.36 g, 6h). Constantinople mint, uncertain officina. Struck 692-695. IҺS CRISτOS RЄX RЄςNANτI(retrograde Ч)M, facing bust of Christ Pantokrator / D IЧSτINI AN ЧS SЄRЧ CҺRISτI, Justinian standing facing, holding cross potent on steps in right hand and akakia in left; [...]//CONO P. DOC 7; MIB 8a; SB 1248. Minor softness of strike. EF.

Ex Sincona 3 (25 October 2011), lot 3371; Numismatica Ars Classica 33 (5 April 2006), lot 656; Leu 36 (7 May 1985), lot 386.

This portrait of Christ is the earliest numismatic representation of Jesus, and marks a new development in Christian iconography. At the Trullan Synod, called by Justinian in AD 692 in an attempt to reconcile the growing religious rift between Constantinople and Rome, the issue of how Christ was to be portrayed was debated. The council's subsequent ruling (Canon 82) decreed that henceforth Christ should be seen in human form, rather than the symbolic representations which had prevailed during Christianity's earlier period. It is not known whether Justinian's introduction of the portrait on his coins was the result of this decree, but the Synod generally followed the thinking of the court in Constantinople. The split between the Pope and the Emperor only widened, as did the dispute between those who favored the use of such religious imagery (εικονοδουλοι, "image worshippers") and those who opposed its use (εικονοκλαστοι, "image smashers"), a dispute that also played a role in the expanding ideological confrontation between Christianity and Islam, with al-Malik introducing aniconic coin types at about the same time as Justinian was placing Christ on the Byzantine solidus.