With a blend of humour and mystery, Dr. Helen Rufus-Ward, Art Historian and international speaker guided her audience through a generously illustrated presentation of the arts of Byzantium. Undaunted by an expanse of ten centuries, Dr. Rufus-Ward unraveled several mysteries surrounding the largest and wealthiest civilizations in the Eastern Roman Empire. While not formally named Byzantium until the 18th century, the arts and culture that began their influential voyage across Europe began in Constantinople, present day Istanbul, in 330AD and met its end there centuries later with the eclipse of the Ottoman Empire.

Our guided tour of the more mysterious and glorious influences of that period were fleshed out in a friendly and informal style that brought the audience to laughter on many occasions. We explored the mosaics of Ravenna in Eastern Italy, the Hungarian crown jewels, in particular the Holy Crown St. Stephen, exquisite ivories and many burial treasures now housed throughout the finest museums in Europe.

One wonderful mystery was a beautifully carved casket of solid silver, gilded in gold and found in a burial site in the Esquiline Hills of Rome. Called the Projecta Casket, it measured in size and weight sufficient to require several attendants to carry it. This was borne out by the carvings on the vessel replicating the scene of these attendants carrying the casket in a procession ahead of a beautiful woman. One panel of the carvings showed a devoted couple and pointed perhaps to its use as a bridal casket or a funeral casket. Its use was revealed in the remaining panels that showed Projecta making her way to the bathhouse with her entourage to beautify herself for her beloved husband Secundus. The gilded box contained all the potions and elixirs of the day.

Feature image: The Projecta Casket, 380 AD (circa), Rome, maker unknown, casket, gold & silver. British Museum (1866,1229.1)