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First Christ PortraitJustinian II (first reign, AD 685-695). AV solidus (20mm, 4.37 gm, 6h). Constantinople mint, 4th officina, AD 674-680/1. I?S CRISΤOS RЄX RЄΣNANΤIЧM (second Ч retrograde), facing half-length bust of Christ, holding Gospels in left hand and raising right in sign of benediction; cross behind / [D IVSΤINI AN]Ч S SЄRЧ CRISΤI, Justinian standing facing, wearing crown and loros, and holding acacia and cross potent; Δ//CONO. Sear 1248. DOC 7d. MIB 8a. Wonderful portrait of Christ! Choice Extremely Fine.
This issue of Justinian II is the first coin of any kind to bear an actual portrait of Christ. Remarkably, even at this relatively early stage of Christianity, the iconography of Christ is relatively fixed-- he is shown bearded, with long, straight, flowing hair, holding a jeweled book of the Gospels in his left arm and raising his right hand in a sign of benediction. In the coinage of Justinian's second reign (AD 705-710), the depiction is quite different, with short, curly hair and more Semitic features (see lot 25330). Justinian's immediate successors did not repeat the experiment in sacramental portraiture, but after the fall of Iconoclasm in the early ninth century the depiction of Christ on coinage resumed, becoming the most prevalent obverse type through the fall of Byzantium in 1453.
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