Opus Salomonis: Sorting Out Solomon’s Scattered Treasure

in Medieval Encounters
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The present contribution discusses the known occurrences of the expression opus Salomonis in medieval art and literature. The goal is to regroup together the textual occurrences presented in the past by various scholars, in order to show how the application of the expression differs across different contexts. Most of these Solomonic references depend on the initial topos of the furnishing of the Temple of Jerusalem but they act in different ways and should be understood according to three main lines of interpretation. The first, which is possible to date around the sixth century ce, depends on a tradition that mentions a series of objects that are literally considered as coming from the treasure of Solomon. The second interpretation, strictly related to the former, but whose earliest mention is an eighth-century source, shows us a shift toward bronze objects that evoke the context of the Temple for their technique of realization. The third reference, probably developed between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in a French, lay, cultural context, deals instead with the working technique of hard and precious materials, especially ivory.

Medieval Encounters

Jewish, Christian and Muslim Culture in Confluence and Dialogue




J. Verheyden, ed., The Figure of Solomon in Jewish, Christian and Islamic Tradition, King, Sage and Architect (Leiden: Brill, 2012). See also Sarit Shalev-Eyni, “Solomon, his Demons and Jongleurs: the Meeting of Islamic, Judaic and Christian Culture,” al-Masaq 18 (2006): 145–160.


José Leite de Vasconcelos, Signum Salomonis: estudio de etnografia comparativa (Lisbon: Livraria Classica Editora, 1918); R. Milstein, ed., Khotam Shlomo = Khatam Suleiman [The Seal of Solomon] (Jerusalem: Migdal Daṿid, ha-muzeʾon le-toldot, 1995); Rachel Milstein, La Bible dans l’art islamique (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2005), 102–108; Esther Fernández Medina, “The Seal of Solomon: From Magic to Messianic Device,” in Seals and Sealing Practises in the Near East, Developments in Administration and Magic from Prehistory to the Islamic Period, ed. Ilona Regulski, Kim Duistermaat and Peter Verkinderen (Leuven-Paris-Walpole: Peeters, 2012), 175–188.


Ulrike Zischka, Zur sakralen und profanen Anwendung des Knotenmotivs als magisches Mittel, Symbol oder Dekor, (München: Tuduv-Verl. -Ges. In Komm., 1977); Umberto Sansoni, Il nodo di Salomone: simbolo e archetipo d’Alleanza (Milano: Electa, 1998); see also the recent exhibit, organized by Pippo Lo Cascio, Il nodo di Salomone, Il simbolo millenario della Storia dell’Uomo, Palermo, 4–8 November 2014.


Walter Cahn, “Solomonic Elements in Romanesque Art,” in The Temple of Solomon: Archaeological Fact and Medieval Tradition, 45–72; Stefania Tuzi, Le colonne e il Tempio di Salomone: la storia, la leggenda, la fortuna (Rome: Gangemi, 2002); I. Kalavrezou-Maxeiner, “The Byzantine Knotted Column,” in Byzantine Studies in Honor of Milton V. Anastos, ed. S. Vryonis Jr. (Malibu, ca, 1985), 95–103.


Sara Iles Johnston, “The Testament of Solomon from Late Antiquity through the Renaissance,” in The Metamorphosis of Magic, ed. J. Bremmer and J. Veenstra (Leuven: Peeters, 2003), 35–50; Todd Klutz, “The Archer and the Cross: Chorographic Astrology and Literary Design in the Testament of Solomon,” in Magic and the Biblical World: from the Rod of Aaron to the Ring of Solomon, ed. T. Klutz (London: T&T Clark International, 2003), 219–244; Todd Klutz, Rewriting the Testament of Solomon: Tradition, Conflict and Identity in Late Antiquity Pseudoepigraphon (London: T&T Clark International, 2005); Peter Busch, Das Testament Salomos: die älteste christliche Dämonologie, kommentiert und in deutscher Erstübersetzung (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2006); Boustan and Beshay, “Sealing the Demons, Once and For All.”


Federico Barbierato, Nella stanza dei circoli: Clavicula Salomonis e libri di magia a Venezia nei secoli XVII e XVIII (Milan: Sylvestre Bonnard, 2002).


Colin Jack-Hinton, The Search for the Islands of Solomon 1567–1838 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969).


María Jesús Rubiera Mata, “La mesa de Salomon,” Awraq 3 (1980): 26–27; Julia Hernández Juberías, La Península imaginaria (Madrid: csic, 1999), 208–248; Nicola Clarke, The Muslim Conquest of Iberia, Medieval Arabic Narratives (London-New York, ny: Routledge 2012), 84–101.


Benno Rothenberg, Were These King Solomon’s Mines? Timna: Valley of the Biblical Copper Mines (London: Thames and Hudson, 1972).


Adrien de Longpérier, “Vase arabo-sicilien de l’oeuvre Salemon,” Revue Archéologique 12 (1865): 356–367; Gaston Migeon, Manuel d’art musulman II: les arts plastiques et industriels (Paris: Henri Saladin, 1907), 225, ill. 186; Gaston Migeon, Musée du Louvre, l’Orient musulman (Paris: Musée du Louvre, 1922), 2 vols, 1:378, no. 36; Georges Marçais, L’Art musulman (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1962), 82, pl. xviii; Ugo Scerrato, Metalli islamici (Milan: Fabbri editore, 1966), 80–83; Arts de l’Islam des origines à 1700 dans les collections publiques françaises, Orangerie des Tuileries, 22 juin–30 aout 1971 (Paris: Musée de l’Orangerie, 1971), 102, no. 147; H. Marchal, ed., L’Islam dans les collections nationales, Grand-Palais, 2 May–22 August 1977 (Paris: Editions des museés nationaux, 1977), 101, no. 152; Islamic Works of Art, Carpets and Textiles (London: Sotheby’s auction catalogue, 14 October 1987), 128; Marthe Bernus-Taylor, L’Art en terres d’Islam: les premières siècles (Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 1988), 160–161, ill. 169; M. Bernus-Taylor, ed., Arabesques et jardins de paradis: Collections françaises d’art islamique, Musée du Louvre, 16 octobre 1989–15 janvier 1990 (Paris: Réunion des musées nationaux, 1989), 148, no. 119; M. Bernus-Taylor, ed., Les Andalousies, de Damas à Córdoue (Paris: Société française de promotion artistique, 2000), 111, no. 87.


Manuel Gómez-Moreno, Ars Hispaniae: Historia universal del arte hispánico, el arte árabe Español hasta los Almohades, Arte Mozárabe (Madrid: Plus Ultra, 1951), ill. 393a.


Gerald D. West, “L’uevre Salemon,” The Modern Language Review 49 (1954): 176–182.


Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 8.88, explains it as being bronze shining like gold. However, it was also associated with brass.


Wolfgang Schöne, “Die künstlerische Gestalt der Pfalzkapelle Karls des Grossen in Aachen,” Zeitschrift für Kunstiwissenschaft 15 (1961): 97–148; Ernst G. Grimme and Ann Münchow, Der Dom zu Aachen. Architektur und Ausstattung (Aachen: Einhard, 1994), 48–55; Hans Jürgen Roth, Ein Abbild des Himmels. Der Aachener Dom—Liturgie, Bibel, Kunst (Aachen: Thouet, 2011); Walter Maas and Pit Siebigs, Der Aachener Dom (Regensburg: Schnell & Steiner, 2013).


Jules Helbig, “L’Inscription de l’ancienne chapelle de Faime,” Bulletin de l’Institut archéologique liégeois 14 (1878): 169–184.


Ra’anan Boustan, “The Spoils of the Jerusalem Temple at Rome and Constantinople. Jewish Counter-Geography in a Christianizing Empire,” in Antiquity in Antiquity. Jewish and Christian Pasts in the Greco-Roman World, ed. G. Gardner and K. Osterloh (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008), 327–372.


Procopius, History of the Wars, 4.9.1–9.


Luc d’Achery, Acta Sanctorum ordinis S. Benedicti—Vita S. Droctovei abbatis (Lutetiae Parisiorum: L. Billaine, 1668), 254: “From the city of Toledo, where Amalricus himself had his capital, he took away a golden cross, encrusted with precious gems; coming moreover from the Temple of Jerusalem, as it is reported, were also thirty chalices, fifteen patens and also twenty Gospel cases.” With a different interpretation of the punctuation it would be possible to refer “ex opere Salomonis” to the first half of the list, namely to the cross. Such piece was so important that, when Childebert returned from his victorious expedition he had a church built in honor of St. Vincent, whose shape in plan allegedly reminded of that of the object. Both building and cross were praised by Venantius Fortunatus (530–609 ce) in a series of poems, and particularly in the so-called De ecclesia parisiaca, which opens up and it is entirely based on a comparison between the Temple of Solomon and Childebert’s building, See Venantius Fortunatus, Poèmes, ed. and transl. M. Reydellet (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1994), 2.10, 66–67. However, despite the relevance of the cross within Childebert’s propaganda, it seems undeniable that the pieces coming from the Temple should be considered the vessels, as another source, the eighth-century Liber historiae Francorum, seems to confirm. See the passage in Bruno Krusch’s edition in the Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores rerum Merovingicarum, ii (Hannover: Impensis bibliopolii Hahniani, 1888), ch. 23, 279.


Boustan, The Spoils of the Jerusalem Temple, 327–372.


Ihor Ševčenko, “The Greek Source of the Inscription on Solomon’s Chalice in the Vita Constantini,” in To honor Roman Jakobson: Essays on the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday: 11 October 1966, 3 vols. (The Hague: Mouton 1967), 3:1806–1817.


Claudia Rapp, “Old Testament Models for Emperors in Early Byzantium,” in The Old Testament in Byzantium, ed. P. Magdalino and R. Nelson (Washington, dc: Dumbarton Oaks, 2010), 175–97; Henry Maguire, “Davidic Virtue: The Crown of Constantine Monomachos and Its Images,” in The Real and Ideal Jerusalem in Jewish, Christian and Islamic Art, ed. B. Kuehnel (Jerusalem: Center for Jewish Art, 1998), 117–123; also Suzanne Spain Alexander, “Heraclius, Byzantine Imperial Ideology and the David Plates,” Speculum 52 (1977): 217–237.


Richard Ousterhout, “New Temples and New Solomons, The Rhetoric of Byzantine Architecture,” in The Old Testament Testament in Byzantium, 223–253.


Martin Harrison, A Temple for Byzantium: the Discovery and Excavation of Anicia Juliana’s Palace-Church in Istanbul (London: Harvey Miller, 1989); Jonathan Bardill, “A New Temple for Byzantium: Anicia Juliana, King Solomon and the Gilded Ceiling of the Church of St. Polyeuktos in Constantinople,” in Social and Political Life in Late Antiquity, ed. W. Bowden, A. Gutteridge and C. Machado (Leiden: Brill 2006), 339–370.


Ra’anan Boustan, “Israelite Kingship, Christian Rome and the Jewish Imperial Imagination: Midrashic Precursors to the Medieval ‘Throne of Solomon,’” in Poetics of Power: Jews, Christians and the Roman Empire, ed. N. Dohrmann and A. Y. Reed (Philadelphia, pa: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013), 1–30.


Paolo Liverani, “Le colonne e il capitello in bronzo d’età romana dell’altare del SS. Sacramento in Laterano. Analisi archeologica e problematica storica,” Atti della Pontificia Accademia, Rendiconti, serie III, 54–55 (1991–1993), 75–99.


Champagne and Boustan, Walking in the Shadows of the Past, 476–481.


Rubiera Mata, La mesa de Salómon, 26–31; Julia Hernández Juberías, La Península imaginaria, 208–248; Clarke, The Muslim Conquest of Iberia, 84–101.


See Clarke, The Muslim Conquest of Iberia, 84–101.


Ibid., 100.


Carl J. Lamm, “Glass and Hard Stone Vessels,” in A Survey of Persian Art from Prehistoric Times to Present, ed. Arthur Pope, 6 vols. (London: Oxford University Press, 1938–1958), 3:2592–2606 (2595).


Charles De Linas, Orfèvrerie mérovingienne. Les oeuvres de Saint-Eloi et la verroterie cloisonnée (Paris-Arras: Didron, 1864), 2.


Avinoam Shalem, “The Fall of al-Mada’in: Some Literary References concerning Sassanian Spoils of War in Medieval Islamic Treasures,” Iran 32 (1994): 77–81 (77).


Oleg Grabar, “About a Bronze Bird,” in Reading Medieval Images: the Art Historian and the Object, ed. E. Sears and T. K. Thomas (Ann Arbor, mi: University of Michigan Press, 2002), 117–125 (117).


Ibid., 124.


Robert-Henri Bautier, “La datation et la provenance du ‘paon aquamanile’ du Louvre,” Bulletin de la Société nationale des antiquaires de France, s.n. (1977), 92–101.


Cyrille Aillet, “Recherches sur le christianisme arabisé (IX–XII sièces). Les manuscrits hispaniques annotés en arabe,” in Existe una identidad mozarabe? Historia, lengua y cultura de los cristianos de al-Andalus (siglos IX–XII), ed. C. Aillet, M. Penelas, and Philippe Roisse (Madrid: Casa de Velázquez, 2008), 91–114.


Dodds, Architecture and Ideology, 92.


Ibid., 93–94.


Prudencio de Sandoval, Historia de Idacio Obispo, que escriviò poco antes que Espana se perdiese (Pamplona: Nicolas de Assiayn, 1615), 131–132. “We give as furnishing for the church eight tapestries and three cloaks . . . three chalices, two in silver and one in stone (?), and a missal and a silver cross and two wooden ones and four silken altar-cloths and two iron bells, a book of pericopes and a book of responsories, two psalters, one book of dialogues and passions [of the saints], one rule of the Benedictine order and five quinenaves (?), four carpets, three Solomonic vases and twelve silver spoons [Du Cange suggests to substitute culiares for curiales].”


Reiske, Constantini Porphyrogeniti imperatoris de Cerimoniis, 2:641.


Winifred Philipp Lehmann, A Gothic Etymological Dictionary (Leiden: Brill, 1986), F 65, 120.


Anastasius Bibliothecarius, Historia ecclesiastica, sive Chronographia tripertita . . . De vitiis pontificum a Petro usque ad Nicholaum I . . . deinde Vita Hadriani II et Stephani VI, auctore Guillelmo Bibliothecario (Paris: Typographia regia, 1649), 237. “A gilted cantharus, a solomon, a golden crown with precious stones and a tapestry with gold and white stones and a book of sermons.”


Reiske, Constantini Porphyrogeniti imperatoris, 2:641.


Mazahéri, “Le Sabre contre l’épée: ou l’origine chinoise de l’Arcier au creuset,” 671.


West, L’uevre Salemon, 177.


Constance B. Davies, “L’Uevre Salemun,” Medium Aevum 29 (1960): 173–183.


Nigel Abercrombie, “A Note on a Passage in Guigemar,” The Modern Language Review 30 (1935) 353.


Harold W. Lawton, “L’uevre Salemon,” The Modern Language Review 50 (1955): 50–52.


Lawton, “L’uevre Salemon,” 52. In a way, the naïve quest for actual artifacts evoke by Lawton has yielded, over the years, two objects carrying the inscription opus Salomonis that were unknown to the two scholars, because they fell outside the domain of literature. However, I do not think that the label on our lamp and ewer carries the same meaning as that indicated by œuvre Salemon. If this were the case we should expect to recognize some sort of decoration or carving technique on both our objects that, however, have in common only their constituting material. It is also difficult to believe that opus Salomonis is an equivalent of the œuvre Salomon also considering the different chronological phases (eighth to tenth/twelfth to thirteenth), geographical areas (mostly Spain/France) and literary contexts of usage (church inventories/chivalric poems).


See, for instance, Ruggero Longo, “L’opus sectile nei cantieri normanni. Una squadra di Marmorari tra Salerno e Palermo,” in Medioevo: le officine, XII Convegno internazionale di studi, ed. C. A. Quintavalle (Milan: Electa, 2010), 111–121.



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