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Emperor Heraclius Denied Entry into Jerusalem, 1460/80

Tempera and oil on panel
67.6 x 54.2 cm (26 5/8 x 21 5/16 in.); painted surface: 67 x 53 cm (26 3/8 x 20 7/8 in.)
George F. Harding Collection


This panel recounts the adventures of the Byzantine emperor Heraclius, who rescued the True Cross and returned it to Jerusalem after its capture by Chosroës, king of Persia. These scenes were probably part of an extended narrative on an altarpiece dedicated to the Holy Cross, a relic that was much venerated in the Middle Ages.


In this scene, the emperor brings the True Cross back to Jerusalem in triumph. However, an angel bars his way, pointing out the vanity of his procession in comparison to Christ’s humble entry into the city. Only when the emperor dismounted and approached in humility was he allowed to enter, a scene that was no doubt once part of the sequence. Here the emperor is identifiable by the double-headed eagle, which was an emblem of both the Holy Roman emperor of the day and past emperors.


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