The name of the collection is inspired by an event in the life of Theodora (ca. 500 – 28 June 548), one of the most influential empresses in history. In spite of her humble and colourful background, Theodora rose to rule over the Byzantine Empire together with her husband. She grew up on the outskirts of the empire with a father who was an animal trainer. After his early death, the child Theodora took the stage as an actress to support the family.
During this time, the profession was considered scandalous—being an actress was synonymous with being a prostitute. Still, Theodora met Justinian I in 522 and they married in 525. The couple was known for ruling as intellectual and political equals, and Theodora was responsible for much of the reformation of Byzantium. During her time as empress, Theodora fought for the rights of women and abolished a law that allowed women to be killed for committing adultery.
In 528, construction began on the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy, built as an imperial church of the Byzantine Empire. The basilica’s mosaics depicts both the emperor and the empress participating in an imperial procession, signifying her equal role and importance in ruling the empire. The Empress is represented here, holding the Eucharistic vessel for wine, accompanied by court officials The mosaic was completed before her death in 548.
In 532, a conflict between two political and religious groups began and quickly grew into a revolt, destroying much of Constantinople. The rebels wanted to overthrow Justinian, who was preparing to flee. Theodora spoke out, saying she preferred to die a ruler than to be removed from power. She told her husband: We stay and “Nika!”. In Greek, ‘ nika means ‘to win or conquer’. Her courage prompted Justinian to stay and send in his troops to calm the rebels. After restoring the peace, Theodora and Justinian rebuilt the city including aqueducts, bridges and more than twenty-five churches, the most famous of which the Hagia Sophia. The basilica was rededicated in 537. It was the largest church for many centuries and became one of the greatest examples of Byzantine architecture.
The Hagia Sophia basilica was rededicated in 537. It was the largest church for many centuries and became one of the greatest examples of Byzantine architecture.
At the beginning of the 20th century, an important Byzantine hoard of coins and jewellery was found near the city of Asyut in central Egypt. This mysterious ‘Asyut treasure’ was thought to be linked to the Byzantine court, since it included coins with the portrait of the Byzantine Emperor. The treasure is now divided between the Kunstgewerbemuseum in Berlin, the British Museum in London and the Metropolitan Museum in New York City.
We think that the impressive, gold open-work breast-chain fit for royalty, must have belonged to the Empress Theodora herself. We lifted out a delicate detail of this regal jewel and combined the open-work, gold medallion with disks of precious mother-of-pearl, adding an aura of femininity. Its soft shimmering hues marry beautifully with the gold. The signature medallions are double-sided, showing the intricate, open-work face of the Byzantine detail or the smooth mother-of-pearl face. And we called this collection Nika, paying tribute to the courageous Empress Theodora, to be worn today as a personal victory medallion by you.
The gold opus interrasile or open-work breast-chain from the Asyut treasure, now in the British Museum, is a stunning example of the high level of craftsmanship of the Constantinopolitan jewellers in the sixth and seventh Century.
This 2nd-century AD terracotta figure illustrates how the body chain was worn