collage art, Christof Maupin art, amphora

Articles of interest from our sister blog

As many of our regular readers know, I started a “sister blog” a few months ago, dealing with my exploration of the intersection of art from the past and art from the present, and specifically how this impacts my own work as an artist. As so much of my work is impacted by art from the distant past, I thought it worth sharing some of my posts from the other blog site. Comments welcome:

Some Thoughts on the Persistence of Classical Imagery

https://pastpresentartsandcrafts.wordpress.com/2017/07/21/some-thoughts-on-the-persistence-of-classical-imagery/

A few thoughts on the art of printmaking, views of antiquity and modern prints

https://pastpresentartsandcrafts.wordpress.com/2017/07/04/a-few-thoughts-on-the-art-of-printmaking-views-of-antiquity-and-modern-prints/

The art of enameling, ancient and modern

https://pastpresentartsandcrafts.wordpress.com/2017/06/21/the-art-of-enameling-ancient-and-modern/

A case study in reinterpreting an old technique: English slip decorated earthenwares and modern counterparts (including my own)

https://pastpresentartsandcrafts.wordpress.com/2017/06/09/a-case-study-in-reinterpreting-an-old-technique-english-slip-decorated-earthenwares-and-modern-counterparts-including-my-own/

Broken Things

https://pastpresentartsandcrafts.wordpress.com/2017/05/30/broken-things/

 

Staffordshire Hoard Conservation Programme Completed

A new post on the Staffordshire Hoard website has announced completion of the cleaning and conservation project. With many tiny fragments emerging from the soil during this process, the total number of pieces is now about 4,000. Several pieces have been reconstructed from these fragments, with surprising results. The research phase is continuing and a catalog, research reports and much more will be available online in 2018. The Hoard website already has an excellent photo gallery of some of the key objects. Read the latest here (opens in a new tab or window). – http://www.staffordshirehoard.org.uk/news/staffordshire-hoard-conservation-programme-completed

Our Object the the Week: A Merovingian Frankish Silver and Glass Buckle, Late 5th – 6th Century AD

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This week we have selected a superb silver and glass buckle from Late Antiquity. This object was made at the moment in history when the Western European provinces of the Roman Empire were slipping further from centralised authority and becoming the de facto semi-barbarian kingdoms of the Franks, Visigoths, Saxons and others. Our object dates to the late 5th or 6th Century AD.

Intended either as a shoe buckle or a baldric buckle, this object features a nearly heart shaped silver “case” in which translucent, nearly transparent, red glass has been set. Holding this in place at the top or front facing side of the buckle is a silver frame that extends forward forming a double loop that also holds the buckle loop and tongue in place. It then folds back to form an attachment plate on the reverse with two pins that would have passed through fabric or leather. A supporting silver bar with two globular headed rivets adorns the center front of the buckle.

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The decorative technique used on this buckle was intended to imitate more expensive cloisonné decoration in either enamel or inset garnets. Cloisonné was a very popular decorative technique during the transitional period from Late Antiquity to the early Middle Ages. The name is derived from the French word “cloison” meaning “cell”. This refers to the technique of creating individual spaces by using thin metal wires or panels and filling these cells with garnets or other semi-precious stones or with colored enamel (glass paste). The most expensive cloisonné decoration involved garnets, typically imported from Sri Lanka. Enamel cloisonné was also common and used on buckles and strap ends, weapon handles and scabbards, brooches, jewelry and many other small objects.

Although colored enamel decoration on metalwork had a long history in pre-Roman Europe, continuing through the Roman period in the western provinces, the particular type of cloisonné we are concerned with here seems to have reached Europe by contact with the migratory cultures of Goths, Vandals, Franks and others during the 4th Century AD. This contact involved controlled settlement of some populations in exchange for military service, direct conflict with other groups (sometimes defeated militarily, sometimes paid off and kept at bay beyond the Roman frontiers) and forcible occupation of Roman territory, changing the cultural, political and artistic landscape of Europe over the next few centuries. The use of colored glass held in place by a metal casing, as with our object, was a less expensive but still striking technique that could imitate both enamel cloisonné and inset garnet decoration.

For those interested in acquiring this item it may be found in our Etsy store:

https://www.etsy.com/listing/452873332/merovingian-frankish-silver-and-glass?ref=shop_home_active_4

and our eBay shop: http://m.ebay.com/itm/Merovingian-Frankish-Silver-and-Glass-Buckle-Late-5th-6th-Century-AD-/131878940987?nav=SELLING_ACTIVE

 

The Museum of London: Roman Antiquities

The Museum of London offers, in my view, one of the most complete and satisfying museum experiences anywhere. Tracing the development of the greater London area from prehistory right through today, it offers not only extraordinary artifacts but art, interactive exhibits, dioramas, reconstructions and more to help the visitor understand London in any era. Indeed, I would recommend a visit to the Museum of London for any London visitor who wants to understand something of the development, character and geography of the City during their stay.

The Roman exhibits are remarkable, in that they make a very thorough attempt at reconstructing at least a glimpse of daily life in Roman London over its 300+ year history. This brief photo essay offers just a sample of exhibits I found to be of special interest during a 2012 visit.

ImageInscribed tombstone of a 3rd Century AD Roman centurion, found during reconstruction of St Martin’s Church, Ludgate Hill, in 1669. His clothing and the staff in his hand offer clues to his rank. The inscription reads: “To the spirits of the departed and to Vivius Marcianus of the 2nd Legion Augusta, Januaria Martina, his most devoted wife, set up this memorial.”

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These 2 images are from a display of household wares in ceramic and glass, both Romano-British and imported from elsewhere in the Empire. In the lower image are several items, including ceramic oil lamps and parts of glass vessels, decorated with imagery related to gladiators and the arena.

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Part of a reconstructed Roman glass maker’s workshop that was excavated in London. Large amounts of recycled glass were broken up for melting down into molten glass, from which new glass vessels and objects were made.

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An example of the excellent educational exhibits in the Museum of London. This is an actual section of a Roman mosaic floor, mounted in a display where it can be touched by visitors.

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Reconstruction of a finely appointed room in a Roman home in London, based on excavations. The mosaic floor is original.

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A display or Roman jewelry, including brooches, rings and bracelets. Most are made of bronze and decorated in various techniques, including enameling, embossing, silvering, tinning or gilding.

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The 5 denominations of Roman coinage during the 1st and 2nd Centuries AD

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Roman gold coins of the 1st and 2nd Centuries AD, all found in London.

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3rd Century AD Roman limestone relief of 4 mother goddesses, found reused as building material in London. These deities may represent a merging of native or local British goddesses with deities from the traditional Roman pantheon.

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3rd Century AD limestone sculpture of a male figure and horse representing either Castor or Pollux (the Heavenly Twins), found near the Temple of Mithras in London.

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Excavations in 1999 at Spitalfields, London uncovered a Roman cemetery, including this stone sarcophagus containing a decorated lead coffin dating to the 4th Century.

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Inside the Spitalfields coffin was the skeleton of a young woman who died in her 20s. Tests revealed she may have come to England from southwestern Europe. Forensic studies resulted in this facial reconstruction.

Visit the Museum of London website at: http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/london-wall/

Visit Clio Ancient Art to see our selection of Roman Antiquities: http://www.clioancientart.com/catalog/c15_p1.html

Roman Bronze Brooches Revisited: Zoomorphic Types

Roman brooch fibula
http://www.clioancientart.com/catalog/i475.html

In a blog post dated August 20 of last year we reviewed some examples of Roman bronze fibulae (brooches), a ubiquitous find both in controlled excavations and by metal detectorists. In this post we’d like to elaborate on the topic, focusing on zoomorphic brooch types.

The example pictured above, a horse brooch dating to the 1st to 3rd Centuries AD, while not unknown, is a very uncommon type. It has been modeled in the round rather than as a flat plate with pin on the reverse. For more details, it may be viewed here: http://www.clioancientart.com/catalog/i475.html

Far more typical of Roman brooches depicting mammals is the example above of a so-called “horse and rider” brooch. As is frequently the case, the schematically rendered rider has broken away but the Celtic style horse is well defined and shows a strong sense of movement. This type, dating to the 3rd or 4th Century, may have been closely associated with the Roman army. The bronze has been tinned to resemble silver. For more details on this example, go here: http://www.clioancientart.com/catalog/i474.html

In addition to mammals (rabbits or hares, dogs, horses, etc.), birds were a popular source of inspiration for Roman craftsmen involved in making brooches. The superb example above, depicting a duck in resting posture with wings folded back, illustrates the use of enamel decoration on Roman brooches. In this case, the wings have a piriform cell containing blue enamel surrounded by red with another stretch of blue enamel around that. In addition, the animal itself is depicted in a highly naturalistic way; even the duck’s eye has been indicated with a tiny point of incision. For more on this example, go here: http://www.clioancientart.com/catalog/i489.html

An uncommon type of bird brooch, dating to the 2nd or 3rd Century AD, is illustrated above. This example appears to depict a dove or small water bird. Unusually for zoomorphic brooches, it’s original pin and coil are intact. Unlike many zoomorphic types that were also popular on the European continent, this specific type appears to be unique to Roman Britain. More about this example here: http://www.clioancientart.com/catalog/i476.html

For many more examples of brooches, mainly Roman, of many different types, visit the “Ancient Jewelry and Personal Adornment” section of our website at: http://www.clioancientart.com/catalog/c19_p1.html

All the brooches presented above are individual UK metal detector finds, declared not treasure and legally exported.

For further study, we recommend the following sources:

Roman Brooches in Britain, a Technological and Typological Study Based on the Richborough Collection, The Society of Antiquaries of London, 2004

AND

A Visual Catalogue of Richard Hattat’s Ancient Brooches, Oxbow Books, Oxford, 2007

Roman Bronze Fibulae (Brooches)

In the previous article we offered a brief review of small Roman bronze antiquities. One group of objects making up a large proportion of small bronze antiquities available on the market is the fibula or brooch, an ornate pin, usually made of copper alloy but sometimes of precious metals, used to fasten clothing prior to buttons coming into common use. Because this is such a diverse and widely collected type we thought it best to review fibulae separately in this article.

Fibulae had a long pre-Roman history throughout what would become the Roman Empire. Many Roman fibulae reflect earlier local traditions and styles. The example pictured below, from the Iberian Peninsula, dates to the transitional period when what is now Spain and Portugal were gradually falling under Roman control. The acorn shaped knob at the “foot” end is typical of pre Roman Iberian and Iberian-Celtic style. Otherwise, its form is typical of most Roman brooches in the western parts of the Empire: A coiled spring, at the end of which is a pin that rests in a catch plate, just like a modern safety pin. The bow of the brooch offers the manufacturer the opportunity to enhance the otherwise plain surface with gilding, silvering, tinning, enameling, punch marking, chip carving or any number of other decorative devices.

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While the great majority of Roman brooches are simple and undecorated bronze (see  1st Century European example directly below) some examples utilize the decorative schemes mentioned above.

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The brooch’s owner might have a “fancier” piece custom made by a local craftsman or have an ordinary example enhanced to look “upmarket” with a layer of tin (to make it look like silver) or of silver or even gold. The example pictured here, dating to the early 1st Century, is a case in point: a fairly straightforward brooch has been enhanced with a layer of gilding, much of it still remaining.

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Not all fibulae were sprung pin types based on a bow shape. Others were based on a round plate, sometimes with a central boss, while others were flat plates cast in a wide variety of forms, including animals and mythological creatures.

This group of six is on display in the Roman galleries of The British Museum, London, and illustrates the variety of decorative schemes used on circular brooches, including colored enamel, gilding, and the use of glass “gems” in the center.

ImageThe group below is on display at the Verulamium Museum, at the site of Roman Verulamium, today’s St Albans, England. It includes typical bow brooches, most enhanced with cast or punched decoration, silvering and other techniques, as well as penannular types.

ImageFibula types evolved over time, of course, and during the late Roman period, between the end of the 3rd Century and end of the 5th, the most common type was the “crossbow” brooch, so named on account of its shape. Very elaborate examples in solid gold, solid silver, gilt or silvered bronze, often including decorative enhancements of niello (black silver sulfide) were given by Imperial officials to loyal officers and others worthy of honors. Many of these have been found in burials of the period. Still, most crossbow fibulae were of simple bronze with cast or punched decoration. The example below, one of several we’ve sold over the years, is typical.

ImageThe late Roman crossbow type evolved into still more forms and with the arrival in both western and eastern Europe of many migrants from the east and north (the so-called Barbarians) new tastes in personal adornment were introduced. In some regions, Scotland for example, the use brooches continued well past the Medieval period, at least for decorative purposes. But new clothing styles suitable for a changed climate demanded the use of buttons and clasps, gradually phasing out the use of brooches.

There are many excellent resources for this specific area of antiquities collecting available both in print and online. Here a few we recommend:

Justine Bayley & Sarnia Butcher, Roman Brooches in Britain: A Technological and Typological Study Based on the Richborough Collection, The Society of Antiquaries of London, 2004.

Richard Hattatt, Ancient and Romano-British Brooches, Oxford, 1982.

http://finds.org.uk/   The UK’s Portable Antiquities Scheme finds database. One can do an advanced search, including only those objects with images, by date, type, find location, etc. While this only reflects UK finds, many “foreign” types of fibulae appear in the database, having arrived in Britain with army units, merchants, etc. A simple search for the term “brooch” with images brought back a staggering 24,679 records.

Early Medieval Cloissone Decoration and a Frankish Connection on Our Website

Cloisonné was very popular decorative technique during the transitional period from Late Antiquity to the early Middle Ages. The name is derived from the French word “cloison” meaning “cell”. This refers to the technique of creating individual spaces by using thin metal wires or panels and filling these cells with garnets or other semi-precious stones or with colored enamel (glass paste). The most expensive cloisonné decoration involved garnets, typically imported from Sri Lanka. Enamel cloisonné was far more common and used on buckles and strap ends, weapon handles and scabbards, brooches, jewelry and many other small objects.

Although colored enamel decoration on metalwork had a long history in pre-Roman Europe, continuing through the Roman period in the western provinces, the particular type of cloisonné we are concerned with here seems to have reached Europe by contact with the migratory cultures of Goths, Vandals, Franks and others during the 4th Century CE. This contact involved controlled settlement of some populations in exchange for military service, direct conflict with other groups (sometimes defeated militarily, sometimes paid off and kept at bay beyond the Roman frontiers) and forcible occupation of Roman territory, changing the cultural, political and artistic landscape of Europe over the next few centuries.

One object offered on our website, a Merovingian Frankish silver and cloisonné buckle dating to the 5th or 6th Century CE, is a high quality and illustrative example of this technique. Found in France and for many years in an old English private collection, this object (which may be found here: http://www.clioancientart.com/catalog/i163.html ) features a deep red roughly heart shaped glass panel set into the silver buckle plate.

During conservation work on the Staffordshire Hoard, which includes many small objects decorated in cloisonné technique, conservators at the British Museum have had the opportunity to study in detail methods used in assembling such objects. Of special interest is how the amber and other colored glass was made to adhere to the metal. Combined with earlier research on the Viking Sutton Hoo treasure, this has shown that various types of complex patterned metal foils were used both to assist in making the enamel adhere securely to the object and to accentuate its reflectivity, making the enamel “stones” sparkle by allowing light to pass through and bounce off the foil patterns beneath. They also found that in some cases during the many centuries they lay in the ground, the leaching of soil into the spaces between the enamel and the metal foils compromised this reflectivity, clouding the effect.

In the case of our Frankish buckle, this has also proven to be the case. While still beautiful in color, the fifteen hundred years this object spent in the ground resulted in a loss of the “sparkle” that would have been so obvious when the object’s former owner wore it. Like so many other antiquities that have been changed in color, texture or completeness by the passage of time, we must use or imaginations to visualize this object in its original appearance. Perhaps this is part of the allure of antiquities: not quite being able to touch the original reality of an object. As Leonard Barkan pointed out in his remarkable book Unearthing the Past, Archaeology and Aesthetics in the Making of Renaissance Culture

“…anything that is uncompleted or has been robbed of its completeness by the passage of time both fascinates us and offers us the special vantage point from which the salient characteristics of moments in history are divulged. Or perhaps the fragment reveals one of our salient characteristics: the wish to enter historical moments via their breaks or discontinuities.”