Wednesday, 2 April 2014

British Celtic horse brooch fragment

Fragment of bronze horse brooch,
early 1st century AD, found near
Lowestoft, Suffolk.  4.5 X 2.2 CM
(click to enlarge)
This is the second recorded horse brooch of the type that Fox described as fitting to the crupper strap just above the crupper loop at the rump. It was a metal detector find from near Lowestoft in Suffolk. Its thickness (apart from the recesses for red glass) runs from about 1 to 3 mm with the thickest part just below the lower circular recess on the left. No other examples are listed by Jope or are in the PAS database. The dealer from whom I purchased it was issued an export permit for it under the description: "British Celtic La Tène style mount".

When I first saw it illustrated, the shape of the curve on the right side, and its stipple/linear decoration reminded me of the spoons "presumably from Ireland" (Jope Plate 233 b-f). Other than these spoons, which Raftery thought to have come from Westmeath, the use of stipple in-fill is known only on some of the bone trial pieces from Lough  Crew. In Britain, stipple in-fill is also rare -- far commoner is the "basket-hatching" seen, for example, in the "Mirror" and the "Snettisham" styles. Elsewhere, simple line in-fill is also fairly common. The only clear examples of stipple in-fill in Jope other than the spoons and the Lough Crew bone flakes are:

  • Heavy bronze collar from Trenoweth, Cornwall (Pl. 259a)
  • Strap junction from Sudeley, Glos. (Pl. 270)
  • Terret from Cawston, Norfolk (PL.294f)
  • Enamelled mounts from Polden Hill, London and Norton, Suffolk (Pl. 297 a, d, e.)

Lower linchpin terminal in my own collection
showing a similar stipple/linear composition.
This is a companion piece to the Studeley strap

The lower linchpin terminal to the left shows a very similar composition combined with "pressure tectonics". The Sudeley strap junction seems to be from the same rig and has a more complex design.

Miniature terret (strap end?) in my collection with
stipple/linear decoration,  2.5 X 2.1 cm.

The miniature terret (strap end?) to the right also has stipple in-fill with engraved or chased outlines.

Seeing that the object was flat, I knew that it could not be a fragment of a spoon. There were two features that told me that the fragment was of a horse brooch and specifically for attachment to the crupper strap above the tail: the "enamel" recesses looked as if they would have been mirrored on the opposite side of the entire object and the hook-like lower element finds a parallel in the other horse brooch of the type from the Polden Hill hoard (below):
Polden Hill horse brooch
© Trustees of the British Museum
The clearest difference between the Lowestoft and Polden Hill horse brooches is that the "hook" on the latter is truncated and the lower edge of that part of the brooch is a straight line instead of being curved as on the Lowestoft example. The decoration around the "enamel" recesses might be a roundel something like those on the Llyn Cerrig shield boss, or it might be a more elaborate composition as on the Polden Hill brooch. It is possible that four recesses filled with red "enamel" formed a trefoil pattern on each "wing" of the horse brooch. Any design details of the missing centre part cannot even be guessed at.

The enamelled mounts mentioned above seem to stretch from SW England to East Anglia (with only the one from London in between). I think that designs which might identify a certain workshop earlier in British Celtic art give way more to an "independent British style" that is more widespread in the first century AD. Besides the examples given here, the "pressure tectonics" of the Sudeley strap junction finds another expression in one of the strap junctions in my collection (ex Ringrose coll., Essex and similar to a fragment from Camulodunum, Essex). This possible move away from earlier workshops might also indicate a change in the status of Celtic artists from early patronage under a local lord to more independent commercial workshops sharing designs influenced by earlier regional artists. Perhaps such workshops were largely missing from the areas with a more Romanized population. British find spots of Celtic material rarely give a very clear picture of regional styles although Fox tried to look for such in the material available to him at the time. Sometimes, finding more evidence gives us more questions than answers!

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