Wednesday, 11 June 2014

British early Celtic art repoussé boss fragment

British repoussé boss fragment, bronze, early
2nd century BC, width: 3.1 cm.
I presented a 3D view of this object in an earlier post, but did not discuss the design at that time. I bought this fragment in the mid-eighties. It had a general "Norfolk" provenance but there is no reason to think it was true as Norfolk finds were a selling feature for Celtic art at that time.

There are two pieces with which this fragment can be compared but they are of very different periods. The most recent is the Elmswell, east Yorkshire casket fragment of the 1st cent AD. I cannot provide a bigger photograph, and the Hull City Council does not allow its reproduction. It is not on display, but a more detailed view is on Jope, 2000, plate 222.

The second piece is the long Wandsworth shield boss in the British Museum of the early 2nd century BC:

Long Wandsworth shield boss
© Trustees of the British Museum
Both examples have reinforcing lines of thicker metal on the the higher masses, but the Elmswell decoration also includes rosettes of pellets in the low relief areas and this detail is common with metalwork at that time. Also, the composition of the Wandsworth shield is much closer to my fragment than the Elmswell casket decoration. Without more evidence, I can only date it to the same period.

Reconstruction by Carin Perron of the entire design,

the area of the fragment outlined in red. The key to
discovering the complete design was the tiny piece
of metal at the bottom of the fragment which provided
the direction of the S-shape uniting the top and bottom
opposed designs.
It seems likely to me that the fragment came from the same areas on a different shield that show the damage on the Wandsworth shield. The fragile metal would have been backed perhaps with pitch and wood for support, and the raised lines of thicker metal added extra support.

It is quite remarkable that the fragment survived at all in the ground and it is possible that the fragment came from an anaerobic environment, perhaps a "watery deposit" like the two Wandsworth shields, the Witham and the the Battersea shields. With such high status metalwork, the location of the workshops cannot usually be determined even with provenanced items in the same style.

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