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Gold 'lion-hunt' plaque

 

Height: 5.010 cm
Width: 5.010 cm
Weight: 66.870 g

Bequeathed by Sir A.W. Franks

M&ME AF.332

Prehistory and Europe

    Gold 'lion-hunt' plaque

    Late Antique, 4th century AD
    From Asia Minor (modern Turkey)

    A rider on a rearing horse above a lion or panther

    The exact use of this plaque is not known, but it may have been mounted on a belt of coloured fabric or leather. Since it came to The British Museum, the scene has been described as a 'lion hunt'. While the scene does derive from Late Roman images of the hunt, the female rider raises her hand and does not appear to mean harm. Neither does she carry the traditional spear. The feline lacks a mane and is spotted like a leopard. It is likely that this is not a literal depiction of a hunt but an image with pastoral or even Bacchic connotations.

    The plaque was found together with two buckle plates, a fragment of a gold chain and six gold coins of the Roman emperor Constantius II (AD 337-361).

    Two contrasting methods of working gold have been used. The rider, horse, feline, tree and decorative leaves are in gold sheet with details stamped and engraved on the surface. The rest of the sheet has been pierced to create a lace-like background on which the figures appear to float. This mount is one of the finest surviving examples of this type of goldworking, often referred to by the later medieval term opus interrasile, though recent research suggests that the ancient word for the technique may have been diatrita. The punch work has been cleverly placed to create scrolls in the background and a guilloche pattern on the borders. The entire mount is bordered with hollow beaded wire, another special technique favoured by jewellers of the period. Both these techniques were developed to save on the amount of gold used, as it was as valuable in the ancient world as it is today.

    The vegetal scrolls are very similar to those on a coin-set pendant, also in The British Museum.

    A. Yeroulanou, Diatrita, gold pierced-work je (Athens, Benaki Museum, 1990)

    J. Ogden and S. Schmidt, 'Late Antique jewellery: pierced work and hollow beaded wire', Jewellery Studies-2, 4 ()

    D. Buckton, 'The beauty of holiness: opus interrasile from a Late Antique workshop', Jewellery Studies, 1 (1983-84), pp. 5-19

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