Height: 149.000 cm
Purchased with the assistance of the Art Fund and the Christy
Britain, Europe and Prehistory
Provincial Roman or Germanic, late 4th-5th
From the River Schelde near Appels, Oost Vlaanderen, Belgium
A monstrous animal head
The frightening appearance of the figurehead, with its gaping jaws and prominent teeth and eyes, was probably meant to be protective and not just ornamental. Journeys by ship were hazardous affairs, and it was believed necessary to ward off the evil forces encountered at sea.
The figurehead was discovered in 1934, and for a long time afterwards it was widely thought to be from a Viking ship of the ninth to eleventh century. A few doubts were raised about the style. In 1970 The British Museum’s Research Laboratory undertook carbon-14 analysis on the wood. The results left little doubt that the figurehead was carved much earlier than had been previously thought. Animal figureheads can be seen in contemporary illustrations of merchant and naval ships in the north-east of the late Roman Empire, as well as on later ones of Viking ships.
D.S.W. Kidd, 'Fifty Years On: New Discoveries about an NACF Grant of 1938', National Arts Collection Fund, 38 (1988), pp. 8-10
S. Marzinzik, Masterpieces: Early medieval a (London, British Museum Press, 2013)
R.L.S. Bruce-Mitford, Aspects of Anglo-Saxon archaeo (London, Gollancz, 1974)