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Londesborough Brooch

  • Object type

  • Museum number

    1888,0719.101

  • Title (object)

    • Londesborough Brooch
  • Description

    Pseudo-penannular brooch, cast in silver with composite silver pin. The brooch front is thickly gilded and ornamented with cast interlace, birds and animals and raised settings for amber on foils, some now empty. The hoop has a raised rim and broadens to a central panel with amber setting between fine netlike interlace; to either side panels of geometric interlace run round to the terminals. At the junction are curving segments in relief with egg-and-dart derived ornament on their sloping surfaces. The inner and outer rims of the terminals are decorated by paired and single bird heads in profile, while a pair of eagle-like birds, their wing feathers carefully depicted, peck down towards the bridges linking the terminals. Two pairs of raised bosses dominate the terminals, their surfaces divided into three and four by ribs; the panels between the ribs are filled with small animals, plain interlace and, on the larger bosses, pairs of running spirals. Interlaced animals with hatched bodies and pronounced eyes and jaws fill the reserved panels between the bosses. Despite apparent symmetry, there are numerous minor differences between the left and right terminals in the details of decoration. On the back of the terminals two circular frames hold concave gilt tin-copper alloy discs of cast spiral ornament. Plain blue glass studs mark the end of the hoop.
    The pin was cast in two parts. The rhomboidal head is decorated with a raised frame with profile bird heads, L-shaped settings for blue glass on the corners and a zoomorphic collar for the pin. A low, circular boss has three panels of animal ornament and a central stud of amber. A second amber setting lies below, and the rest of the field is filled by interlace and two beasts with exaggerated open-jawed heads with long fangs, hatched jaws and bodies. The pinhead is attached to the shank by a rivet between lugs and two pairs of clips. The shank has an omega-shaped loop around the brooch hoop and cast gilded interlace and hatching almost the full length of the pin front.

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  • Culture/period

  • Date

    • 8thC(late)-9thC(early)
  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Diameter: 106.3 millimetres (hoop (with projections))
    • Length: 242 millimetres (pin)
    • Width: 36.5 millimetres (terminal)
    • Weight: 201.5 grammes
  • Curator's comments

    Blurton 1997
    Some of the most demonstrative body jewellery of the early medieval period in western Europe was worn on its farthest western reaches. The Celts had developed a so-called penannular brooch type in the late Roman period, which, as time passed, became larger and ever more elaborate. Pieces such as this were primarily intended as symbols of wealth and status as much as being functional or merely decorative items of dress. The brooch's intricate zoomorphic and geometric decoration is characteristic of the finest products of Irish Celtic craftsmen of the period.

    Youngs 1989a
    This sumptuous brooch has not been much discussed, perhaps because in techniques and design it lies outside the main interrelated groups of top-quality annular brooches. The absence of filigree is noteworthy. The unique domed bosses recall larger shrine fittings (1916,0705.1). It could have been produced as part of a suite of metalwork for a senior cleric, a king-abbot perhaps. There is sculptural evidence for the wearing of such brooches by ecclesiastics. The pinhead type and smaller details look back to the 'Tara' brooch design - the zoomorphic collar on the pin, the peripheral bird heads and a raised segment at the hoop and terminal junction. The Breadalbane brooch (1919,1218.1) also shares many details including L-shaped settings and decoration on the raised segments. Hatched animals and birds are also found on the 'Tara' brooch (National Museums of Ireland, Dublin no. R 4015), but on the Londesborough example they exhibit the fangs and gaping jaws seen on slightly later metalwork - for example, the Paris mounts and Helgo mount (Musée des Antiquités Nationales. St Germain-en-Laye, France; Statens Historiska Museum, Stockholm, Z5075:1000) - and also found in the Book of Kells, where the complete birds too have distant relatives (Henry, F. 1974. ‘The Book of Kells’, London, 79, 208, ff. 271R, 190V).

    The brooch metal is heavily debased silver, approximately 65 per cent copper, 34 per cent silver, with traces of lead and gold (British Museum Research Laboratory).

    Bibliography: Smith, R.A. 1914. Irish Brooches of Five Centuries, ‘Archaeologia’ LXV, 228, 233; Smith, R.A. 1923. ‘British Museum Guide to Anglo-Saxon and Foreign Teutonic Antiquities’, London, 134-5, pl.XI; Mahr, A. 1932. ‘Christian Art in Ancient Ireland’, vol. I, Dublin, pl. 23,2, Henry, F. 1965a. ‘Irish Art during the Early Christian Period to 800 A.D., (London), 113, 116; Whitfield, N., 1995, 'Formal conventions in the depiction of animals on Celtic metalwork', in C. Bourke (ed.), "From the Isles of the North. Early Medieval Art in Ireland and Britain", Belfast, pp. 89-104, at p. 90, fig. 2a.

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  • Bibliography

    • Blurton 1997 196 bibliographic details
    • Tait 1976 206 bibliographic details
    • Tait 1986a 253 bibliographic details
    • Marzinzik 2013 314-315 bibliographic details
    • Youngs 1989a 71 bibliographic details
    • Henry 1965 p.113, p.116 bibliographic details
    • Smith 1914 p.228, p.233, fig. 4 bibliographic details
    • Mahr 1932 pl.23.2 bibliographic details
    • Smith 1923 pp.134-5, pl.XL bibliographic details
  • Location

    G41/dc16

  • Exhibition history

    Exhibited:

    2013 1 Jul-30 Sep, Durham, Palace Green Library, Lindisfarne Gospels Durham
    1998 9 Feb-3 May, India, Mumbai, Sir Caswasjee Jahangir Hall, The Enduring Image
    1997 13 Oct-1998 5 Jan, India, New Delhi, National Museum, The Enduring Image
    1990-1991 Oct-Feb, Edinburgh, Royal Museum of Scotland, The Work of Angels: Masterpieces of Irish Metalwork
    1990 7 May-30 Sep, Dublin, National Museum of Ireland, The Work of Angels: Masterpieces of Irish Metalwork
    1989-1990 29 Nov-29 Apr, London, British Museum, The Work of Angels: Masterpieces of Irish Metalwork

  • Conservation

    See treatments 

  • Subjects

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date

    1888

  • Department

    Britain, Europe and Prehistory

  • Registration number

    1888,0719.101

Pseudo-penannular brooch, cast in silver with composite silver pin. The brooch front is thickly gilded and ornamented with cast interlace, birds and animals and raised settings for amber on foils, some now empty. The hoop has a raised rim and broadens to a central panel with amber setting between fine netlike interlace; to either side panels of geometric interlace run round to the terminals. At the junction are curving segments in relief with egg-and-dart derived ornament on their sloping surfaces. The inner and outer rims of the terminals are decorated by paired and single bird heads in profile, while a pair of eagle-like birds, their wing feathers carefully depicted, peck down towards the bridges linking the terminals. Two pairs of raised bosses dominate the terminals, their surfaces divided into three and four by ribs; the panels between the ribs are filled with small animals, plain interlace and, on the larger bosses, pairs of running spirals. Interlaced animals with hatched bodies and pronounced eyes and jaws fill the reserved panels between the bosses. Despite apparent symmetry, there are numerous minor differences between the left and right terminals in the details of decoration. On the back of the terminals two circular frames hold concave gilt tin-bronze discs of cast spiral ornament. Plain blue glass studs mark the end of the hoop.
The pin was cast in two parts. The rhomboidal head is decorated with a raised frame with profile bird heads, L-shaped settings for blue glass on the corners and a zoomorphic collar for the pin. A low, circular boss has three panels of animal ornament and a central stud of amber. A second amber setting lies below, and the rest of the field is filled by interlace and two beasts with exaggerated open-jawed heads with long fangs, hatched jaws and bodies. The pinhead is attached to the shank by a rivet between lugs and two pairs of clips. The shank has an omega-shaped loop around the brooch hoop and cast gilded interlace and hatching almost the full length of the pin front.

Pseudo-penannular brooch, cast in silver with composite silver pin. The brooch front is thickly gilded and ornamented with cast interlace, birds and animals and raised settings for amber on foils, some now empty. The hoop has a raised rim and broadens to a central panel with amber setting between fine netlike interlace; to either side panels of geometric interlace run round to the terminals. At the junction are curving segments in relief with egg-and-dart derived ornament on their sloping surfaces. The inner and outer rims of the terminals are decorated by paired and single bird heads in profile, while a pair of eagle-like birds, their wing feathers carefully depicted, peck down towards the bridges linking the terminals. Two pairs of raised bosses dominate the terminals, their surfaces divided into three and four by ribs; the panels between the ribs are filled with small animals, plain interlace and, on the larger bosses, pairs of running spirals. Interlaced animals with hatched bodies and pronounced eyes and jaws fill the reserved panels between the bosses. Despite apparent symmetry, there are numerous minor differences between the left and right terminals in the details of decoration. On the back of the terminals two circular frames hold concave gilt tin-bronze discs of cast spiral ornament. Plain blue glass studs mark the end of the hoop. The pin was cast in two parts. The rhomboidal head is decorated with a raised frame with profile bird heads, L-shaped settings for blue glass on the corners and a zoomorphic collar for the pin. A low, circular boss has three panels of animal ornament and a central stud of amber. A second amber setting lies below, and the rest of the field is filled by interlace and two beasts with exaggerated open-jawed heads with long fangs, hatched jaws and bodies. The pinhead is attached to the shank by a rivet between lugs and two pairs of clips. The shank has an omega-shaped loop around the brooch hoop and cast gilded interlace and hatching almost the full length of the pin front.

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Object reference number: MCS76

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