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Breadalbane Brooch

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Title (object)

    • Breadalbane Brooch
  • Description

    Silver-gilt pseudo-penannular D-shaped brooch (bar removed). The ring of this brooch is solidly cast in silver and gilded on the front, with gilding only on the applied decoration on the back. The hoop is edged with hatched flanges which run on to the terminals and end in profile bird heads. Two curved panels inside raised borders contain cast geometric interlace, and at the apex a very deep panel with raised semicircular settings, now empty, has a central applied panel of gold foil framed with filigree, where a simple open knot is made from two snake-like strands of beaded gold wire.

    At the junction of hoop and expanded terminals two cast, profile animal heads with scrolls on the cheek and hatched muzzles spring from raised crescentic inset panels with beaded wire frames and collared gold granules. The centrepiece of each terminal is formed by three curving segments in high relief with vertical ribbing on both faces, surrounding a tall setting with an integral collar of cast interlace holding a circular panel of worn gold filigree. The terminal background is reserved and textured with cast geometric interlace and is divided into smaller areas by three small circular settings with translucent green glass cabochons (one now missing). Raised edges to both terminals have two further bird heads, back to back, and end in empty L-shaped cells top and bottom, with plain, ungilded surfaces where the ring was cut open.

    The back of the brooch is plain, apart from two raised circular settings with applied silver-gilt discs, which bear three simple trumpet spirals.

    The pin, now incomplete, is cast with an integral loop, and a gilt-silver foil with geometric interlace is riveted to the head. The loop is broken short at the back. It has a decorative semicircle in low relief where the loop tail met the pin. The brooch is now broken in three places and is peppered with drilled holes, most for early modern repairs and possibly for wiring to a backing.


  • Culture/period

  • Date

    • 8thC
  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Diameter: 97.35 millimetres (hoop)
    • Length: 58.8 millimetres (pin (incomplete))
    • Width: 13.01 millimetres (hoop)
    • Width: 11.83 millimetres (pinhead)
    • Height: 40.58 millimetres (terminals (max))
    • Thickness: 4.13 millimetres (hoop (thickest at terminals))
    • Weight: 140.86 grammes ((incomplete))
  • Curator's comments

    Youngs 1989a
    This brooch is one of a small group of top-quality annular Irish brooches defined by distinctive features, principally the use of three crescentic cusps in deep relief around a central setting on each terminal, a form derived from a seventh-century class with disc (Fowler, E. 1963. Celtic metalwork of the fifth and sixth centuries A.D.: a reappraisal, ‘The Archaeological Journal’ 120, 103-4, type H). Similar ornamental cusps dominate a large silver brooch found at Snåsa, Norway (Rygh, O. 1885. ‘Norske Oldsager’, Christiania, no. 697, which shows the terminal links; Petersen, J. 1940. ‘Viking Antiquities in Great Britain and Ireland’, ed. H. Shetelig, ‘Part V British Antiquities of the Viking Period, found in Norway, Oslo’, 66, fig. 73), another from Lagore (Hencken, H. O’N. 1950-1. Lagore Crannog: an Irish royal residence of the 7th to 10th centuries A.D. ‘Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy’ 53c, 61-2), and the Cavan brooch (National Museums of Ireland, Dublin no. W.43). The Lagore example also has L-shaped cells emphasising the terminal corners, and a terminal link in the same position as the missing one on the Breadalbane brooch, although the former piece is of inferior quality, without filigree and coloured inlays. Three- and four-cusped terminals were favoured by Pictish silversmiths (National Museums of Scotland (NMS), Edinburgh nos. FC1 and FC2) and the motif was not confined to brooches - it appears on Irish harness mounts found at Gausel, Norway, where it is also closely related to the classical egg-and-dart motif (Wamers, E. 1987. Egg-and-dart derivatives in insular art in M. Ryan (ed.) ‘Ireland and Insular Art A.D. 500-1200, Dublin, 96-104). The background interlace and Germanic-style zoomorphic filigree all reflect the development of an insular ornamental style. The relegation of native Celtic ornament to the back of early eighth-century metalwork and its apparent segregation from the other decorative motifs are seen on a number of pieces of fine metalwork such as the Hunterston brooch (NMS no. FC8) and the 'Tara' brooch, where the shape of the spiral ornament panels on the back reflects the terminal shapes of earlier, sixth- and seventh-century zoomorphic penannulars.
    The Cavan and Lagore brooches supply two possible forms, either triangular or rectangular, for an original cast pinhead on the Breadalbane brooch repeating the three-cusp theme. The present simple pinhead is of Pictish type and finds close parallels on the St Ninian's Isle brooches (NMS nos. FC293 and FC295) and the smaller brooch from Rogart, Sutherland (NMS no. FC1). In Scotland in the eighth and ninth centuries the practice continued of wearing brooches in true penannular style, that is, by twisting the ring round to lock the pin in position instead of treating the whole brooch as a stick-pin with a decorative head, as favoured in Ireland. True penannular brooches continued to be manufactured, and it is likely that the loss of the original pin of this brooch and its replacement by a smith in Scotland led to the contemporary opening up of the ring by the same smith, whose normal production would have resembled the open ring types found at Croy, Inverness, St Ninian's Isle and Rogart.
    Stevenson (1985) has pointed out that because the vendor of the Breadalbane brooch in 1917 was a descendant of the first Marquess of Breadalbane, and other items in the sale came from the collection of the second marquess (d. 1852) and had been Breadalbane property from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a provenance in Perthshire (now Perth and Kinross) is likely.

    The terminals were originally joined by a central linking element making this an annular brooch of Irish type, but this link was cut away in antiquity to create a true open ring of the style preferred by the Picts. Some applied decorative element is missing from the terminals, and there is at least one 'stitch' to hold a panel in place (observed by N. Whitfield). Both the L cells and semicircles on the hoop may have contained amber, a favourite inlay on contemporary jewellery (see NMS no. FC8, National Museums of Ireland, Dublin no. P.737).

    Bibliography: ‘Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of London’, XXXII (1919), 63-6; Smith, R.A. 1923. ‘British Museum Guide to Anglo-Saxon and Foreign Teutonic Antiquities’, London, 135; Henry, F. 1965a. ‘Irish Art during the Early Christian Period to 800 A.D. (London), III; Small, A., Thomas, C., and Wilson, D.M. 1973. ‘St Ninian’s Isle and its Treasure’, 2 vols, Oxford, 83, 85, 90, 98; Laing, L. 1975. ‘The Archaeology of Late Celtic Britain and Ireland c.400 A.D.-1200 A.D.’, London, 310, 313; Stevenson, R.B.K. 1985. The Pictish brooch from Aldclune, Blair Atholl, Perthshire, ‘Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland’ 115, 236; Whitfield, N. 1987. Motifs and techniques of Celtic filigree. Are they original? Om M. Ryan (ed.), ‘Ireland and Insular Art A.D. 500-1220, Dublin, 80, pl. 2, g.


  • Bibliography

    • Youngs 1989a 72 bibliographic details
    • Henry 1965 a, p.111 bibliographic details
    • Smith 1923 p.135 bibliographic details
    • Laing 1975 p.310, 313 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display

  • Exhibition history


    2016 11 Mar- 25 Sep, Edinburgh, National Museum of Scotland, Celts.
    2015-2016 24 Sep-31 Jan, London, BM, G30, 'Celts: Art and Identity'
    2015 15 May - 20 Aug, Perth, Perth Museum and Art Gallery, Breadalbane and Glenlyon Brooch Spotlight.
    NLNL1997 9 Jun-6 Dec, Stornoway, Museum nan Eilean, 'Colm Cille and the Saints of the Western Isles' 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 Metalworkk

  • Condition

    Antique repair.

  • Subjects

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Department

    Britain, Europe and Prehistory

  • Registration number


Gilt silver pseudo-penannular brooch (bar removed); trefoil bosses on expanded terminals + 3 cabochons, bird heads &c; Breadalbane.

3/4: Right

Gilt silver pseudo-penannular brooch (bar removed); trefoil bosses on expanded terminals + 3 cabochons, bird heads &c; Breadalbane.

Image description



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