Lot 1024: Viking Box Brooch with Oseberg Beast Panels
December 7, 2016
Harwich, United KingdomLive Auction
Description: 9th century AD. A bronze box brooch formed as a hollow drum-shaped casting with ornament to the obverse and sidewall; the high-relief designs comprising four discoid panels of Oseberg Style 'gripping-beast' motifs with a larger dome to the centre and four smaller ones within a hatched border with raised trefoils; the slightly sloping sidewall with four panels of S-shaped animals with interlaced tendrils, separated by hatched borders; small hole to the outer edge of the upper plate; to the reverse, the perimeter flange supported by two integral blocks, the catchplate and pin-hole. Cf. MacGregor, A. et al. A Summary Catalogue of the Continental Archaeological Collections, Oxford, 1997, item 1.10. 54 grams, 55mm (2 1/4"). Property of a London businessman, from his grandfather's collection formed after World War II; thence by descent 1972. Drum brooches (also called box brooches, Swedish Dosspännen) were a Scandinavian fashion of the Viking period, beginning in the late 8th century AD and mainly featuring Oseberg style gripping-beast motifs. They remained popular throughout the period into the 11th century AD. They are especially associated with the island of Gotland, the crossroads of trade and traffic in the Baltic where a variety of cultural influences were felt. Occasional examples occur elsewhere in the area of Scandinavian power, plausibly associated with the movement of brides from Gotland to foreign homelands. The earliest (8th century) examples are high-quality multi-part castings with lavish use of gold, parcel-gilding and silver; by the later Viking age they appear in bronze and gilt-bronze. The original artistic motifs also evolve into more geometric forms with increased use of knotwork. As a type, these brooches are characterised by their discoid upper face divided into symmetrical sectors, often with openwork detail; cords and faux-ropework to the edges are a consistent feature of the later designs; some feature a separate cast upper plate while on others it is the baseplate which is separate, occasionally the central knop is also a separate casting. It has been suggested that drum brooches were used to hold small valuables, although this seems improbable these were normally suspended from the girdle or necklace for display. They were most probably used to fasten the triangular shawl or mantle which covered the upper body, in the dress fashion which included the heavy hängerok dress which was worn outside the undershift; the hängerok was often of rich fabric with embroidered borders, and the metal jewellery and glass beads were used to add richness to the costume. It may be this type of brooch (or the tortoise form) which was referred to by the Arab traveller Ibn Fadlan when he mentioned that Rus women wore on their chests drum-shaped brooches of iron, copper, silver or gold, whose decoration indicated the wealth of their husbands. The present example with Salin's Style III ornament is among the very earliest known, dating from the 8th century before the onset of the Viking period. It does not feature the customary separate baseplate.
Condition Report: Fine condition. Very rare.