Lot 52: Rare Russian Migration Period Bronze Canine Attachment

Artemis Gallery

July 20, 2017
Louisville, CO, US

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Description: Russia, Perm region, Perm Animal Style (Permian Animal Style), ca. 5th to 11th centuries CE. Highly polished white bronze (copper alloy with high tin percentage) attachment for clothing or possibly horse tack in the form of twin canines, probably wolves, one standing atop the other's back. They are depicted as long-bodied, with upturned snouts, wide eyes, and long, downward-curled tails. The figures have low-relief raised texture giving the impression of fur. They stand atop a thin, rounded something with a spiral texture that looks to the modern eye like rope; however, a very similar piece held by the Surgat Museum, Russia, has been interpreted to be either a fox or a wolf eating a snake. Given this style's penchant for depicting predators eating prey in their artwork it seems likely that whatever the canines are standing upon is their dinner. Size: 3" W x 1.8" H (7.6 cm x 4.6 cm)

The Perm Animal Style is associated with a loosely culturally connected group of people known as the Finno-Ugric peoples who lived in west central Siberia, from modern day Perm north to the Arctic Sea. They freely took artistic influence from those who came before them, like the Scytho-Siberians, and from colonists from the west, like the Vikings, but developed their own clear style that archaeologists know from graves scattered throughout the taiga. Birds of prey, ungulates like reindeer, canines, and bears abound in their iconography; human representations are also common. These zoomorphic designs seem to share some common culture with the fantastical animals of pagan Viking art, but with some major stylistic differences. Notably, like the Scythians who occupied much of this landscape before them, they tend to focus on individual elements of animals - beaks, feet, claws, mouths, and eyes. Imagining the lifestyle of people in the vast regions of the north - both in taiga and in forest - animals hardy enough to live through the dark winters would have been of great interest and probably played major roles in their folklore as well as being human companions and fellow hunters (birds of prey), food sources (reindeer), and threats (bears and wolves). This iconographic style had remarkable uniformity of design across a vast region and long time period. Although nearly all of our knowledge comes from grave goods, these items seem to have been extensively used in life based upon wear patterns (unlike some other cultures, where goods are produced solely to be placed in graves). They were probably worn on the belt of their owner in life, at a time (which continued into the medieval European period) when flashing, jingling decoration was in fashion. Today, as climate change causes the melting of the permafrost in Siberia, many of these archaeological sites are thawing (and threatened), presenting an opportunity to learn more about these elusive ancient people.

Provenance: Ex-Private LA County collection

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Condition Report: Slight expected wear to form, with some patina; shape and details are very clear.
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