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Catalogue of the mediaeval ivories, enamels, jewellery, gems and miscellaneous objects bequeathed to the museum by Frank McClean online

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Online LibraryFitzwilliam Museum. McClean BequestCatalogue of the mediaeval ivories, enamels, jewellery, gems and miscellaneous objects bequeathed to the museum by Frank McClean → online text (page 2 of 14)
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to that of a gold reliquary of even earlier date found beyond the
eastern frontiers of Persia, in a district removed from European
influence. We may either suppose that the jewel reached Central
Europe by the ordinary routes of commerce, or accept the con-
jecture that it formed part of the Persian spoil brought home

1 A. Macpherson, Antiquities of Kertch ; Kondakoff, Tolstoy, and Reinacli, An-
tiquith lie la Rnssie meridiotmle ; Jahrbtich des kaiserlich detUscheti Arch. Instititts,
1905, P- 57-

2 Von Cohausen in Annalen des Veieins fiir Nassaiiische Alterthunislciindc und
Geschichts/orschung, Wiesbaden, 1873; de Linas, Origines, i, pi. i; Molinier, Orfcvrrrie,
p. 15; Archaeologia, Lvni, p. 30.


by the Emperor Alexander Severus, who was assassinated near
Mainz in A.D. 235. It will be remembered in this connection that
the Pctrossa treasure contains more than one object ornamented
in a similar manner with plate-inlay, while the shapes of certain
vessels which form part of it are oriental ; and whether these
objects are of Persian importation, or produced in imitation
of Persian models, it may fairly be assumed that the influence to
which they owe their peculiar character came from Iran either
round the Caspian, or directly across the Black Sea. Communi-
cation between Persia and the south of Russia was established at
a far earlier period than that with which we are here concerned ;
and there is no reason to suppose that it was ever seriously inter-
rupted. The products of Sassanian art were widely exported in
all directions. Some of them have been in Japan ever since the
eighth century, and must have reached China by the sixth^ ;
their appearance in Germany as early as the third century need
therefore excite no surprise. We thus reach an important point in
the genealogy of the Kentish brooches : they are found to be of
non-European descent. The question now arises in what continent
did their family originate, and how much further is it possible to
carry back their line?

Allusion has been made to a gold reliquary, found beyond the
eastern frontiers of Persia, and similar in character to the VVolfs-
heim buckle-plate. This most interesting object, now in the
British Museum, was discovered by Mr William Simpson in the
Buddhist stupa or tope of Ahin Posh, near Jellalabad, in 1879^
It is in the form of an octagonal prism, and was inlaid on the
plate system with garnet and pale green serpentine, which stones
alternate in rows along the sides, and form a kind of rosette at

^ In the Shosoin, or imperial treasure-house at the temple of IIoriuji-Todaiji,
Nara, to which they were bequeathed by the Emperor Shomu I in A. D. 746. In 794 the
treasure was finally closed and has been religiously guarded until the present day. A
very early Chinese figured silk, translating into the Chinese style the familiar Sassanian
motive of the mounted horsemen in medallions, is reproduced in Dr Julius Lessing's large
album of textiles, Die Gezvebesainmlimg &c. For the Horiuji treasure see Toyei Shiiko,
an illustrated catalogue of the ancient imperial treasury called Shosoin, Tokyo, 1 909 ;
Longperier, CEuvres, i, p. 301; L. Gonse, Vart Japonais, 11, p. 36; A. Odobesco,
Le iresor de Pctrossa, 11, p. 19 ; Kevue arch^ologique, 1901, p. 242 ; G. Migeon, An
Japon, p. 229, &c.

" Proc. Asiatic Soc. of Bengal, 1879, pp. 77 — 79; Archacologia, L\ni, p. 261 f.


each end. It lay in a cist surrounded by ashes and by eighteen
gold coins : within it were fragments of a brown substance, which
perhaps formed the relic, and two other gold coins. Seventeen of
the coins belong to three of the Indo-Sc)'thian kings whose reigns
cover the period from about A.D. 30 to A.D. 150: three are Roman,
one of Domitian, one of Trajan and one of Hadrian. The presence
of these coins, and the shape of the reliquary itself, which recalls
the small boxes worn on chains round the neck by the figures of
princes in the Gandhara sculptures, enables us to ascribe the find
to about the middle of the second century of our era. It is there-
fore the earliest example of inlaid jewellery which we have yet
considered, and at the same time the most certainly oriental. Are
we then to ascribe to inlaid jewellery an Indian origin, or to seek
its prototypes yet further east in Central Asia or perhaps even in
China ?

The available evidence appears to be against any such con-
clusion. In the earlier centuries of our era the stream of artistic
influence was setting strongly out of India, especially the Buddhist
district of Gandhara, through Turkestan into China : the Middle
Kingdom was receiving and not giving^ Chinese cloisonne enamel
has no connection with our subject ^ and the metal work richly
inlaid with coloured stones, chiefly turquoises, for which modern
Central Asia is famous, is more likely, as we shall see, to descend
from Persia than from the Far East. On the other hand Gandhara
at this period was influenced almost exclusively from the west ;
in figure-sculpture it was inspired by the late Hellenistic schools of
Asia Minor; while in the sphere of decorative art the Persian
influences which appear in the most ancient Indian work at
Bharhut and SaticJii had never ceased to be operative. The Wolfs-
heim buckle-plate and the Petrossa treasure exist to show that
inlaid jewellery of the same character was being made in Persia at

^ The great art of China, so wonderfully represented by the work of Ku-kai-chih in
the British Museum (4th cent. A.n.), was, as Mr Laurence Binyon has shown [Puiiitiiig in
the Far East, 1908), of independent growth. China had borrowed ornamental motives
from the west as early as the Han dynasty. See F. Hirth, Uher fremde Einfliisse in
cUr Chinesischen Kunst, Munich, 1896.

- It seems to have been introduced from Luiope in the 14th century. See
S. W. Hushell, Oriental Ceramic Art, text edition. New York, 1899, p. 454, and
Chinese Art, Yol. 11, pp. 7 iff. (Victoria and Albert Museum handbook, 1906).


a period not far removed from the date of the Ahin Posh reliquary ;
and it is probably a mere chance that the latter is older than any
specimen as yet discovered among Sassanian or Parthian remains.
The chief interest of the reliquary lies in this, that it establishes
the oriental origin of inlaid jewellery on a firm foundation. Other-
wise it lies in a by-way ; and to pursue the enquiry further it is
necessary to retrace our steps to Persia and the regions about the

A most remarkable series of gold ornaments excavated from
the kurgans or tumuli of Southern Russia and Western Siberia at
various times, but chiefly in the days of Peter the Great, is now
preserved in the Imperial Museum of the Hermitage at St Peters-
burg^: the greater number probably come from the region about
the upper waters of the Obi. Many of these ornaments are inlaid
with coloured stones set in cloisons simply massed together or
disposed so as to form articulate designs, and the identity of the
technique with that which we have traced across Europe from
Kent to the Black Sea is unmistakeable. Their production
evidently covered a long period, for the circumstances of particular
discoveries, the types, and the style of the workmanship show that
while the latest descend to about the third century of our era, and
are thus of much the same age as the Wolfsheim jewel and the
Buddhist reliquary, the oldest ascend perhaps to the fifth century
B.C. Among the earliest and most sumptuous of these objects is a
gold penannular collar terminating in the heads of lion-gryphons,
the necks of which are richly set with turquoises in fine cloisons.
The style of this collar points once more to Iran, though no longer
to the Empire of the Sassanian princes, but to the Persia of the
older Achaemenian line. The evidence for this need not detain
us long. The cell-work is so closely allied in style to that of the
well-known gold armlets from the Oxus in the British and Victoria
and Albert Museums, that all these objects must belong to the
same art. The discoveries by M. de Morgan of armlets and other
jewels ornamented in the same manner in excavations at Susa,
dating from the fourth century B.C., prove that this art was certainly
practised under the Achaemenian dynasty, and render it probable
that the royal city of Susa was one of its principal centres of

^ Archaeologia, as above, p. 252 ff., and the references there given.



distribution'. We have thus taken another important step: the
pedigree of the Kentish brooch is carried back nearly a thousand
years further ; and an early home of the art which it represents is
shown to be the country of Xerxes and Darius.

Down to this point the evidence has been continuous : we can
retrace the course of events with practical certainty, following the
progress of this minor art from Persia to Siberia and Southern
Russia, and thence across the whole continent of Europe to our
own shores. It remains to enquire whether Persia first designed
this form of jewellery, or whether she herself did but receive it in
her turn from' countries lying beyond her own frontiers.

The general resemblance in method of ornamentation between
the early Teutonic jewellery of Europe and the ancient Egyptian
pectorals, armlets, and other objects inlaid with coloured stones
has often presented itself to the student of European antiquities;
but as a rule the idea of a causal connection is dismissed as a
seductive but unscientific fancy. Yet this would appear to be one
of those rare cases in which probability is really on the side of the
bold hypothesis, though it may be freely admitted that the history
of inlaid jewellery in the first stage of its wanderings cannot be
established by a chain of evidence quite so continuous as that on
which its later migrations depend. The principal gap which
remains to be filled lies between Persia and Mesopotamia, the
countr}' to which Persian civilisation has always been deeply
indebted. We have no existing inlaid jewel of indigenous Assyrian
workmanship. But we have a very curious piece of evidence which
goes far to show that the deficiency is rather due to ill fortune
than to the failure of goldsmiths who supplied the Assyrian market
to produce this kind of ornament. In a chamber in the North-
West palace at Nimrud, the earliest of the three palaces in the
city, erected by Assur-nasir-pal (B.C. 885 — 860), Sir Henry Layard
discovered a number of ivory panels perhaps intended to enrich
furniture, in which Asiatic and purely Egyptian subjects are
curiously mingled'-. The designs are cut out in cells by the

' J. de Morgan, Mt'moires publit'cs sous la direction de M. J. dc J/., torn. \"iii ;
Recherches archi!oloi;iques, 3"" sdrie^ pp. 76 — 82, pis. v and %i, Paris (Ministire de /'/«-
strtution publique et des Beaiix-Arts), 1905.

- Archat'ologia, as above, p. 246, fig. 5. These ivories are exhibited in the British


champleve mctliod, and the cavities were all originally filled with
lapis lazuli, the parts remaining in relief being gilded throughout'.
Now the effect of these panels in their perfect condition was almost
exactly that of inlaid jewels in gold ; and except that the cells are
reserved in the base, instead of being applied to it, the method of
production is the same. The strange combination of Asiatic and
Egyptian subjects is a common feature of the period when the
Phoenicians were acting as carriers of artistic motives in the
Mediterranean"; and whether the makers of these ivories were
Phoenicians or not, it is clear that the process of inlaying with
massed gems had been adopted in Asia as early as the ninth
century B.C. It is equally certain that the Nimrdd ivories were
inspired by the Egyptian pectorals and other jewels, of which such
splendid examples are to be seen at Cairo^, and in the great
European Museums ; the inference therefore is almost irresistible
that the imitation was not confined to Nimrud ; and it seems
improbable that the ivories from the palace of Assur-nasir-pal
were only sporadic examples. A fashion so completely in accord
with the sumptuous tastes of oriental princes would surely have
established itself in Mesopotamia as soon as its merits were known ;

Museum, Nimrud gallery, table-case. Among the subjects are an Egyptian woman
holding a lotus and standing beneath a winged disc ; a Khepera beetle ; personages of
Egyptian type on thrones ; gryphons addorsed, &c.

^ Sir Cecil Smitli has suggested that the carvers of the Nimrud ivories, as of others
of approximately the same date from other sites, may really have been Ionian Greeks
and not Phoenicians as has hitherto been conjectured (British Museum, Excavations at
Ef/iesjis, p. 184).

- For examples of similar hybrid art, especially exemplified in the incised bronze
bowls, see Perrot and Chipiez, History of Art in Phoenicia &c., II, p. 338 f. and p. 402
(London, 1885). Inlaid ivory work analogous to that from Nimrud penetrated into
Central Europe about the same period. For the examples from Praeneste, Veil, and
Chiusi see Helbig in Annali deWInstituto di Correspondenza archeologica, XLix, pp. 398 ff.
and I.I, p. 5. See also Archaeologia, XLI, pp. 187 ff., and Dr Arthur Evans m Journal 0/
the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, XXX, 1900, p. 200. The
material used for inlaying ivory in the European Hallstadt period was amber. The
process was apparently not extended to metal ; if it had been, inlaid jewellery would
have reached the west far earlier and by a much less circuitous route.

^ Among the finest examples are those from Dashur now in the Cairo Museum. See
J. de Morgan, Fonilles a Z?ac/w«/r, Vienna, 1895. See also Marc Rosenberg, Aegyptische
Einlage in Gold nnd Silber, Frankfurt, 1905, where, in addition to the Dashur jewels,
the pectoral of Queen Ah-hetep and other notable specimens are reproduced. Examples
of such Egyptian jewellery are to be seen in the British Museum.


it would have persisted down to the fall of the Empire, and formed
part of the artistic heritage to which the victorious Persians suc-
ceeded. If such a conclusion be admitted as probable, the long
chain is completed, and the descent of the Faversham brooch is
carried back to ancient P'gypt, over an area of many thousands of
miles and a period of at least four thousand years.

Before quitting the subject of inlaid jewellery, we may note

that down to and beyond the end of the first millennium the

process continued to manifest its old tenacity of life. It was not

immediately displaced on the revival of enamelling in Western

Europe, and the two methods of ornamentation are sometimes

found together upon one object'. The same thing occurs in the

art of the Eastern Empire-, which, like that of the Goths, adopted

this kind of ornament from Persian sources. It is interesting to

find the old method again employed in Eastern Europe in the

seventeenth century, though the stones are chiefly facetted. The

spurs, and the hilts and sheaths of swords, made in i6io for

Kurfiirst Christian II of Saxony by Johann Michael of Prague-',

are resplendent with garnets in consecutive cells ; and similar

work is to be seen on the hilt and sheath of a sword of Persian

type captured by Kurfiirst Maximilian of Bavaria at the storming

of the fortress of Belgrade in i688^ As the latter example is also

ornamented with cloisonne enamels a jour fixed upon a ground of

silver gilt in the Transylvanian manner, we may perhaps assume

' Casket in the Archiepiscopal Museum at Utrecht, Kupin, Vccuvre de Limoges,
p. 35; C. de Linas, Coffrct incrust,' et ^mailL' cT Utrecht, Paris, 1879. Reliquary at
St Maurice d'Agaune in the \'alais, E. Aubert, Le trtfsor de SainlMaurice d'Agaiine,
pi. xi, Paris, 1872 ; Venluii, Storia delV arte italiaiia, 11, fig. 76. Portable altar of
St Andrew, Treves, O. von Falke, Deutsche Schmelzarbeiten des Mittelalters, pis. v and vi.
Gospel Cover from Lindau, Nestiitt and Thompson in Vetiista Monitmenta, 1885, pis. i
and ii (published by the Society of Antiquaries of London).

- Reliquary attributed to the time of Justin II at Poitiers (Barbier de Montault,
Le trJsor de Sainte Croix de Poitiers; Molinier, Orfevrerie, p. 40); Byzantine book -cover,
possibly as early as the 7th century, in the Library of St Mark at Venice (Pasini, Tesoro
di San Marco; Molinier, Orfh'rerie, p. 43); later book-cover of the loth century in the
treasury of the Cathedral of Limburg on the Lahn (E. Aus' M. Weerth, Das Siegesl-reuz
des byzantinischen Kaisers Konstantinits VII is.c., pi. i (1866); Molinier, Orfevrerie,
pp. 46 — 48; Archaeologia, i.viii, p. 270).

^ In the Historical Museum (Johanneum) at Dresden.

■» In the Bavarian National Museum, with a tent ami a number of line oriental
weapons captured from the Turks.


that this sheath was also the work of a European goldsmith. In
any case it is remarkable that one of the latest examples of the
style should be associated with Hither Asia, the region which played
so important a part in its earlier history.

Ivory Carvings

The ivories in the McClean Bequest are few in number, but
they represent some of the most interesting phases in the history
of an important minor art. Although two specimens of the French
Gothic period are excellent of their kind, the most instructive are
the earlier panels illustrating stages in the transition from late
Hellenistic sculpture to that of mediaeval times. It is therefore
to the historical and artistic affinities of these panels that the part
of this introduction devoted to ivory carving will be principally

Down to the sixth century of our era, ivory carving had for the
most part occupied a subsidiary position in all the numerous
countries in which it had been practised. It had naturally reflected
the tendencies of contemporary monumental sculpture and some-
times reveals an astonishing delicacy and power in the treatment
of the human figured But ivory reliefs were largely restricted to
the ornamentation of weapons, furniture and objects of domestic
use. A change came with the sixth century of our era, when the
greater figure-sculpture began to disappear, leaving the smaller
relief in wood or ivory to uphold as best it might an enfeebled

^ Almost all the great civilisations of antiquity are represented by ivory carvings.
Statuettes of the period of the early dynasties have been found in Egypt ; caskets,
statuettes, and other objects show that the art flourished over the Mycenaean area ; the
Ionian Cireeks of the 7th and 6th centuries B.C. had an exceptional talent for this
kind of work, as the discoveries of Mr Hogarth at Ephesus and of the British School
at Sparta alone suffice to demonstrate. The remarkable ivory carvings from Nimrud,
some inlaid with coloured stones, seem to show that Phoenician craftsmen became pro-
ficient in the art, unless they are to be ascribed, as above suggested, to Ionian Greeks
working for the foreign market. For the Ionian ivories see British Museum, Excavations
at Ephesus, 1908, pp. 155 ff., where the specimens from Cameiros are also discussed.
For the ivories of Ionian affinities found in the temenos of Artemis Orthia at Sparta see
Annual of the British School at Athens, nos. XII and Xiii, and Burlington Magazine,
November, 1908, pp. 70 fF.


classical tradition. This result was partly due to the growing
barbarism of the West, and to that preference for pattern and
colour effect over the plastic representation of the human form
in which it followed the taste of Western Asia. Ikit the decay of
sculpture must also in part be attributed to changes which were
taking place in the Byzantine Empire, the provinces of which had
from the first exerted a strong and continuous influence upon
Europe. Even before the triumph of Islam, the Hellenistic art of
the Eastern Mediterranean had been partially orientalised : the
.Arab wars and the subsequent iconoclastic disturbance bade fair
to complete its transformation. It is conceivable that but for
Christianity the victory would have been more complete, and that
west of China all figure-art worthy of the name might for a time
have almost entirely disappeared. But the Christian religion
demanded a figure-art, and from this the sculptor could not be
altogether excluded : hence, while iconoclastic sentiment and a
growing incapacity to work in marble destroyed the prospects of
greater sculpture, the inconspicuous ivory continued to be tolerated,
and to satisfy a popular demand. The immunity which it enjoyed,
the portability which was the necessary consequence of its small
size, and the religious character of its subjects, opened to it a free
passage wherever the Church advanced, and lent it a greater
significance in the history of art than had fallen to its lot before
Between the seventh and tenth centuries the only sculpture in
stone which Europe appreciated was a form of low relief with
decorative designs suggesting those of woven hangings. All
travellers in Italy are familiar with the ornament consisting of
interlacings, confronted beasts, degenerated scrolls, rosettes, whorls,
and other motives, which cover the chancel-slabs, the ambons, and
ciboria of the "Italo-Byzantine" periods It is executed in one
plane without m.odelling or gradual transition of light and shade,
and produces the effect of figured textiles translated into stone.
And in fact there is a probability that in some cases woven fabrics
were actually the models from which this sculi:)ture derives its
peculiar character : Dr Lowry has given a curious instance of such
reproduction in marble : in the fabric which he illustrates, we find

' See R. Cattaneo, Z,' architettiira in Italia &€. ; G. T. Rivoira, Le origini dclV
architdttira Lomharda, Vol. i ; \enturi, Gloria deW arte italiana.

D. 2


a desig^n preserved to us in many Coptic textiles, and represented
in the coverings of altars on the early mosaics of Ravenna^ The
"heraldic" animals confronted or addorsed beside the sacred tree,
familiar to us upon Italo-Byzantine and later Romanesque sculpture,
are no less certainly of textile parentage. They began life in Persia
and Mesopotamia upon hangings, robes and carpets, for the most
part disposed within a network of interconnected circles, or in
diapers of lozenge-shaped compartments ; the stuffs which they
adorned were used to cover the walls and floors, to screen porticoes
and doorways, and to enrich the attire of oriental princes. Issuing
from Hither Asia, they were first imitated in mosaics like the
beasts of less heraldic type which had preceded them in Roman
times ; then, with the sixth century, they won a new lease of life in
stone. Just as the gryphons of Bactria, in the ancient travellers'
tales, were said to prey upon mankind in the flesh, so their carved
or tesselated forms now made war upon the human figure in art ;
while the scrolls of foliage in which they are often involved seemed
to enlace the limbs of man and stifle his independent growth. The
eye may still take legitimate pleasure in these intricate or fantastic
forms covering the carved chancel-slabs, or framing the church
doorways with a decoration of admirable richness ; but the effect
has always some taint of the exotic; it impresses us as the imagina-
tion of involved and inconclusive thought. The sculpture which
sets the human form on one level with the forms of animals,
imprisoning both alike in bands of interlacings or in the convolu-
tions of foliage, is not the sculpture which can permanently satisfy
the soul. In Europe that satisfaction could only be attained by a
sympathy with the Hellenic spirit, which did not rest content with
ornament, but by the representation of the human form aspired to
quicken the consciousness of life.

Against this purely decorative oriental sculpture, the ivory
carver stood almost alone as the representative of the Hellenic
spirit now enlisted in the service of the Christian faith. Almost
alone he kept the plastic art from the degrading influences of the
loom. It is hard to estimate the extent to which this obstinate
resistance may have aided the first tentative figure-sculpture of the
barbaric West, the first Teutonic sculpture which attempted to

^ Atti dd 1 1° Congrcsso internazionale di archeologia Cristiana, Rome, 1902.


treat man as a creature with a soul and not a mere symbol in a
maze of ornament. Figure-sculpture on a large scale was among
the last of the arts to profit by the renaissance begun by Charlemagne.

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Online LibraryFitzwilliam Museum. McClean BequestCatalogue of the mediaeval ivories, enamels, jewellery, gems and miscellaneous objects bequeathed to the museum by Frank McClean → online text (page 2 of 14)