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Vetusta Monumenta: An Introduction
Introduction to the digital edition of Vetusta Monumenta
By Noah Heringman
"Illustration was the technique par excellence of the antiquary."
- Alain Schnapp, Discovering the Past
Vetusta Monumenta [Ancient Monuments], published in seven volumes between 1747 and 1906, was the first of four major publication series launched by the Society of Antiquaries of London (SAL) in the eighteenth century. The first four plates were published individually in 1718, the year the society was formally re-established at the Mitre Tavern. By commissioning these engravings, the SAL defined its research agenda in terms of preservation, visual documentation, and collecting. This agenda, and the publication of images as a means of pursuing it, remained consistent throughout the eighteenth century, even though membership grew steadily—and steadily richer—from the original socially diverse group of eighteen members to 300 in 1770 and 800 by 1820 (Pearce 2007, 147).
In 1751, the SAL received its royal charter, which gave it a status equal to the Royal Society; and charged its Fellows with the “encouragement, advancement and furtherance of the study and knowledge of the antiquities and history of this and other countries.” In keeping with this broad mission, the objects selected for inclusion in Vetusta Monumenta form a large and varied set, ranging from artifacts such as a Romano-British marble bust and medieval monastic seals to architectural monuments including Fountains Abbey. The objects depicted range in age from roughly the 3rd to the 17th century CE. Since some charters, maps, and other documents were also engraved for the series, the distinction between “history” and “antiquities” can be deployed to class the engravings loosely as historical (documents) and antiquarian (artifacts and monuments), but this distinction is more a product of twentieth-century historiography than of the antiquaries' own motives.
The first secretary, William Stukeley, recorded at the first meeting that the society was formed “with a design at their own charge to collect and print and keep exact Registers . . . of all Antient Monuments that come into their hands” (quoted in Evans 1956, 58). John Talman, the first director, was later credited with the original idea of publishing a series of prints (Evans 1956, 62n7). Fellows of the society received copies of each engraving as a benefit of membership and additional copies went to book and print-sellers, but not always enough to make up the deficit between the cost of the prints and revenue from membership dues.
Selecting subjects for the engravings was a major responsibility of the Fellows, and later specifically the Council, of the SAL. Neither the engraver nor the director had editorial control of these decisions, and some entries in the Society’s Minute Books record the lively discussion that sometimes accompanied the selection process. Although some critics protested that the objects were miscellaneous and often trivial, Vetusta Monumenta effectively promoted the history of everyday life. “By producing representations of everyday objects,” as Bernard Nurse has observed, “the Society extended the idea of what would be acceptable for publication” (2007, 143).
Vetusta Monumenta tells a story that is both deeply illuminating for the history of preservation and uniquely relevant for readers and scholars in a digital age. By looking at the kinds of objects chosen for these engravings, we gain insight into the debate over what counts as evidence and what counts as history. By tracing the series from the early individual plates to the formation of a lavish scholarly book publication, we witness the transformation of eclectic private scholarship into a public discourse of antiquities engaged with the literary marketplace. The highly finished, visually captivating quality of many of these prints is matched by their historical significance as records of the state of many monuments that have deteriorated since the eighteenth century; in more than a few cases, these prints provide the sole record of artifacts and monuments that do not themselves survive. A digital scholarly edition of the images and accompanying text materially furthers this goal of preservation and makes the work accessible to a much wider audience. The images owe their strong aesthetic appeal as well as their accuracy to the laborious technique of copper engraving, which also made the original volumes prohibitively expensive for most readers. Now the volumes are extremely rare and even the existing digital version is neither open access nor of high quality. The present edition makes Vetusta Monumenta genuinely accessible, not just by reproducing the content but by providing scholarly commentary, interactive images, search tools, and other benefits of a modern digital edition.
By 1747, seventy engravings had been published, enough to form a substantial volume. The same year, John Ward (1679-1758) became director of the SAL. Ward had begun writing long explanatory captions for some of the plates beginning in 1743, and these soon evolved into printed companion essays in either Latin or English, which appeared occasionally from 1744. The second volume, with 55 more plates, appeared in 1789. It was greatly expanded by these letterpress “explanations of the plates,” which had begun to appear not just occasionally but with every plate or plate set (and consistently in English) from 1763 with Plate 2.20, the first plate engraved for the series by James Basire. Not coincidentally, the Society launched its second serial publication, the learned journal Archaeologia, at about the same time (1770), and the early volumes concluded some archived papers that had been written on objects depicted earlier in the series, but had remained unpublished, such as Samuel Gale's essay on the Horn of Ulf (Plate 1.2). Volume III, the last volume included here, was published in 1796 with 44 plates and about 200 pages of letterpress.
During its first forty years of publication, the most important figure involved with Vetusta Monumenta was the engraver George Vertue (1684-1756), who was also a founding member of the SAL. Vertue engraved all but one of the first 88 plates and also made several of the original drawings. During the last quarter of the eighteenth century, the central figure was Richard Gough (1735-1809), who became director of the SAL in 1771. After Vertue, there were no engravers in the Society, which was by now more expensive to join and more genteel in its composition. Gough’s predecessor John Taylor hired the engraver James Basire Sr, whose workshop created all the engravings for Vetusta Monumenta from 1763 as well as hundreds of engravings for Archaeologia, the society’s Cathedral Series (1795-1810), and individual publications by members. The last of Vertue’s plates (Plate 2.17) was published the year of his death; after a brief interregnum, the engraving work passed to Basire, who had the work in hand until his death in 1802; it was then taken on by his son, James Basire Jr.
For a brief period, the Society turned its attention to a new series of larger historical prints and no new engravings were published for Vetusta Monumenta between 1770 and 1780 (Nurse 2007, 144). Gough, however, ensured the continuation of the series with seven new plates in 1780 and twenty more by 1789, all with extensive letterpress explications. Though the objects depicted varied widely, the standard form of the prints in each of the two phases (under Vertue and Gough, respectively) helped to establish a recognizable connoisseurial and scholarly idiom. Imperial folio size paper (21 ½ x 14 ½ inches) was used throughout along with a relatively uniform style of engraving and captioning, later giving way to added letterpress. When the first series was bound into a volume, a Latinized subtitle was added, pointing toward conservation (“preserving the memory of [British] things”) as the unified research agenda; this language is reminiscent of Stukeley's insistence on visual documentation in the preface to his Itinerarium Curiosum (Stukeley 1724; Nurse 2007, 143).
The gradually increasing emphasis on text and interpretation in Vetusta Monumenta reflects the shift of primary editorial responsibility from Vertue, an artist and engraver, to Gough, a scholar whose agenda for the society as a whole centered on research and publication. The decision not to include commentary with most of the plates published before 1763, however, does not imply any defect of scholarship on the part of Vertue or the society’s earlier directors and other officers. Rather, the later expansion of Vetusta Monumenta reflects an increasingly strict division of labor characteristic of the later eighteenth century. In the early decades, not only the engravings, but also some of the original drawings, were produced by members of the SAL including Stukeley and Talman. Later in the century, by contrast, both Basire and draftsmen such as John Carter and Jacob Schnebbelie were hired on a contract basis and regarded as more or less menial. They were considered “practical antiquaries” (Gough 1799, 2.i.7) as distinct from those who wrote the scholarly text now seen as central to the discipline. Horace Walpole’s assessment of Vertue captures the earlier integral relationship between engraving and art historical scholarship, along with the emphasis on preservation, embodied in the earlier decades of Vetusta Monumenta: “The many valuable monuments relating to our history, and the persons of our monarchs and great men, which he saved from oblivion, are lasting evidences of his merit” (Walpole 1796, 1.i).
As Nurse has observed, several of the plates in Volume I were engraved from rediscovered drawings of monuments that had already been destroyed, and Sam Smiles notes that the series was produced “at a time of social and economic change, with many sites vulnerable to ‘improvement’ or demolition” (Smiles 2007, 123). A remark from one of Gough’s independent scholarly books, Sepulchral Monuments, signals a generalized anxiety about the loss of monuments that is also indicative for Vetusta Monumenta. “In a few years more we shall have no foundation left for such a work,” Gough declares, and proceeds to list several monuments that are “crumbling away without having been drawn” (Gough 1799, 1.3-4).
Modern scholarship has attended to some individual plates from Vetusta Monumenta, but there has been no systematic account of the publication series as a whole. In recent years, discussion of these plates has revolved around the question of preservation. Maria Grazia Lolla, Rosemary Sweet, and Martin Myrone have all commented specifically on two plates depicting Waltham Cross, one of the “Eleanor Crosses” erected by Edward I in memory of his queen between 1291 and 1294 (Plate 1.7 and Plate 3.12). The society paid for wooden posts to protect the cross from traffic, but this was a trifling effort compared to the expense and care lavished on the print series and other scholarly activities intended to serve preservation. The antiquaries themselves noticed this paradox: “Vetusta Monumenta flourished and the monuments of medieval England fell into decay,” as Joan Evans reflected in her history of this phase of the institution (1956, 192).
Although Vetusta Monumenta has made real contributions to preservation, the engravings collected here also served purposes that were clearly not subservient to the ostensible intention of preserving monuments, including social prestige and aestheticizing representation. These contradictions have led some scholars, such as Lolla and Myrone, to caution against taking the antiquaries’ preservationist claims at face value and instead to emphasize the ideological character of antiquarian prints as representations. A contrasting modern view, represented by Smiles and Matthew M. Reeve, insists on their continuing evidentiary function as visual documentation. More popular illustrated collections of antiquities, by such figures as Samuel and Nathaniel Buck and later John Britton (himself a Fellow of the Society), competed with and ultimately displaced Vetusta Monumenta among general readers by the late eighteenth century.
Vetusta Monumenta provides a uniquely rich record for scholars in the humanities today, who are increasingly interested in the study of objects and material culture. These engravings provide an intimate record of the kinds of objects collectively judged to be important, not by a single author or thinker, but by a large body of scholars and amateurs over the course of eight decades (and beyond, although the nineteenth-century volumes are outside the scope of the present edition). The energies of these wildly diverse objects, ranging from a Roman heating system to a lavish royal portrait to an early Tudor table of weights and measures, exceed the aesthetic framework in which they are placed. In some cases, the engravings become entangled with the afterlives of the objects themselves; the engraving of the Westminster portrait of Richard II (Plate 1.4), for instance, preserves a record of the raised gesso ground confirmed as an original feature of the painting by modern scholars after it was scraped off the original by Victorian restorers. Humanists from many disciplines, whether embracing or resisting influential methodologies such as actor-network theory (Latour 2005), thing theory (Brown 2004), or object-oriented ontology (Harman 2002), may find in Vetusta Monumenta a cluster of objects both highly mediated and uniquely redolent of the intimacy in which their humans lived with them.
While many of the plates present objects in a state of ruin, it would be unhistorical to divorce ruin as a merely picturesque state from ruin as a material condition that demanded archaeological knowledge. Readers of this edition, who also have the Internet at their disposal to compare these beautiful engravings with modern photographs and research, can decide for themselves. While every effort was made not to damage the books in the course of scanning their pages for this edition, some inevitable wear and tear led us to contemplate a similar paradox. Preservation is one legitimate motive for producing a state-of-the-art digital analogue for these images that represent the state of the art in mechanical reproduction for their time. More important, we hope this edition will stimulate the same curiosity, wonder, and skepticism that we have experienced, especially for readers who do not have access to the original volumes. Vetusta Monumenta (I-III) offers a rich repository of antiquarian images and scholarship from a time when the scope and status of antiquity became open and often fiercely contested questions.
Brown, Bill, ed. 2004. Things. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Evans, Joan. 1956. A History of the Society of Antiquaries. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
George II of England. 1751. Society of Antiquaries of London Royal Charter.
Gough, Richard. 1786-96 . Sepulchral Monuments in Great Britain. 2 volumes in 5. London: J. Nichols.
Harman, Graham. 2002. Tool-Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects. Peru, IL: Open Court.
Latour, Bruno. 2005. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Lolla, Maria Grazia. 1999. “Ceci n’est pas un monument: Vetusta Monumenta and Antiquarian Aesthetics.” In Producing the Past: Aspects of Antiquarian Culture and Practice, 1700-1850, edited by Martin Myrone and Lucy Peltz, 5-34. Aldershot: Ashgate.
Myrone, Martin. 2007. “Society of Antiquaries and the Graphic Arts: George Vertue and His Legacy.” In Visions of Antiquity: The Society of Antiquaries of London, 1707-2007, edited by Susan Pearce, 98-121. London: Society of Antiquaries.
Nurse, Bernard. 2007. “Bringing Truth to Light.” In Making History: Antiquaries in Britain, 1707-2007, edited by David Gaimster, Sarah McCarthy, and Bernard Nurse, 143-45. London: Royal Academy of Arts.
Pearce, Susan. 2007. “Antiquaries and the Interpretation of Ancient Objects, 1770-1820.” In Visions of Antiquity: The Society of Antiquaries of London, 1707-2007, edited by Susan Pearce, 147-74. London: Society of Antiquaries.
Reeve, Matthew. 2007. “Jacob Schnebbelie, Draughtsman to the Society of Antiquaries (1760-92), and the Politics of Preservation in Late Eighteenth-Century England.” Transactions of the Ancient Monuments Society 51: 69-86.
------. 2008. Thirteenth-century Wall Painting of Salisbury Cathedral: Art, Liturgy, and Reform. Suffolk: Boydell and Brewer.
Smiles, Sam. 2007. “The Art of Recording.” In Making History: Antiquaries in Britain, 1707-2007, edited by David Gaimster, Sarah McCarthy, and Bernard Nurse, 123-25. London: Royal Academy of Arts.
------. 2003. “Data, Documentation and Display in Eighteenth-Century Investigations of Exeter Cathedral.” In Tracing Architecture: The Aesthetics of Antiquarianism, edited by Dana Arnold and Stephen Bending, 80-99. Oxford: Blackwell.
------. 2000. Eye Witness: Artists and Visual Documentation in Britain, 1770-1830. Aldershot: Ashgate.
Stukeley, William. 1724. Itinerarium Curiosum. Or, An Account of the Antiquitys and Remarkable Curiositys in Nature or Art, Observ’d in Travels thro’ Great Brittan. London.
Sweet, Rosemary. 2004. Antiquaries: The Discovery of the Past in Eighteenth-Century Britain. London: Hambledon and London.
Walpole, Horace. 1796. Anecdotes of Painting in England . . . Collected by the late Mr. George Vertue. 4th ed. London: R. Dodsley.
Evans, Joan. 1956. A History of the Society of Antiquaries. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Gaimster, David, Sarah McCarthy, and Bernard Nurse, eds. 2007. Making History: Antiquaries in Britain 1707-2007. London: Royal Academy of Arts.
Gough, Richard. 1770. “Introduction.” Archaeologia 1: i-xxxix.
Miller, Peter N. 2017. History and Its Objects: Antiquarianism and Material Culture Since 1500. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Myrone, Martin, and Lucy Peltz, eds. 1999. Producing the Past: Aspects of Antiquarian Culture and Practice, 1700-1850. Aldershot: Ashgate.
Pearce, Susan, ed. 2007. Visions of Antiquity: The Society of Antiquaries of London, 1707-2007. London: SAL.
Schnapp, Alain. 1997. The Discovery of the Past: the Origins of Archaeology. New York: Harry N. Abrams.
Society of Antiquaries of London. 1754. Queries Proposed to Gentlemen in the Several Parts of Great Britain, in Hope of Obtaining from Their Answers a Better Knowledge of Its Antiquities and Natural History. London.
------. 1747-1906. Vetusta Monumenta. 7 vols. London: Society of Antiquaries.
Sweet, Rosemary. 2004. Antiquaries: The Discovery of the Past in Eighteenth-Century Britain. London: Hambledon and London.1
Plate 2.20: Bronze Age Horns with Medieval Brooch, Arm-Rings, and Shield
Scholarly Commentary with DZI View for Vetusta Monumenta, Plate 2.20. Commentary by Stephanie Moser.
Plate: Engraved by James Basire, Sr. (1730-1802), in 1761 after his own drawings. The seven items featured on the plate were presented for inspection at a meeting on 29 January 1761, which led to the decision to draw up the objects for publication (SAL Minutes VIII.290). Published on 28 April 1763, the plate presents an array of archaeological objects in the possession of two prominent fellows of the Society, Richard Pococke, Bishop of Ossory (1704-1765), and Charles Lyttelton, Dean of Exeter and later Bishop of Carlisle (1714-68). Like Plate 2.17, Plate 2.20 is a compilation image in which a range of disparate items have been represented together due to circumstance rather than archaeological affinity. This plate is especially notable for its innovative and extensive set of labels, including both measurements and a set of letters keyed to the printed “Explanation of Plate XX” that was published with the plate.
Object: I-II: “Fibulæ.” These figures represent two silver arm-rings from Ireland, now thought to be of late-ninth to mid-tenth-century origin, first shown at the Society of Antiquaries of London by Richard Pococke, who probably acquired them during his travels in Ireland between 1747 and 1760 (SAL Minutes VIII.289). Their current location is unknown.
III-V: “Brass Trumpets.” Found in County Cork, Ireland around 1750, and shown by Pococke at the same meeting, these horns date to the late Bronze Age. Two of these horns, figures 4 and 5 on the print, are currently on display in Mount Edgcumbe House in Cornwall.
VI-VIII: “Shield.” Figs. VI-VII present the front and back of a buckler, a small type of shield held in the hand and typically used with a sword in combat. Fig. VIII (at bottom) presents a cross-section of the same object, thought to be of Roman age at the time of discovery, but since traced to a specific area of northeast Wales during the period 1440-1580. First exhibited by Charles Lyttelton (SAL Minutes VIII.288); current location unknown.
IX-X: “Brass Ornament.” These figures represent the top face and section of a Viking Age (c. ninth-century) oval brooch, Scandinavian in origin and of a type associated with female burials. Pococke reported a find spot in the Western Isles of Scotland (VIII.290), and this brooch, together with an accompanying pin, is listed in the Scottish Monuments record (Canmore ID 10515).
In 3 2/8
Ft. 2 In. 10
In 3 1/4
Feet 2 In. 10.
Ft. 1 In 8
In 2.1/2 1/8
Ft. 2 In. 6 3/3
In 18 3/4
Section of the Shield.
In 3 1/2 1/8
In. 11 2/3
For a key to letters A-V and a, see the Original Explanatory Account
Section of the Brass Ornament.
In 4 1/8
Plate 2.20, bottom: James Basire Delint. et sculpsit. / Publish'd April 28.1763 according to Act of Parliament.~ / Sumptu Societ. Antiq. Lond. 1763.
Drawn and engraved by James Basire. Published by the Society of Antiquaries of London 1763.
Original Explanatory Account: Click here to read the original explanatory account for Plate 2.20.
Commentary by Stephanie Moser: Ordered by the Council of the Society of Antiquaries of London (SAL) in January 1761, Plate 2.20 was designed and engraved by James Basire, Sr. (1730-1802), who completed the commission—his first for the SAL—in January 1762 (SAL Minutes VIII.389). Published on 28 April 1763, the plate presents an array of archaeological objects in the possession of two prominent fellows of the Society. The seven items featured on the plate were presented for inspection at a Society meeting on 29 January 1761, which led to the decision to enlist Basire to draw up the objects for publication (VIII.290). Contrasting with the majority of other plates in volume two of Vetusta Monumenta, Plate 2.20 is a compilation image in which a range of disparate items have been represented together due to circumstance rather than archaeological affinity. Arranged on the plate are ten figures representing seven objects, including two Viking-age silver arm-rings from Ireland, sections of three Bronze Age horns from Ireland, a fifteenth to sixteenth century buckler (small shield) from Wales, and a Viking-age Scandinavian brooch from the Western Isles of Scotland. These items were exhibited at SAL by fellows Richard Pococke (1704-65), Bishop of Ossory, and Charles Lyttelton (1714-68), at that time Dean of Exeter and later Bishop of Carlisle.
Presenting a meticulously rendered collection of artifacts, Plate 2.20 is significant for a number of reasons. James Basire went on to engrave all but two of the remaining thirty-five plates in this volume and all forty-four in vol. 3, in many cases (as here) making preparatory drawings himself. Beginning with this plate, explanatory text (which had appeared sporadically since 1744), began to appear consistently with every engraving in Vetusta Monumenta, so Plate 2.20 marks a scholarly turn in the evolution of the series. The image itself is an important document in the history of archaeology in Britain and represents a key development in the emergence of archaeological illustration. The manner of depicting the objects and the mode of inscription are particularly significant, the latter offering a “system” for communicating the essential qualities of antiquities. Integral to the Society’s agenda of promoting systematic research on British antiquities, the plate demonstrates the concern to create appropriate criteria for recording and describing portable antiquities. It also reflects the Society’s ambition to disseminate knowledge of recently discovered/acquired objects felt to be worthy of scrutiny by the fellows. Beyond its significance in the history of antiquarian illustration, the plate can be assessed in the context of research in many other fields. These include the history of archaeology in Ireland and Scotland, Viking studies, the study of arms and weapons, the history of musical instruments, Welsh history and poetry, biographies of notable antiquarians, histories of antiquarian collecting in Britain, and accounts of antiquarian practice in the mid eighteenth century. As it is impossible to do justice to all of these topics within the confines of this commentary, the focus in the following discussion will be on the significance of the plate in the history of archaeological visualization.
Contents of the Plate
Featured on the left-hand side of Plate 2.20 are Figures I and II, labelled “fibulae.” Representing two silver arm-rings from Ireland dating to the late ninth to mid tenth century, these objects were in the collection of Richard Pococke, but their current location is unknown. The acquisition and provenance of the arm-rings is not noted in the explanation of the plate, the SAL Minutes or Pococke’s writings, but he most likely obtained them during his travels in Ireland between 1747 and 1760. Alongside the arm-rings on the right of the plate are Figures III–V, labelled “Brass Trumpets.” Found in County Cork, Ireland around 1750, in a bog between Cork and Mallow, these horns date to the late Bronze Age and include one that was side-blown and two that were end-blown. The latter would have been up to a meter in length and made up of several sections slotted together. The horns, made of bronze, were mistakenly described as brass, as the two metals were regularly confused at this time, though brass was not known in Britain and Ireland before the end of the Iron Age. Two of these horns are currently on display in Mount Edgcumbe House in Cornwall. Immediately below the horns are Figures VI and VII, labelled “Shield,” which present the front and back of a buckler, a small type of shield held in the hand and typically used with the sword in combat. The buckler represented here was a composite construction of metal, wood and leather, where a wooden core was reinforced with iron bands that encircled an iron boss and which were fastened by small brass rivets. The figure of the back of the buckler shows the remains of a leather cover and wooden handle. Representing a unique type of buckler made in Wrexham, north east Wales, this kind of object would have been used by infantrymen and civilians from around 1440 to 1580. The depicted example was found at Old Oswestry Iron-Age Hillfort (Hen Dinas), on the Welsh border of Shropshire, and was thought to be of Roman age at the time of discovery (SAL Minutes VIII.288). While Figure VI is depicted at an angle, using shadow to convey the concave nature of the front of the buckler, Figure VII represents a frontal view of its back, and Figure VIII presents a detailed section drawing of the object. The current location of the Welsh buckler is unknown.
Depicted in between the figures of the buckler are Figures IX and X, representing the top face and section of a “Brass ornament.” This object is a Viking-age oval brooch, which is Scandinavian in origin and dated to around the ninth century. Such objects typically come from female burials, where they are found in pairs on either side of the skeleton, often holding a festoon of beads. Often referred to as “tortoise” brooches, they were used to secure the garments worn by women. The example in Plate 2.20 was reported as found on the “Isle of Sangay, between the Isles of Writ & Harris, to the west of Scotland” (see below), but this was most probably Langay, a small uninhabited island in the Western Isles between Uist (presumably what is meant by Writ) and Harris. In his edited volume of Pococke’s Tours in Scotland 1747, 1750, 1760, where the brooch is said to be found in the “Isle of Sangay between Wist and Harris,” Daniel Kemp inserts a note stating that the author of the explanation accompanying Plate 2.20 had used Pococke”s account, where “Lingay” was mistakenly spelled as “Sangay” (and “Writ” was misspelled as “Wist”) (Pococke 1887, 92-93). Accordingly, in his caption for the illustration of the brooch, Kemp states “Lingáy Island” as the provenance, but “Langay” is the most likely reading. Along with a pin that it was found with, this brooch has been listed in the Scottish Monuments record (Canmore ID 10515).
Production of the Plate
The SAL Minutes provide insight into the production of Plate 2.20, revealing how antiquities were presented at meetings for inspection and subsequently drawn up for the benefit of the fellows. The report on the presentation of the buckler, horns, arm-rings, and brooch from 29 January 1761 reveals how such items were described and assessed at the time:
Notable in this account is the detailed description of the objects and the materials from which they were made. Beyond providing information on size, materials and form, the manner of construction of the objects is also discussed. They are also described and interpreted in relation to perceived contemporary analogues, and inferences are made about parts of the objects that are missing or no longer exist, such as the mouth piece on the horn and the reference to the buckler in its original state (as studded). An attempt to convey context by noting the association of the object with the other items with which it was found is another attribute, such as the reference to the proximity of the brooch to a large pin and needle found alongside the remains of a skeleton. Finally, references are made to the existence of similar objects in other collections, such as the horns in the British Museum. In addition to these traits, the importance of accurate illustration is emphasized, with the critique of earlier drawings of the horns by Smith (see further below). Other observations can be made about the mode of interpreting antiquities as articulated in the minutes. In the description of the brooch, for instance, we see the object compared to cultural and natural specimens alike: “like the embossment of a horse-bit” and “the size of a small land tortoise.” Not least important is the curiosity expressed about the possible alteration of objects post discovery, as seen in the reference to the removal of studded pins in the buckler, which is recognized as possibly resulting from damage over time.
The Dean of Exeter exhibited . . . a curious antique Shield or Target, which was found underground with-in the Area of the Camp at Hen-dinas, a Hill which lies to the Northwest below Oswestre in Shropshire. This Hill, according to Camden, was formerly entrenched with a triple Ditch. The Form is an oblong Square, every way rising, encompassed with three great Works, one higher than another; the Space within is about 8 Acres. The Inhabitants thereabouts, from the Name Hen-dinas, think it was once a great City, but others judge it to have been the Camp of Penda or Oswald; & the Tradition is, that this Place was the last Retreat of the Britains. The Shield is round, & concave; the Diameter of the Circumference about 2. foot 10. 3/4 Inches. It is composed of a thin Iron Plate, ornamented & strengthened on the outside with a great number of small flat Bars, proceeding like Radii from the Umbo to the Circumference, & cross’d by 9 Concentric Circles, like Net work, & rivetted to the Plate with small Pins studded with Brass, the Heads near the size of a white Pepper Corn. The Back of the Shield is strengthened by a double lining of Horse Leather fastened on to the Plate by the other ends of the Pins abovementioned; & over these was a covering of tanned Leather. The Umbo is hollow, & projects now about 3-3/4 inches; it was formerly longer, being armed at the Extremity with a Spike, the end of which is still remaining in the Socket to which it was Soder’d. . . .
The Lord Bishop of Ossory exhibited three brass Trumpets, in the form of Horns, which were found in a Bog between Cork & Mallow, in the County of Cork in Ireland. Two of these Trumpets consist at present of two pieces, a small straight Tube, & a large curved one: the small Tube is of the size of the middle Piece of a German Flute; & is let in to the narrow end of the curved one, with Holes perforated through each to adjust & fix them occasionally; the Mouth-piece to both seems to be wanting. The other Trumpet is composed of one entire piece, & has a large oval hole cut on the inner side, near the small end, for applying the Mouth to, as in German Flutes. This Instrument seems to be compleat, & is ornamented, like the others, with holes & pointed knobs of brass, interchangeably, round the larger End thereof. They have been engraved, it seems, in Dr. Smith’s History of the County of Cork, but not accurately. There are two of the kind, but smaller, in the British Museum. His Lordship is not certain whether one of them is the Trumpet given by Sir Thomas Molyneux, in the Appendix to Boates’s Natural History of Ireland.
–His Lordship also exhibited two silver Fibulæ of an oval Form, plain, & unornamented, which were also found in Ireland. These were covered over with Rust, in such a manner, that it was with difficulty any part could be cleaned to shew of what metal they were made. One is in the form of an Hook, with three edges, tapering towards the ends; the other of a like make, but the ends are joined & twisted round each other.
He also exhibited an oval Ornament of Brass like the Embossment of a Horse-bit, & of the Size of a small Land Tortoise, adorned with a kind of mosaic Work, & had been originally studded. Exactly the fellow of it is in the British Museum; but all the little Pins, which were in the Centre of the several Compartments, & which may be supposed to have been studded, are taken out of that; the holes in which they were fixed still remaining visible. Together with this was found a long brass Pin & a brass Needle; one on each side of a supposed Skeleton, moulder’d to Dust. These were found in the Isle of Sangay, between the Isles of Writ & Harris, to the west of Scotland. . . .
Drawings were order’d to be made of the Target; & of the Trumpets, & other Antiquities exhibited by his Lordship. (SAL Minutes VIII.288-290)
A week after the meeting of 29 January, when the order was made to have the objects drawn up, James Basire submitted his drawings of the items for approval. That this was Basire’s first commission for the SAL following his appointment as Society engraver may account for the quick turnaround. On 5 February 1761 it was reported that the drawings were approved and the “engraving thereof for the use of the Members was referred to the Consideration of the Council” (VIII.292). Basire’s drawings for Plate 2.20 have not been traced in the Society’s albums of drawings; if not lost or stolen, they may have been given to the owners of the objects. It would not be for nearly another year that a proof of the engraving of Plate 2.20 was presented to the fellows. On 21 January 1762 the minutes recorded that the “Society were pleased to express their approbation of the said engraving” (VIII.389). The proof of the plate, which was inserted into the minutes, is notable on account of the absence of the detailed measurements that appeared in the final version. Also worth mentioning is the handwritten note added to the proof made nine years later, which states the whereabouts of the horns at the time: “These now (May 1771) are in the possession of Mr. Edmondson, Warwick Street Golden Square.” This was most likely the antiquarian Joseph Edmondson (1732–86).
The Significance of Plate 2.20 as an Artifact Plate
That a collection of ostensibly unrelated items was presented together on one plate warrants comment as, by the time Plate 2.20 was created, artifact plates had become more standardized in their approach to grouping objects. Major antiquarian publications, for instance, typically presented objects associated by class, type, historic period or site (Moser 2014). The objects on Plate 2.20 are not united in any of these ways and it appears that the decision to include them together was based on the circumstance of being presented at the same SAL meeting. In this sense the plate might be described as a “collectors’ assemblage” rather than an archaeological one (see Plate 2.17 for another example). A feature of Plate 2.20 that was more commensurate with developments in antiquarian illustration, however, was the inclusion of section drawings of the buckler and brooch. While the section drawing of the brooch is fairly standard, that of the buckler is more unusual. The lettering system used to denote specific parts of the object is quite complex and necessitated the creation of a lengthy “key” for the accompanying explanation to the plate.
The arrangement of Plate 2.20 is both aesthetic and didactic, with an element of symmetry characterizing the layout of objects and a wealth of measurements assigned to their parts. Basire has made economic use of the plate by assembling as many figures as possible in the available space, an approach that accounts for the different orientation of the arm-rings and horns. As there is significant variation in the size of the objects (the arm-rings and brooch are disproportionately large compared to the horns and buckler), a general scale has not been included; instead individual measurements are assigned to each item. In terms of style, Basire adopted some of the “motifs” he had used in his illustrations for The Antiquities of Athens, James Stuart’s and Nicholas Revett’s important antiquarian work of 1762. The architectural illustrations in this publication were “adorned” with an abundance of precise measurements, a trait mocked by William Hogarth (1833, 67) when reflecting on his own Five Orders of Periwigs (1761). In addition to Stuart, Basire was influenced by the pictorial conventions for representing antiquities pioneered by the leading French antiquarian Comte de Caylus (1692–1765) in Recueil d’Antiquités Égyptiennes, Étrusques, Grecques, Romaines et Gauloises (1752–1757; see Moser 2014). Basire adopted several of these conventions, including section profiles, top-down or “aerial” views, and multiple views of the same object.
Beyond the meticulous delineation of object features through the adept use of line and dense, carefully differentiated shading, the distinguishing feature of Plate 2.20 is the system of measurements designed to indicate scale and the relationship between object parts. The simplest measurements are assigned to the arm-rings, with the internal diameters given as “In. 3” and “In. 3 2/8,” respectively. For the horns a range of measurements have been used, including the circumference of the “outer” edges of the object (in its form as a two-dimensional representation), and the distance between various parts of the objects. The dotted lines running between and under the parts of the horn appear as something of a visual “web.” The depiction of the brooch in profile (Fig. IX) indicates the distinctive hollow shape of the object and the raised nature of the ornament on the surface, the three white areas suggesting damage. The faint line across the centre of the ornament in Fig. X is designed to convey the part of the object represented in the accompanying section drawing. Most elaborate, however, is the delineation of the buckler in Figs. VI–VIII, which represent the internal structure of the buckler. The complex system of lettering for the section drawing includes repeated rows of the letters “K,” “N,” “M,” and “a,” which are complemented with the use of the rest of the letters of the alphabet, excluding “J,” “O,” “U,” and “W-Z.” The dotted circle labelled “P” on the left side of Fig. VIII indicates a missing rivet; similarly, the section designated “T” represents the missing spike tip. In addition to this pattern of inscription, Basire has enlisted a large shadow in Fig. VI to convey the concave shape of the buckler. Attention to the deteriorated and torn leather on Fig. VII not only gives a sense of the state of preservation of the buckler but offers a glimpse of the way the object is made.
Basire’s delineation of the objects in Plate 2.20 represented a significant advance in their illustration, particularly that of the horns and the buckler. A comparison between his image and the way the horns were represented in Charles Smith’s Ancient and Present State of the County and City of Cork of 1750 (2.404-06; pl. XI, figs. 1-2) reveals that beyond greater accuracy in delineating the artifacts (including more detailed measurements), Basire was also concerned with representing the damage on the objects. Labelled “Danish Trumpets” and including a scale, Smith’s image features two of the end-blown horns designated as “fig. 2,” which suggests they may represent different views of the same object (either Fig. III or IV in Plate 2.20). The damaged parts of this horn/these horns are not conveyed in Smith’s illustration, nor is the second ring on the end-blown horn. Notable is Smith’s claim that the horns were “drawn from the originals by a scale which shews their dimensions” (1750, 2.404), yet his illustrations were deemed to be inaccurate in the SAL Minutes (VIII.289). Furthermore, it is worth noting that in the revised 1893 edition of Smith, this plate was replaced with one featuring horns in Robert Day’s collection. These are more detailed than the original illustrations in Smith, but no measurements or scale are included. Turning to the buckler, an object similar to that featured in Plate 2.20 had been illustrated in Philosophical Transactions sixty-five years earlier (Thoresby 1698, fig. 9). This sketch presented a “flat” or two-dimensional view of the buckler, with the rivets delineated as small circles arranged in concentric rings. Basire’s oblique view of the example exhibited at the SAL presented a completely different view of the object, creating a perspective that was three-dimensional in nature. His view of the back with its torn leather and remnants of the handle and his section drawing also effectively demonstrated how the buckler was comprised of many different parts and materials. Like the horns, the brooch had been drawn prior to Basire’s illustration, although this drawing was not published until 1887 (Pococke 1887, 92). Again, Basire’s version is far more detailed, paying attention to the damaged sections of the object as to the others and providing a clearer sense of the shape of the object and the surface ornament. Finally, through his deft use of line and shadow, Basire has sought to convey the distinctive knot and ridges in the arm-rings, recording the small dent in one.
The “Explanation” for Plate 2.20
The figures in Plate 2.20 are explained in two pages of accompanying text distinguished by detailed cross-referencing to the features of the figures. The author is likely to have been Benjamin Bartlet (1714-87), since the letters “B.B.” are inscribed at the bottom of the first page. A numismatist, Bartlet was elected as a fellow on 7 January 1762, around the time the plate was produced, later becoming the SAL treasurer. Beyond using the minutes of 1761, Pococke’s writings, and other antiquarian sources, Bartlet may have collaborated with other fellows in composing the text. Beginning with Figures I and II, the text defines the bracelets as “two curved instruments of silver, found in Ireland, something in the manner of ancient fibulae” (“Explanation,” 1). It is noteworthy that although the objects are labelled “Fibulae” on the plate, the text clarifies that they are in “the manner” of such articles. A lengthier explanation is offered for Figs. III, IV, and V, representing the horns. We are notified that they were found as part of larger set containing “ten or a dozen more” such items. Their provenance in a bog located between the towns of Cork and Mallow in Ireland is noted and they are inferred to have been used in battle. Classical and historical sources are cited to verify this assertion about function, with detailed quotes and page numbers provided. Special mention is made of Fig. V, which is notable on account of having the hole for sounding on the side, and Bartlet notes the similarity to German flutes used “at this day.” Suggestions are made about the role of the two rings on this side-blown horn, said to “receive a string, by which it was to be carried or supported.” The two other horns are introduced and noted for their different construction to the former side-blown example. These are described as being blown from the end in the “manner of a common trumpet” and to this it is added that the mouth pieces to both are missing. Readers are then informed of the discovery of more of this kind of “common” horn in other sites in Ireland, which had subsequently been acquired by the British Museum.
The description of Figures VI, VII, and VIII representing the buckler is lengthier and more “technical” in nature than the account of the other objects on the plate. Following a brief report on the site where the buckler was found and the circumstances of its discovery, the text offers a detailed account of the system of letters assigned to the parts of each figure. After an explanation of “the perpendicular line V. T. X.” in Fig. VIII, the sequence of other letters featured on the plate is explained in alphabetical order, with attention to each material detail of the buckler. The text ends with a comparatively brief account of the brass ornament “of chased work, something like the embossment of a horse-bit” (“Explanation,” 2). Bartlet outlines the context in which the brooch was discovered, noting how it was found with a brass pin and needle lying on either side of a skeleton as per Pococke’s account; a similar object is said to be in the British Museum.
The textual accompaniment to Plate 2.20 was important in promoting a systematic approach to the classification of portable antiquities. The level of detail is noteworthy, demonstrating the agenda of the SAL to scrutinize a variety of attributes of antiquities in order to better understand them. This is particularly the case for the buckler, where some thought has gone into devising the comprehensive lettering system for recording each of its features. While this kind of inscription in archaeological illustration was not new, previous schemes were much simpler (e.g. Charles Smith’s  representation of the horns). In assessing the text for Plate 2.20 it is possible to identify traits that represent an emerging archaeological approach within British antiquarianism, including:
Brief description and interpretation of function: The objects are introduced with a description of form, materials, and inferred function. The arm-rings, for example, are described as “curved instruments of silver... something in the manner of ancient Fibulæ,” and the horns as “three brass trumpets... imagined to be some of those instruments, which the northern nations made use of in battle” (“Explanation,” 1).
Detailed description of object parts: The objects are defined in terms of their constituent parts. On the horn represented on right of the plate, for example, the reader is informed that “Fig. V. consists of one entire piece of fine brass, closed at the small end, near which it has a large oval hole... the two rings were probably designed to receive a string, by which it was to be carried or supported.”
Comparison of objects: The objects are compared with one another by way of definition. Referring to the horns, for example, the text states that “Fig. III and IV are of a different construction; they consist, at present, of two pieces, viz. a curve Pipe, and a small strait Tube, fitted exactly to enter into the small end of it. These were not sounded, as the former, but from the end, in the manner of common Trumpet.”
Contextualization of objects: To aid understanding of the objects as representative of a wider class of material, insights on examples similar to those featured in the plate are cited. On the two end-blown horns, for example, we are informed that “More of this sort were found some years ago, near Carrickfergus, in the north of Ireland; two of which were brought into England, and probably the same which are now reposited in the British Museum.”
Range of views of objects: Different views of objects, in the form of section drawings, are offered in order to more fully understand their form and construction. On the buckler, for example, it is explained that “Fig. VI is a perspective view of the outer surface, as Fig. VII is of the inner. Fig VIII is a section through the centre.”
Detailed “anatomy” of objects: Explanation is provided on the internal structure of objects. The account of the buckler, for instance, notes that “That part which is to the right hand of the perpendicular line V. T. X. is a section from the centre, through the middle of the wood, which supported the handle, marked F.H. in Fig. VII, and that part, which is to the left of the same line, is a section from the centre to the place marked E in Fig. VII.”
These traits demonstrate the concern to extract as much information as possible from each object. The concern to understand the manufacture and workings of the objects is paramount, with attention to their various layers and components resulting in a technical essay that signifies archaeological analysis.
The Legacy of the Objects in Plate 2.20
Each of the objects featured in Plate 2.20 has been the subject of discussion by researchers of ancient and historic material culture, including archaeologists specialising in the Bronze Age, the Viking Age, and the early modern period. Experts on Scottish, Irish and Welsh archaeology and history, and authorities on Viking hoards, prehistoric gold, and historic armor have also cited the objects represented in the plate.
The fate of the arm-rings following their depiction in Plate 2.20 is unknown but they have been referred to by Michael Herity (1969, 12) in his article on early discoveries of Irish antiquities documented in the SAL Minute Books, where he notes their presentation in 1761. The arm-rings have also been referred to in James Graham-Campbell’s (1976, 68) and John Sheehan’s (1998, 202; forthcoming) work on the Viking-age silver hoards of Ireland, and are cited in Aideen Ireland’s (1980, 366) article on Pococke’s collection of antiquities.
Of all the objects depicted in Plate 2.20, the horns have been discussed most in the literature. Before they came to the attention of the SAL, Smith (1750, 411) reported on their discovery with 13 or 14 other horns, which were rescued from a brazier and subsequently purchased by Pococke. While the details of their whereabouts subsequent to the sale of Pococke’s collection in 1766 is not clear (Finnegan 2015, 43-44), Joseph Edmondson, who was said to have had them in his possession in 1771 (see above), is likely to have had them until he died in 1786. Two have since been traced to the collection of the Earls of Mount Edgcumbe in southeast Cornwall, where they are currently on display (MacWhite 1945, 100). Although they were illustrated prior to appearing in Plate 2.20 (Smith 1750), Basire’s engraving of the horns made a significant contribution to their study as it was referred to and reproduced in subsequent publications on Irish horns. Examples include Joseph C. Walker’s Historical Memoirs of the Irish Bards of 1786, where an image remarkably similar to Basire’s is featured and the explanatory text is directly quoted. Endorsing Basire’s image, Walker (1786, 110) refers to the SAL engraving as “a work which was conducted by that learned body.” Three years later Richard Gough referred to the horns and reproduced Basire’s plate in his edition of Camden’s Britannia, albeit without the measurements and in a different arrangement (Camden 1789, 3.477, Plate 2.20XV, figs. 3-5; on p. 477 it is incorrectly stated that the plate is 2.20XII).
In the nineteenth century a tradition of research on Bronze Age horns emerged in which Basire’s image was again referred to and reproduced, or reworked. In an 1833 article on “Ancient Irish Trumpets” in the Dublin Penny Journal (1833, 28-29, figs. 3, 4) two of the horns from Plate 2.20 are featured, namely the side-blown example and one of the end-blown ones. These illustrations are taken from Basire’s, adopting the same system of measurements. In Robert MacAdam’s 1860 article on “Ancient Irish Trumpets” in Ulster Journal of Archaeology (1860, 101-2), the horns in Plate 2.20 are cited, but interestingly he uses Smith’s (1750) less detailed illustrations. In J. M. Kemble’s Horae Ferales of 1863 (plate XIII) the horn in Fig. III of Plate 2.20 was reproduced and the same system of measurements used. Kemble (1863, 171) explained that his view was “restored from a trumpet engraved in the ‘Vetusta Monumenta,’ vol. ii. Pl. 20, but of which the upper half of the straight part is wanting.” In the description of Fig. 7 in Kemble’s plate, which features a side-blown horn in the British Museum, he also notes that “one very similar is engraved in the ‘Vetusta Monumenta.’” Twelve years later, when the horns were referred to in Robert Day’s study of Irish Bronze war trumpets (1875, 422-23), Smith’s 1750 account rather than Basire’s plate was cited. This was probably on account of Smith being the first to record the objects. In the following decade John Evans cited the growing body of archaeological literature on the horns of Ireland in his landmark Ancient Bronze Age Implements (1881, 358-60), where he referred to the depiction of the horns in Plate 2.20.
In more recent publications the horns are referred to on account of being one of the earliest recorded discoveries of this type of object. Basire’s images have featured in Eoin McWhite’s (1945, 100) and John Coles’ (1963, 326, 342, 351) studies of Irish Bronze Age horns. In 1967 Coles wrote in more detail about the horns in Plate 2.20 in the context of announcing their “discovery” in Cornwall. In addition to providing photographs of the objects (Plate 11 A-B), he refers to their illustration in Plate 2.20, reporting how the curved bell and straight tube of the end-blown horn have since been soldered together (Coles 1967, 15). Soon after, in his paper on early finds of Irish antiquities documented in the Minute Books of the SAL, Michael Herity (1969, 12) refers to the presentation of the horns to the SAL, determining that they are probably the ones featured in Smith’s illustration of 1750. George Eogan (1983, 75) also refers to the horns in Hoards of the Irish Later Bronze Age, suggesting that Fig. V appears similar to that illustrated by Smith but that Smith’s is not as exact as it lacks a second ring at end. He adds that the arrangement of the pieces in Plate 2.20 differs from that provided by Smith, and as well as reproducing Basire’s plate Eogan (1983, 317) adds new illustrations of Figs. IV and V. In her article on late Bronze Age horns from Cork and Kerry, Joan Rockley (2004, 139) lists the Plate 2.20 horns as the first reported discovery in the area, and states that “apart from the portrayal of minor damage, these drawings are almost identical to those of Smith.” Basire and the SAL fellows who commissioned Plate 2.20 would have lamented this assessment, having presented their illustration as a significant improvement on Smith’s rendition. This raises an interesting point about what Basire’s detailed measurements actually achieved in the way of improving on Smith’s original drawing. Finally, the horns of Plate 2.20 are briefly referred to in Aideen Ireland’s (1980, 362) article on Pococke’s collecting, reflecting how these items have assumed an important place in the history of collecting prehistoric antiquities in the eighteenth century.
Concurrently with the publication of Plate 2.20, Tudor bucklers started to receive attention in the literature on ancient armor. Although Basire’s example did not feature in Francis Grose’s Treatise on Ancient Armour and Weapons of 1786-89, Grose’s plate depicting an “ancient concave roundel” featured views of the object in a manner very similar to Plate 2.20 (Grose 1786-89, plate 37). These included the “back or inside,” the “front viewed obliquely,” a section “shewing its concavity and handle,” and the “handle shewn separately” (Grose 1786-89, Description of the Plates, xiv). It thus seems likely that Grose was influenced by Basire’s illustration, even though no measurements were included. Around the same time and following Camden’s description of the site of Hen Dinas in Gough’s edition of Britannia, Gough added a detailed note on the object which read: “The Society of Antiquaries engraved in 1763 a very curious circular wooden shield near a Roman foot in diameter, found in its area, bound round with iron and covered with iron network, the inside lined with three coats of leather, and furnished with an handle or strap to pass over the arm, as the outside with an umbo four inches long terminating in a point” (Camden 1789, 2.421). The engraving of the buckler in Plate 2.20 was also cited in Samuel Rush Meyrick’s (1824, 2.283-4) landmark study of ancient armor. The following year the buckler was mentioned in Thomas Dudley Fosbroke’s (1825, 2.778) discussion of British and Anglo-Saxon arms and armor, where he referred to the “supposed curious one of wood, found at Hen Dinas, in Shropshire,” citing Gough above. The buckler has also featured in more recent scholarship, such as Richard Williams’ 1957 article on early Tudor bucklers, in which Basire’s section drawing is reproduced and it is stated that the “engraving could not be bettered.” (Williams 1957, 15; fig. 9). In their more recent account of Welsh bucklers Ifor Edwards and Claude Blair (1982, 91, 103; plate XIV, XV) also cite and reproduce the example represented in Plate 2.20. While not featured in Herbert Schmidt’s (2015, 180-83) typology of bucklers, the Welsh type of buckler is classified here as Type Ic, characterised by its round and concave shape. The two examples illustrated in Schmidt are similar in appearance to the Vetusta Monumenta example (Royal Armouries Leeds V.109; British Museum OA.4709; Schmidt 2015, 180-83).
Beyond its archaeological significance, the Welsh buckler has been discussed in studies of Welsh medieval poetry. In her analysis of the prominence of weapons in such poetry, Jenny Day has demonstrated how the craftsmanship of buckler-makers was praised in poems and how the buckler was a common subject of poems of request and thanks (Day 2011, 2013 [see section on shields pp.257–59]). It is significant that this distinctive type of Welsh buckler featured prominently in such literature where its qualities and craftsmanship were appreciated. For example a poem by Guto’r Glyn, written in the 15th century, described the buckler thus:
The ends of its arms, stretching out from its breast,
sun-rays, a host of nails:
each hammer striking without fault
the musical notation of the shop in Wrexham.
(110.33-36, qtd. in Day 2013)
The oval brooch featured in Plate 2.20 was given to Pococke when he was travelling in Argyll, Scotland, whereupon he described it in a letter to his sister of 12 June 1760:
This account suggests that two such brooches were found and they were thought to be ornaments attached to a shield. They are now recognised as objects manufactured to secure the straps of women’s overdresses. Since it was illustrated in Plate 2.20, little has been written on the Viking-age brooch, with the exception of James Graham-Campbell (2004, 211), who refers to it in his article on the discovery of the Vikings in Scotland and reproduces Pococke’s description and illustration. In citing the description of the brooch in the SAL Minutes as “an Oval Ornament of Brass like the Embossment of a Horse-bit, & of the Size of a small Land Tortoise,” Graham-Campbell asks whether this is the first time that an oval brooch was likened to a “tortoise,” a term now commonly used for such items. If so, the example presented before the fellows in 1761 is a significant one, and as Graham-Campbell (2004, 11) notes, it is also noteworthy as the earliest report of an artifact from a pagan Norse grave in Scotland.
Here I was also presented with an ornament of Brass in an oval shape adorned with Mosaic Embosements [sic] in several compartments; there was one on each side of the breast of the skeleton, and they are supposed to have been ornaments on each side of the shield, for the irons to fix it remain in part—a Drawing of it is here given; with this skeleton was found a pin about four inches long, and a brass needle two inches long, which, ‘tis supposed fastened some parts of the garment. It was found in the Isle of Sangay between Wist and Harris a place much frequented by the Danes. (Pococke 1887, 91)
Although the designs on the brooch are very stylized, it is possible to identify the variant represented in Basire’s engraving (Graham-Campbell, pers. comm.). An example of the type is illustrated in Oluf Rygh’s Norske oldsager: ordnede og forklarede (1885, fig. 647), where a similarity with the Vetusta Monumenta example can be identified from the arrangement of the surface bands framing and cutting across the fields of ornament. The type is also illustrated in Jan Petersen’s Vikingetidens smykker (1928, 39), where it is classified as Variant A (Type Fig. 37:2). Some small but closely observed details in Basire’s engraving are the small rivets or pins on the linking bands, which would have had separate bosses attached. The decorative applied bosses or studs rarely survive and appear to have been of white metal (lead alloy). Basire uses shadow to indicate how these tiny rivets are raised, demonstrating great attention to detail.
Basire’s Pioneering Plate
Whether under explicit instruction from the Society or of own his own accord, Basire endeavoured to present the objects in Plate 2.20 according to a rigorous system of visual description. In adopting conventions introduced by pioneering antiquaries such as James Stuart and Comte de Caylus, Basire promoted the systematic analysis of portable antiquities through illustration. An important element in the assessment of Plate 2.20 is the recognition of the skills of James Basire, an individual acknowledged for his significant contribution to Vetusta Monumenta. In his study of the Basire family of engravers, Richard Goddard (2016, 82) reflects on Basire’s involvement in this publication series, noting that the work he previously undertook for Stuart was a “key factor in the speedy dissemination of a new aesthetic among the higher echelons of society, which went beyond the generic neoclassical design.” It might be argued that a key aspect of this new aesthetic was attention to the technicalities of archaeological illustration. Goddard points out that Plate 2.20 is remarkable for “several modernising features in comparison to the immediately preceding engravings in the series,” such as the detailed measurements and the fact that the composition is “not cluttered with ornamental decoration or explanatory text” (2016, 134). Goddard further notes that Basire signed the plate with his full name, suggesting that he may have been “responsible for some of the newer features in its design.” Ultimately Plate 2.20 is a striking visual document that captures a critical period in the emergence of methods for the study of archaeological objects. It is significant as a key example of how graphic practices were pioneered by the SAL to further their project of understanding historic and ancient material culture.
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