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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 National Record of the Historic Environment (Canmore ID 10515 http://canmore.org.uk/site/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 Ireland, 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 Ireland, 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, yet no measurements or scale are included. As Day edited this edition of Smith's work and had similar horns in his own collection, it is likely that he replaced Smith's original illustrations with images of the objects in his possession. 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). Pococke's original sketch of the object was later drawn up for publication by G.R. Primrose (Pococke, 1887, xxix). 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 [sic] 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 antiquarianism, 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 exhibition to Fellows 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 and may have also reflected Day's desire to promote the leading authority on Cork over the SAL. 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 exhibition 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 (2008, 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.
Many individuals generously shared their specialist knowledge in researching this entry. The author would like to thank Tim Champion, Jenny Day, Richard Goddard, James Graham-Campbell, David Hinton, Scott Hurst (Royal Armouries, Leeds), Bernard Nurse and John Sheehan for their insights on the various objects represented in the plate
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