Saturday, February 5, 2011

Byzantine Brooch Designs

Although I've been too preoccupied with domestic concerns to do a lot of sewing lately, I have been continuing to track down information relevant to the various projects I've started when I can. 

One of those projects is my Middle Byzantine outfit.  I have completed the headdress, shift, and cloak.  Right now, I'm trying to find out what types of brooches a respectable lower class woman might wear to fasten her cloak.  I didn't find much useful information about this subject on the Internet.  This page was the most useful page I found; it shows two different examples of bronze enameled brooches which look as though they might have been purchased and worn by ordinary people.  However, without more information about where these brooches were found it's hard to say how appropriate it might be to use brooches of these shapes and appearance in my lower-class costume. 

Birka Traders used to sell a Byzantine brooch of the correct time period that is based on a Danish find.  It might have served, (even though it was smaller than I expected) but I wasn't prepared to pay $60 AUS for a brooch I would only be wearing with one costume.  It was a very attractive piece, though; you can see it here.

Qui Fuit Her
My other Internet searches for such items unearthed designs in gold and precious stones--clearly not suitable.  In the hopes of finding a broader variety of jewelry finds to examine, I recently purchased a copy of the museum catalog from the Metropolitan Museum of Art's exhibition of Middle Byzantine art, called "The Glory of Byzantium--A.D. 843-1261." 

The Glory of Byzantium" includes a lot of examples of jewelry, icons, ivory carvings, miniature paintings, mosaics and textiles.  Unfortunately for me, most of the jewelry items are not only gold, but they are either earrings or temple rings--nothing to fasten a cloak with!  I have found a painting with an interesting image.  That painting is one of three "Ancestors of Christ" found in a convent in Spain (the Convent of Santa Maria, in Sigena), and attributed to the same English artist who did the Winchester Psalter, and it is called "Her" (because the inscription below it reads "Qui Fuit Her").  A scan of the image appears to the left of this paragraph.  As you can see, it shows a figure wearing a cloak, clasped at the neck with a small brooch.  That brooch features a central pearl, with a ring of red enamel around it, and eight other pearls of equal size around the edge. (See image on the left, below.)

Norman brooch from RQP
"Her", portion showing brooch
This brooch looks a bit like a bronze brooch with a modest amount of enameling that is sold by Raymond's Quiet Press as a "Norman" brooch (see right; thanks to Raymond for permission to use the photograph here).  Unfortunately, the RQP web site doesn't say what the provenance of this design might be, and I have not  seen an artifact that resembles it.

If the Norman attribution of the RQP design is correct, it is at least contemporaneous with the Middle Byzantine period.   I probably will purchase the RQP brooch, but in the meantime I am still hoping to obtain more information about Byzantine brooches to see whether I can confirm the appropriateness of the design with a costume that would have been worn in the Near East of the period.  To that end, I have succeeded in locating a copy of "Intelligible Beauty" (a recent work of essays about Byzantine jewelry) in my price range, and have ordered it.  Perhaps that that work will provide me with additional examples of typical period designs that were used by people other than society's elite.

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