Published Catalogue Text: Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes at the Harvard Art Museums
This belt ornament has openwork floral decoration and a loop, which was once part of a hinge. A light green patina is visible below the burial accretions.
Copper alloy belt ornaments from the period of Avar domination of Eastern Europe (c. 567-822 CE) have been discovered in thousands of tombs, primarily in what is now Hungary. Many of the belt ornaments in Harvard’s collection most likely belong to the final phase of the Late Period (c. 668-822 CE) of Avar art, during which such ornaments were made of cast bronze and often employed “vine and scroll” motifs as well as other plant designs, including flowers and palmettes (1). Little space was left undecorated, reflecting a certain horror vacui, a feature of Avar art that also appeared in other medieval artistic production (2). S-curves and curl patterns are explained as tamgas, or clan symbols (3). Included with Harvard’s group of ornaments is one probably unused limestone mold (2001.270.59) that reveals, to some extent, the casting process of the Late Avar Period. Punched holes were also incorporated in the designs, and gilding appears frequently over the bronze. In the Early Avar Period, ornaments were made of beaten rather than cast metal, and designs were embossed.
1. For comparable belt ornaments, see J. G. Cincik, Anglo-Saxon and Slovak-Avar patterns of Cuthbert’s Gospel: A Study in Slovak Art of the Early Carolingian Era (Cleveland, 1958) pl.13 (belt end); I. Erdélyi, The Art of the Avars, transl. L. Halápy and D. Garman (Budapest, 1966) pl. 9, 19-24 and 28-35 (strap ends.); É. Garam, I. Kovrig, J. G. Szabó, and G. Y. Török, Avar Finds in the Hungarian National Museum, Cemeteries of the Avar Period (567-829) in Hungary 1 (Budapest, 1975) no. 9, pl. 2; nos. 11 and 14-17, pl. 3; nos. 1 and 10-20, pl. 14; nos. 1 and 16, pl. 15; and É. Garam, Das Awarenzeitliche Gräberfeld von Tiszafüred, Cemeteries of the Avar Period (567-829) in Hungary 3 (Budapest, 1995) Gr. 474, nos. 3, 8, and 15-16, Taf. 94; Gr. 513, nos. 21-38, Taf. 99; Gr. 1249, nos. 15-26, Taf. 167; Gr. 536/a, no. 8, Taf. 203; and Grs. 513 and 1270, nos. 8, 11-12, and 18-19, Taf. 223. For dating, production, and decorative motifs of Avar belt ornaments, see Erdélyi 1966 (supra) 35-42.
2. T. Demirjian, Treasures of the Dark Ages in Europe, exh. cat., Ariadne Galleries (New York, 1991) 9.
3. Ibid., 72.
Emily Gangemi Campbell