Published Catalogue Text: Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes at the Harvard Art Museums
Two double spirals, a square front-plate, two supporting ribbons, and a catchplate are mechanically joined with a central rivet. The fourth spiral and a section of the outer portion of the opposite spiral are lost. A bronze ribbon runs under the catchplate and folds over the front. A second, perpendicular ribbon runs over the first one and widens to a round plate around the rivet. The pin from the spring to the tip and part of the pin hook on the catchplate are missing.
Tightly spiraled wires with a decorative plate comprise the quatrefoil type fibulae. They stand upright like a brooch and function as a fastener for clothing. The Harvard Art Museums has a collection of ten complete quatrefoils in addition to spiral, front-plate, and catchplate fragments. The distinguishing elements of the fibulae are the two double spirals of round wire stacked perpendicular to one another and riveted together in the center. Within this collection, decorative front plates are either square (1987.135.1, 1987.135.6, 1987.135.7, and 1987.135.17) or lozenge-shaped (1987.135.9 and 1987.135.16), and five of them have punched decoration in the form of dots that follow the perimeter and cross the center diagonally. The catchplate spans the length of one double spiral and is attached by a central rivet. The clasp mechanism incorporates a spring and pin at one end and a catchplate to hold the tip of the pin on the other end. To keep the spirals from bending out of plane, some of the fibulae have ribbons of metal that crisscross the double spirals on the back and fold over onto the front (1987.135.4, 1987.135.5, 1987.135.6, 1987.135.7, 1987.135.8, and 1987.135.9).
The quatrefoil type of fibula was common in Italy and was probably introduced by way of the Balkans or Greece (1). Different localities played with the shape and decoration of the front-plates, making it common to find a variety of forms manufactured during the Iron Age. Quatrefoils are an elaboration on the spectacle fibula that has a design using only one double spiral, such as 1952.15 and 1952.112. Variations in the quatrefoil form can be seen in their size, front-plate shape, embossed decoration, and catchplate. Quatrefoil fibulae earlier than Harvard’s group have a catch made by extending and shaping the wire from one of the double spirals. The Harvard fibulae, in contrast, have a separate catchplate that has been formed from sheet metal and joined mechanically by a rivet. The earliest catchplate of this sort was found in Sicily and from there spread to Italy. 1987.135.17 is the only fibula in Harvard’s collection that has a hammered, flat spiral for a catchplate. Also common in Sicily are fibulae with embossed and square or lozenge-shaped front-plates. The provenience of the Harvard quatrefoil fibulae is unknown; they are, however, stylistically similar to those found after 850 BCE throughout Italy and Sicily (2).
1. J. Alexander, “The Spectacle Fibulae of Southern Europe,” American Journal of Archaeology 69.1 (1965): 7-23, esp. 15, type IVai. Quatrefoil distribution is suggested by ibid., 18; and P. Betzler, Die Fibeln in Süddeutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz 1, Prähistorische Bronzefunde 14.3 (Munich, 1974) pl. 84.
2. Compare fibulae found at Torano Castello in Calabria, which are similar with respect to their embossed front-plates, separate catchplates, and support ribbons on the back of the spirals that fold onto the front, published in J. de la Genière, “Torano Castello: Calabria,” Notizie degli scavi di antichità 31 (1977): 389-422, esp. 399, fig. 13. For an example from ancient Capua, see also A. M. Bietti Sestieri, “Italian Swords and Fibulae of the Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages,” in Italian Iron Age Artefacts in the British Museum, ed. J. Swaddling (London, 1986) 3-23, esp. 12 and 23, no. 51. For quatrefoil fibulae with a lozenge front-plate, see J. Sundwall, Die älteren italischen Fibeln (Berlin, 1943) 176, type E IIc8 (Monterozzi in Tarquinia); D. Randall-MacIver, Villanovans and Early Etruscans: A Study of the Early Iron Age in Italy as it is Seen Near Bologna, in Etruria, and in Latium (Oxford, 1924) pl. 13:11 (Corneto); R. M. A. Procelli, “Calascibetta (Enna): La necropoli di Cozzo S. Giuseppe in Contrada Realmese,” Notizie degli scavi di antichità 36 (1982): 438-632, esp. 553, fig. A3 (Calascibetta); and F. Lo Shiavo, “Francavilla Marittima, Necropoli di Macchiabate: Le fibule di bronzo,” Atti e memorie della Società Magna Grecia, 2.18-20 (1977-79): 93-109, esp. 97, fig. 38 (Francavilla Marittima). For quatrefoil fibulae with a square front-plate, see E. Fabbricotti, “Veio (Isola Farnesse): Continuazione degli scavi nella necropoli villanoviana in località ‘Quattro Fontanili,’” Notizie degli scavi di antichità 30 (1976): 149-83, esp. 166, fig. 15.4 (Veio); B. Chiartano, “Roccella Jonica (Reggio Calabria): Necropoli preellenica in contrada San Onofrio,” Notizie degli scavi di antichità 35 (1981): 491-539, esp. 536, fig. 22 (Roccella Jonica in Calabria). For quatrefoil fibulae without a front-plate, see F. G. Lo Porto, “Metaponto: Tombe a tumulo dell’età del ferro scoperte nel suo entroterra,” Notizie degli scavi di antichità 23 (1969): 121-70, esp. 166, fig. 59 (Metaponto).