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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Lock in the Shape of a Horse
Tools and Equipment
Work Type
12th century CE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World
Byzantine period, Middle
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Cast, lost-wax process
3.7 x 4.8 cm (1 7/16 x 1 7/8 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: ICP-MS sample, Brass:
Section A: Cu, 80.13; Sn, 2.11; Pb, 1.63; Zn, 15.15; Fe, 0.54; Ni, 0.07; Ag, 0.04; Sb, 0.09; As, 0.23; Bi, less than 0.025; Co, less than 0.01; Au, less than 0.02; Cd, less than 0.002
Section B: Cu, 81.96; Sn, 2.2; Pb, 1.65; Zn, 13.21; Fe, 0.53; Ni, 0.07; Ag, 0.04; Sb, 0.08; As, 0.25; Bi, less than 0.025; Co, less than 0.01; Au, less than 0.02; Cd, less than 0.002
J. Riederer

Technical Observations: The patina on the left half is dark brown, while that on the right half is dark green. Light-colored accretions are also present.

While each half is intact, the two halves have separated, and the pin mechanism is lost. In spite of the difference in the patinas, the two halves fit together perfectly and appear to be from the same lock. The horse halves were probably lost-wax cast, but a sand casting process is also possible. The two halves are separately cast, joined together, and then finished as a unit. Lead residue covers the join surface. Relief features were cut or at least enhanced in the metal with an abrasive tool.

Henry Lie (submitted 2005)


Recorded Ownership History
Nelson Goodman, Weston, MA, gift; to the Harvard University Art Museums, 1995.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Nelson Goodman
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art

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Published Catalogue Text: Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes at the Harvard Art Museums
This figurine was cast in the form a horse fitted with a bridle and saddle. The animal is rendered in a schematic style, with sharp, angular edges. It was composed of two concave pieces joined together with pins. A locking mechanism was originally positioned in the interior. The bolts were cast separately from the body. To close the lock, the bolt was inserted through one end of the animal’s body and secured at the other. The lock was opened by inserting a slide key through the animal’s chest. The key compressed a spring in the interior chamber to release the bolt (1).

Comparable slide key locks in the shape of animals are dated to a broad time span. A similar quadruped, possibly a goat, was found at Corinth and attributed to the eleventh or twelfth century. Cast in copper alloy, the figure has the same sharp edged, angular quality. It is embellished with incised lines and dots (2). Another cast copper alloy lock in the shape of a horse lacks surface decoration but has a comparable abstract, angular form. Its provenience and date are unknown (3). Other parallel objects raise the possibility that the Harvard lock was produced in a different cultural or chronological context. In particular, medieval and modern horse-shaped locks from Anatolia and Iran employ similar forms and mechanisms (4).


1. For illustration of the slide key mechanism and locks of similar configuration but different style, see G. Vikan and J. Nesbitt, Security in Byzantium: Locking, Sealing and Weighing (Washington, DC, 1980) 6, figs. 11-12.

2. G. R. Davidson, Corinth 12: Minor Objects (Princeton, 1952) 137-38, no. 1005, pl. 7. Two comparable pieces at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, date to the Byzantine era and are said to be from Smyrna (modern Izmir, Turkey); inv. nos. 1927.430 and 1927.431 (both unpublished).

3. O. Wulff, Altchristliche und mittelalterliche byzantinische und italienische Bildwerke 1: Altchristliche Bildwerke (Berlin, 1909) 163, no. 723, pl. 34.

4. T. Stanley, “Locks, Padlocks, and Tools” in The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art 12,2: Science, Tools, and Magic, eds. F. Maddison and E. Savage-Smith (London, 1997) 356-85, esp. 372 and 374, nos. 248, 251, and 263-65.

Alicia Walker

Subjects and Contexts

  • Ancient Bronzes

Related Works

Verification Level

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