Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Time Travelling Nazis in China and the British Museum

'Hundred Bird' coat - Front (As1998,01.175) © Trustees of the British Museum

I was recently in London on family business, but had the opportunity to drop into the British Museum and catch their current show ‘Living with gods: peoples, places and worlds beyond’. I don’t intend to provide a review of the show – if you’re looking for reviews I can direct you [here | here | and here]. Instead, I want to note just one exhibit on display – the gorgeous ‘Hundred Bird’ Coat from Guiyang in China’s Guizhou province. Gina Corrigan, who purchased the piece in China and later sold it to the British Museum, notes that it was ‘Worn at the Guzang festival held by the Miao at irregular intervals to renew and reinforce spiritual links with their ancestors.’

The coat is thought to date to the period between 1950 and 1990 and is made of mostly undyed cotton, with unstitched sides and sleeves. These open edges have fabric lops and knots at intervals (I presume) to allow it to be secured to the wearer. The lower portion of the garment is decorated with thirteen vertical panels. The whole costume is heavily decorated all over, mostly in reds and blues. The front has a bird on each breast, while the back has a single large bird set at an angle within a diamond shape. The rest of the decorative elements include a variety of smaller birds, geometric patterns, insect motifs and swastikas.

'Hundred Bird' coat - Back (As1998,01.175) © Trustees of the British Museum
Regular readers of this blog (and anyone who has spent even a modicum of time in my presence) can probably already guess what drew my attention to this piece – the swastikas! Lots and lots of swastikas! By my count there are 20 on the front and 49 (whole or in part) on the back … No matter how you look at it, that’s a lot of swastikas! Even though the display case was placed against a surface, so only the front was visible, that’s still sufficient swastikas to draw attention. And draw attention it did! I probably spent longer at this exhibit than any other, much of it observing my fellow visitors. From snippets of conversations overheard it was clear that many noticed and remarked upon the presence of this symbol. To my delight, it was clear that many of those who did comment were aware that swastikas can exist in non-Nazi contexts, unbesmirched by their hateful creed. I’m sure there’s an interesting article to be drawn out exploring the origins and meaning of the swastika symbol in Miao culture generally and their importance to the ‘Hundred Bird’ Coat style of garment. Or maybe not. The British Museum holds two other festival garments of this type [here  | here], neither of which features (as far as I can see) a single swastika motif.

Reproduction of back panel from the garment - swastika free!
Rather than any rumination on these wonderful costumes, I instead want to talk about the materials on offer in the gift shop. There you can find the exhibition catalogue (always worth a look) as well as replicas of the replica Hohlenstein Lion Man figure (probably not worth the offering price of £150, but if you’re thinking of getting me something I’d not refuse it!). In amongst all these replica wonders are a number of offerings based on the ‘Hundred Bird’ Coat. There’s a greeting card, a keyring, a mug, a tea towel, and a tote bag. More than enough to sate your newly-acquired ‘Hundred Bird’ Coat hunger. I do think they may have missed a trick in not going for a raincoat based on the design – it could have been a hit! Whatever you think of the memorabilia on offer, you’ll be instantly hit by the lack of swastikas. OK, you might not actually, but I was! In particular, the tea towel, the card and the tote bag are all clearly modelled on the bird on the back of the costume. That bird is set at approximately 45-degrees within a lozenge shape. On the original the border is clearly formed of a series of swastikas, executed in red, white, and blue. However, this is not carried through to the memorabilia, which is bordered with versions of a multi-coloured meandros or key pattern, interspersed with occasional cross-shapes, that only appear on the shoulders of the front of the garment. The vertical sides of both the tea towel and the tote bag are decorated with the recurring pattern. Although a key visual image on the original, the swastika is nowhere present on these keepsakes. It should go without saying that the swastikas used in this context are not in any way associated with the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei and do not represent its racist and genocidal doctrines.

No swastikas in this mug!
So why have the swastikas gone missing? I’ve written before about a similar case where modern reproductions of tapestries from the Oseberg Ship Burial display a whole host of original detail (even if erratically applied), but are missing all of the original swastikas. At the time I coined the term ‘Time Travelling Nazis’ to describe the process where the recent Nazi connotations taint all artefacts bearing the symbol, even if culturally and temporally removed from their usage. The effect metaphorically travels backwards through time and space, touching all other usages of the symbol where Nazi inspired or not. I suspect that exactly the same process is going on here – historical accuracy is lovely and all that, but few people will want to buy a rigorously exact reproduction if they are going to have to continuously explain the presence of swastikas. I would suggest that the swastikas – nice as they are – were quietly left out of the design. As in much of my previous writing on this topic, I feel the need to note that I’m not in any way advocating for the symbol to be ‘reclaimed’ and re-enter common usage. Instead, I would argue that we should be aware of how the Nazi usage of the swastika has claimed the symbol and the hold that it retains. As archaeologists (and the consumers of reproduction goods) we will have to continue to consider how we display and reproduce historical swastikas for some time to come.

Greeting card - heavy on bird, light on swastika!
Notes
In the aftermath of posting the piece about the Oseberg tapestries [https://goo.gl/bEYqFF] I was verbally attacked on social media by a gentleman who, by turns, seemed to think I was suggesting that the Nazis were actual time travellers and that I was suggesting that the Vikings were Nazis. You, sir, are a special kind of stupid!

The ‘Living with gods: peoples, places and worlds beyond’ is at the British Museum until April 8th 2018 – get along and see it if you have the opportunity!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Archaeological Items of Irish origin at The Museum of Fine Art, Boston

I recently published a post on the Archaeological Items of Irish origin at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and wanted to follow it up with some posts on some other museums with both Irish material and an online catalogue, not to mention progressive view on the usage of their images. To this end, I’ve been perusing the collections of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and they’ve kindly granted me permission to use images of the four pieces they hold of ancient Irish origin. Four artefacts may not sound like much, but each one is a masterpiece that commands attention in its own right.

The pieces include a Middle Bronze Age ribbon torc from Innishowen, Co Donegal; two Late Bronze Age penannular armlets; and one Early Medieval shrine. The torc was discovered in 1882 by Rev. Dr. William Chadwick Neligan of Cork. This is, presumably, the same Rev. Mr. Neligan, Rector, Shandon Church, Cork City who sold the silver Rathcormac torc [here] in 1885. Nelligan sold the Innishowen torc to the Pitt Rivers collection. The two armlets were found together at Ballycotton, Co Cork in 1864 Pitt Rivers himself. From what I can gather from the provenances supplied by the MFA, these three pieces have stayed together since that time. They were sold by the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1936 through Irish antiquarian and collector, John Hunt, eventually being bought by newspaper magnate and compulsive shopper, William Randolph Hearst. The pieces subsequently passed to the, now defunct, Berry Hill Gallery in New York before being purchased by the MFA in 1950.

The Emly shrine is a rather different matter. The above pieces were collected, sold, and exported out of Ireland in the period before the formation of the modern Irish state and the introduction of the 1930 National Monuments Act. By contrast, the Emly shrine (named for William Monsell, 1st Baron Emly of Tervoe, Co Limerick) had been on loan to the National Museum of Ireland. It appears that when an offer to sell the piece to the national collections was refused, the shrine was removed from the museum and exported without a licence.

In his capacity of President of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Seán P. Ó Ríordáin, spoke out about the export, noting that he was unaware that the shrine had left Ireland until its arrival in Boston was mentioned in an American Journal (Fanning 2010). In Dáil Éireann (the lower house of the Irish legislature) General Richard Mulcahy, the minister for Education, was questioned by Donogh O'Malley on several topics about the shrine (here). These included asking for details on whether the owners sought a licence to export the piece and whether the National Museum was given the opportunity to purchase. Mulcahy replied that ‘There is no record of a licence for its export having been sought.’ and that ‘The price asked by the owner for the shrine was so unreasonably high that no firm offer to purchase it was made by the National Museum authorities.’ O’Malley twice described the shrine as a ‘national treasure’ and repeatedly pressed Mulcahy on the issue of the Export Licence who responded ‘It was illegal to export it. There was no licence asked for and no licence was issued’. Unfortunately, O’Malley didn’t appear to be particularly familiar with the shrine, describing it as a ‘massive piece of sculpture’ and being corrected by Mulcahy. Undeterred, he pressed Mulcahy further asking ‘How did the shrine get out of the country?’ to which the latter weakly answered ‘I have no idea.’ Mulcahy had previously stated that ‘I am satisfied that there is no action that I could usefully take in regard to the export of this shrine as apart from other considerations it is not clear against whom any action would lie.’ While it is clear that the matter was not pursued further (the shrine remains in Boston), it appears that the affair influenced the strengthened provisions of the 1954 Amendment to the National Monuments Act (Nafziger & Kirkwood Paterson 2014).


The following descriptions are all from the MFA's online database entries and are presented in accordance with their terms of use.

Spiral (ribbon) torque. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Irish Middle Bronze Age
about 1200–1000 B.C.

Description
Very thin metal, in some places double, tapering ends finished in solid quatrefoils and bent to clasp.

Provenance
1882, discovered at Innishowen, County Donegal, Ireland by Rev. Dr. William Chadwick Neligan, Cork; sold by Neligan to Augustus Henry Pitt Rivers (b. 1827 - d. 1900) and kept at the Pitt Rivers Museum, Farnham, England; 1936, sold by the Pitt Rivers Museum, through John Hunt (b. 1900 - d. 1976), Dublin and London, represented by Goldschmidt Galleries, New York, to William Randolph Hearst (b. 1863 - d. 1951), New York and Los Angeles [see note 1]; July 11, 1939, Hearst sale, Sotheby's, London, lot 363, bought in; 1941, sold by Hearst to Berry-Hill Gallery, New York; 1950, sold by Berry-Hill to the MFA for $500. (Accession Date: January 12, 1950)

Note
[1] The provenance information for MFA object nos. 50.8-50.10 was generously shared and clarified by Brian O'Connell, Shannon Heritage Trust (correspondence of August 13, 2008, in MFA curatorial file).

Credit Line
Gift of the Eire Society and Harriet Otis Cruft Fund

Dimensions
9.02 cm (3 9/16 in.)

Accession Number
50.10

Medium or Technique
Metal; gold


Penannular armlet. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Irish Late Bronze Age
about 800–750 B.C.

Description
Solid tapering curved bar with spreading concave discs at ends. Type 4 penannular according to E.C.R. Armstrong’s catalogue of the collection of the Royal Irish Academy.

This penannular ornament with trumpet-shaped terminals was a popular jewelry form in Bronze Age Ireland. It was used for torques, earrings, bracelets, rings, and dress fasteners, and most examples, including this one, were cast in high-karat gold without decoration.1 Research suggests the gold came from County Wicklow in eastern Ireland, dubbed the El Dorado of western Europe.2 Scholars hypothesize that these ornaments served as emblems of wealth, rank, and authority, and that they may have been deposited in caches as part of a community ritual or ceremony.
Yvonne J. Markowitz, “Irish Late Bronze Age” in Artful Adornments: Jewelry from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston by Yvonne J. Markowitz (Boston: MFA Publications, 2011), 54.

Provenance
May, 1864, discovered by Augustus Henry Pitt Rivers (b. 1827 - d. 1900) at Ballycotton, near Cloyne, County Cork, Ireland; taken to England and kept at the Pitt Rivers Museum, Farnham, England; 1936, sold by the Pitt Rivers Museum, through John Hunt (b. 1900 - d. 1976), Dublin and London, represented by Goldschmidt Galleries, New York, to William Randolph Hearst (b. 1863 - d. 1951), New York and Los Angeles [see note 1]; July 11, 1939, Hearst sale, Sotheby's, London, lot 362, bought in; 1941, sold by Hearst to Berry-Hill Gallery, New York; 1950, sold by Berry-Hill to the MFA for $500. (Accession Date: January 12, 1950)

Note
[1] The provenance information for MFA object nos. 50.8-50.10 was generously shared and clarified by Brian O'Connell, Shannon Heritage Trust (correspondence of August 13, 2008, in MFA curatorial file). Anthropologist Augustus Henry Pitt Rivers served in the British Army at Cork between 1862 and 1864.

Credit Line
Gift of the Eire Society and Harriet Otis Cruft Fund

Dimensions
Overall: 1.5 x 7 x 5.8 cm (9/16 x 2 3/4 x 2 5/16 in.)

Accession Number
50.8

Medium or Technique
Metal; gold


Penannular armlet. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Irish Late Bronze Age
about 800–750 B.C.

Description
Solid curved and angular bar, spreading at flat tips. Type 3 penannular according to E.C.R. Armstrong’s catalogue of the collection of the Royal Irish Academy.

Provenance
As 50.8 (above)

Credit Line
Gift of the Eire Society and Harriet Otis Cruft Fund

Dimensions
6.98 cm (2 3/4 in.)

Accession Number
50.9

Medium or Technique
Metal; gold


Reliquary casket ("Emly Shrine"). Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Irish
Early medieval
late 7th–early 8th century

Description
Carved from a single block of wood, the body and lid have bronze moldings applied with small nails on the edges. Attached to the ridgepole of the sloped roof are bird’s-head terminals in green, yellow and red (now brown) enamel and a central boss-repeating the shape of the shrine- with a grid of yellow and green enamel. Only the front is decorated with thin strips of a lead-tin alloy hammered into a repetitive step pattern around central crosses engraved in the wood and with three medallions with yellow and green enamel arranged in a geometric pattern of concentric circles. There are two hinges on the back and an interior clasp on the front.

Made to hold the sacred relics of a saint (often parts of the saint’s body), Irish house-shaped reliquaries have been discovered as far away as Norway and Italy—carried there by Irish pilgrims or Viking raiders. This one, however, was found in Ireland and is named for its nineteenth century owner, Lord Emly of Limerick. It is quite tiny and was probably hung from the neck or shoulder of its owner as a source of protection and spiritual strength.

Provenance
By 1853, William Monsell (b. 1812 - d. 1894), 1st Baron Emly of Tervoe, Limerick County, Ireland [see note 1]; until 1952, by descent within the family; 1952, sold by Lord Emly (probably Edmond Alan Tremeur de Poher de la Poer-Monsell) to the MFA for $22,874. (Accession Date: October 9, 1952)

Note
[1] It was in his possession by 1853, when he lent it to the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin.

Credit Line
Theodora Wilbour Fund in memory of Charlotte Beebe Wilbour

Dimensions
9.2 x 4.1 x 10.5 cm (3 5/8 x 1 5/8 x 4 1/8 in.)

Accession Number
52.1396

Medium or Technique
Champlevé enamel on bronze over yew wood; gilt bronze moldings, inlay of lead-tin alloy



References


Nafziger, JAR & Kirkwood Paterson, R (Eds) 2014 Handbook on the Law of Cultural Heritage and International Trade

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Grenoble Archaeological Museum | Madonna & Child


The excavations at Saint-Laurent recovered substantial portions of a smashed terracotta statue of a Madonna and child. In archaeological terms, it’s not particularly old, only dating to around 1860 to 1880, but I’m simply taken by the post-excavation dedication to carefully putting as much as possible back together.


Thursday, January 25, 2018

Archaeological Items of Irish origin at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

I was recently browsing for something completely different in The Met’s online catalogue when I thought ‘I wonder if they have any Irish stuff?’ Not only do they hold Irish material in their collections, they generously make photographs available under a Creative Commons Zero Licence. These 20 items are all of metal (bronze, copper alloy, silver, and gold), and represent finds from 10 counties (Antrim, Cavan, Cork, Down, Dublin, Galway, Limerick, Tipperary, Westmeath, & Wexford) along with five merely provenanced to the island of Ireland. Together they are ascribed to three archaeological periods: Bronze Age (9), Iron Age (1), and Early Medieval (10). The Met does hold a number of other ancient Irish pieces, but all are without images so I've decided to omit them from this post.

The one story that strikes me immediately from putting this collection together is to wonder who one Patrick O'Connor of New York was and how he amassed his little collection of metalwork and how it came to be sold in 1949. However, that may be a research project for another day. I'm also intrigued by the peculiar silver torc, dated by the Met to the Iron Age. To the best of my knowledge, there are no other surviving silver torcs of this age ... and certainly none with this form of decoration. I'd certainly welcome anyone with better knowledge and insight to set me straight on this. While most of the items detailed here may not be of the very best of what ancient Ireland had to offer, all deserve to be better known within the broader archaeological community!

Bronze Age

Copper alloy disk. c. 1000 B.C. (12.1 x 2.3 cm)
Provenance: “From Mullingar (County Westmeath).; Patrick O'Connor, New York (sold 1949)”
Purchased via the Rogers Fund, 1949
Accession Number: 49.125.1




Copper alloy pin. c. 1000 B.C. or later (?)(30.6 × 5.3 × 2.4 cm)
Provenance: “From Ireland (County Cavan).; Estate of Captain John Ball (died 1938), England (unknown date); John Brayfield Ball (died 1939); [John Hunt, Ireland (ca. 1939?)]; Patrick O'Connor, New York (sold 1949)”
Purchased via the Rogers Fund, 1949
Accession Number: 49.125.4a, b




Copper alloy chape (Terminal of a Scabbard). 900-600 B.C. (16.5 x 4.3 x 1.7 cm)
Provenance: Made in Ireland. “George Roots (1807–1891), London (b.1807-d.1891); Christie's, London, April 20, 1891, lot 28; Lt. General Augustus Pitt Rivers (1827–1900), Farnham, Dorset, England (1891-?); [Alistair McAlpine, London (1987)]; Peter Sharrer, New York (until 1998)”
Gift of Peter Sharrer, 1998
Accession Number: 1998.540.2




Gold ‘dress fastener’. c. 800 B.C. (5.3 x 2.8 x 2.9 cm)
Provenance: Made in Ireland. “[Sydney Burney, London (sold 1933)]; [Brummer Gallery, Paris and New York (1933–1947)]”
Purchased via the Fletcher Fund, 1947
Accession Number: 47.100.10




Gold ‘dress fastener’. c. 800 B.C. (11.8 x 5 x 5.9 cm)
Provenance: Made in Ireland. “Sotheby's, London (May 19-22, 1913, no. 420); International Studio Corporation, New York (until 1940); [Brummer Gallery, Paris and New York (1940–sold 1947)]”
Purchased via the Fletcher Fund, 1947
Accession Number: 47.100.9



Gold disk from a reel. c. 800 B.C. (12.2 x 1.5 cm)
Provenance: Found in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford. “Patrick O'Connor Family, Ballyjamesduff, Co. Cavan, Ireland; Johnstown Castle, Co. Wexford, Ireland (before 1944); [Harold Naylar, Dublin]; [Patrick O'Connor, Dublin and New York (sold 1946)]; [Brummer Gallery, Paris and New York (1946–1947)]”
Purchased via the Fletcher Fund, 1947
Accession Number: 47.100.14




Copper alloy pin. 5th–4th century B.C. (11.9 x 2.6 x 0.5 cm)
Provenance: "From County Antrim.; Patrick O'Connor, New York (sold 1949)"
Purchased via the Rogers Fund, 1949
Accession Number: 49.125.10




Copper alloy Torc. c. 1000 B.C. (22 x 21.5 x 1.8 cm)
Provenance: "From Loch Gur (county Limerick).; Patrick O'Connor, New York (sold 1949)"
Purchased via the Rogers Fund, 1949
Accession Number: 9.125.2



 

Copper alloy necklace. c. 1000 B.C. (20.3 x 13.5 x 1 cm)
Provenance: "From Loch Gur (county Limerick).; Patrick O'Connor, New York (sold 1949)"
Purchased via the Rogers Fund, 1949
Accession Number: 49.125.3



Iron Age

Silver Ribbon Torc. 500 B.C.-A.D. 400 (overall: 10.2 × 1.7 × 32 cm)
Provenance: “Found in Rathcormac, Co. Cork, Ireland (1882–1883); Robert Day, Cork, Ireland (by 1885); Rev. Mr. Neligan, Rector, Shandon Church, Cork City (sold 1885); [Ready and Rollin, London (sold 1885)]; Private Collection, Vienna(formed 1950s to 1980s–sold 2011); [Bonhams, London (April 13, 2011)]; [Rupert Wace Ancient Art Limited, London (sold 2013)]”
Purchase, Director's Fund and Rust Family Foundation Gift, 2013
Accession Number: 2013.613



Early Medieval

Silver penannular brooch. Early 800s (5.2 x 9.3 x 1.8 x 9.5 cm)
Provenance: Discovered in June 1854 in a field near Galway, Ireland. “Found near Galway, Ireland.; Lt. General Augustus Pitt Rivers (1827–1900), Farnham, Dorset, England; Carruthers, London; K. J. Hewett Ltd., London (1981); Ward & Company Works of Art, New York (sold 1981)”
Purchase, Rogers Fund, and Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, by exchange, 1981
Accession Number: 1981.413




Copper alloy penannular brooch. 7th century (6.2 x 3.3 x 0.9 cm)
Provenance: “Alastair Bradley Martin, Guennol, Glen Head, New York (until 1953)”
Gift of Alastair Bradley Martin, 1953
Accession Number: 53.48.5



Copper alloy pin. 9th century (?)(10.5 x 2.5 x 1.3 cm)
Provenance: Discovered on a crannog in Co Down, Northern Ireland. Owned by Patrick O'Connor, New York (sold 1949)
Purchased via the Rogers Fund, 1949
Accession Number: 49.125.11




Copper alloy pin. 9th century (10.2 x 1.1 x 1.4 cm)
Provenance: Discovered on a crannog in Co Down, Northern Ireland. Owned by Patrick O'Connor, New York (sold 1949)
Purchased via the Rogers Fund, 1949
Accession Number: 49.125.12





Bronze Penannular Brooch. 6th–7th century (4.6 x 10.1 x 1.2 cm)
Provenance: Said to come from Cashel, County Tipperary.; Patrick O'Connor, New York (sold 1949)
Purchased via the Rogers Fund, 1949

Accession Number: 49.125.7





Copper alloy pin. 6th–8th century (7 x 1 cm)
Provenance: "From County Dublin.; Patrick O'Connor, New York (sold 1949)"
Purchased via the Rogers Fund, 1949

Accession Number: 49.125.15




Copper alloy annular brooch. 9th century (22.1 x 2.4 x 0.9 cm)
Provenance: "From Glenarm, County Antrim.; Patrick O'Connor, New York (sold 1949)"
Purchased via the Rogers Fund, 1949
Accession Number: 49.125.9





Bronze penannular brooch with garnets. 9th century (3.6 x 22 x 0.6 cm)
Provenance: "Patrick O'Connor, New York (sold 1949)"
Purchased via the Rogers Fund, 1949

Accession Number: 49.125.8





Copper alloy pin. 10th century (12.6 x 1.1 cm)
Provenance: "From County Dublin.; Patrick O'Connor, New York (sold 1949)"
Purchased via the Rogers Fund, 1949

Accession Number: 49.125.13





Copper alloy pin. 10th century (8.7 x 0.6 cm)
Provenance: "From County Dublin.; Patrick O'Connor, New York (sold 1949)"
Purchased via the Rogers Fund, 1949

Accession Number: 49.125.14