Open-Ring Brooch, Silver, cast and partially gilded; amber cabochons, Pictish or Irish

Open-Ring Brooch

early 800s
Made in Galway, Ireland
Pictish or Irish
Silver, cast and partially gilded; amber cabochons
Overall: 2 1/16 x 3 11/16 x 11/16 x 3 3/4 in. (5.2 x 9.3 x 1.8 x 9.5 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Rogers Fund, and Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, by exchange, 1981
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 301
This silver penannular brooch—a type that was widespread in the British Isles during the Early Christian period—was discovered in June 1854 in a field near Galway, Ireland. Each terminal is decorated with three stylized masks in the form of birds' or bats' heads, enframing a centrally mounted polished amber. The simple, flat-headed pin was mounted backwards when the brooch was found.

Typologically, the brooch is related to a number of Pictish examples found on St. Ninian's Isle in Scotland that, characteristically, have formalized animal or bird masks executed in relief on the terminals. Such brooches appear to have been in fashion toward the end of the eighth century. The Galway brooch is one of three atrributed to the Picts—early inhabitants of Scotland—that were found in Ireland, and demonstrate the close stylisitc affinities between Irish and Pictish forms. Since the brooch can be related to others of Irish origin, dated to the ninth century, this strong connection between the two cultures might be the result of the migration of the type.

The present example is the first penannular brooch to have entered the Metropolitan's collection. The crisp execution of the masks that figure in its decoration makes it among the finest of all the Pictish brooches to have survived.
Found near Galway, Ireland.; Lt. General Augustus Pitt Rivers, Farnham, Dorset, England; Carruthers, London; K. J. Hewett Ltd., London (1981); Ward & Company Works of Art (American), New York (sold 1981)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Notable Acquisitions, 1981-1982 (Metropolitan Museum of Art) (1982). p. 17.

Kleinbauer, Walter Eugene. "Recent Major Acquisitions of Medieval Art by American Museums." Gesta 22, no. 2 (1983). p. 171, fig. 1.

Brown, Katharine R. Migration Art, A.D. 300-800. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1995. no. 58, p. 41.

Wixom, William D., ed. Mirror of the Medieval World. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999. no. 63, p. 49.

Brown, Katharine R., Dafydd Kidd, and Charles T. Little, ed. From Attila to Charlemagne: Arts of the Early Medieval Period in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York and New Haven: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000. p. 48, 358, fig. 5.4.