The belt buckle was a field for elaborate decoration and a very visible symbol of rank and status. Brightly colored buckles inset with pieces of glass and stone are characteristic of Visigothic women's dress. This piece is exceptional for the rare inclusion of lapis lazuli, a stone used more frequently in Byzantium.
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Medium:Copper alloy with garnets, glass, lapis lazuli, and cuttlefish bone
Dimensions:Overall: 5 3/8 x 2 3/8 x 1 1/8 in. (13.6 x 6 x 2.9 cm)
Credit Line:Rogers Fund, 1988
Accession Number:1988.305a, b
Large bronze buckles and cloisonné plates are the most characterstic items of Visigothic metalwork. This example is an excellent representation of the Ponto-Gothic style in the West. The style, marked by accents of red, blue, and green in the inlays, was developed by the Goths on the north shore of the Black Sea before the arrival of the Huns in 375, when the Goths divided into Ostrogoths and Visigoths. The style was carried westward by both the Ostrogoths and the Visigoths, who arrived in southern France and Spance by the beginning of the fifth century.
Most of the translucent red inlays of the buckle are garnets set over patterned gold foil. The deep-red glass of the central setting—the surface is now comprised by pitting and iridescence—is flanked by four lobes of green glass. This central motif is surronded by cloisonné garnets, which, along the borders, are interspersed with green glass and lapis lazuli; although the green glass is common, lapis lazuli is apparently unique in Visigothic metalwork. The use of lapis lazuli in jewerly, seen in Roman and Byzantine examples, may be a reflection of the close relationship between the Visigothic kings and the Byzantine emperors. The round white corner inlays have the physical qualities of cuttlefish bone. The plate of the buckle, the cloisons, and the back are all made of brass. Traces of gilding remain on the tops of the cloisons and on the sides of the plate, buckle, and tongue.
The plate was joined to the buckle by a strip of metal bent around the bar of the loop and its ends soldered to the front of the plate. The strip would have been slotted to allow for the tongue. Cast into the base of the tongue are four settings for garnets that are backed by foil; only two garnets remain. Originally, the plate would have been connected to the end of a leather strap (or belt) by four small pins, and the loop and tongue attached to the other end. The tongue would have pierced the leather after the strap was passed around the loop and knotted itself. It is thought that such belts were worn on women's tunics rather than to secure their mantles.
The buckle's cell pattern relates it to a group of buckles from ancient Septimania in southwest Gaul that are now in the Musée de la Société Archélogique, Montpellier, and on which none of the stones remain, as well as to other in the Museu Arqueològic, Barcelona. All of these buckles are characterized by a single central rectangular cell surronded by four small round lobes from which the rest of the cloisonné design leads towards the corners. Whereas the examples found in Septimania have three cells (two small and one large) emphasizing the corners, those in Barcelona have a single large round setting at each corner, as does the Metropolitan Museum's buckle.
Much of the garnets, lapis lazuli, glass, and cuttlefish bone on the Museum's buckle is preserved, and when compared with our only other inlaid Visigothic buckle (47.100.22), which is damaged and heavily restored, the fine quality of the present one is particularly evident. Although the Museum's collection includes several articles of jewerly crafted by the Ostrogoths in the Ponto-Gothic polychrome style, this is the only Visigothic example worthy of exhibition.
[ Robert Haber and Associates Inc., Ancient Art, New York (sold 1988)]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Mirror of the Medieval World," March 9–June 1, 1999.
Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Recent Acquisitions: A Selection, 1988-1989." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., 47, no. 2 (Fall 1989). pp. 14–15.
Clark, William W., and Charles T. Little. "Notable Recent Acquisitions, Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Cloisters, New York." Gesta 29. no. 2 (1990). p. 240, fig. 4.
Little, Charles T., ed. The Art of Medieval Spain, A.D. 500–1200. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1993. no. 17, pp. 61–62.
Brown, Katharine R. Migration Art, A.D. 300-800. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1995. pp. 13, 35–38, 51, fig. 8.
Wixom, William D., ed. Mirror of the Medieval World. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999. no. 55, p. 44.
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. 192, 359, fig. 17.6.
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