Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Horse Bit

7th–9th century
Made in Andalusia, Spain
Visigothic or Byzantine
Iron inlaid with copper alloy, gold, and silver
Overall: 10 5/8 x 7 1/16 x 5 5/16 in. (27 x 18 x 13.5 cm)
Credit Line:
Fletcher Fund, 1947
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 301
This elaborately decorated bit, resembling the spade bit used by some (Western-style) riders today, has a large projecting tongue, or port, that would have been inserted into the horse’s mouth. The bridle was attached to the moveable rectangular plaques, while the reins were strung through the rings on the straight bar, beneath the horse’s jaw. The severity of the bit implies both a well-schooled horse and a skilled rider; a misstep by either would inflict great pain on the beast. The rich inlaid decoration includes Greek monograms, human faces, animal heads, and vine scrolls. Perhaps copied from or inspired by Byzantine art, the Greek monogram likely indicated the importance of the horse’s owner.
Raphael Garcia Palencia, Madrid (1919); Joseph Guggenheim(?); [ Max Gluckselig(sold 1940)]; [ Brummer Gallery, Paris and New York (1940–1947)]
Artiñano y Galdácano, Pedro Miguel de. Exposición de hierros antiguos españoles. Madrid: Sociedad española de amigos del arte, 1919. no. 184, pp. 41–42.

Schlunk, Helmut. "The Walters Art Gallery. Early Christian and Byzantine Art. An exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art. April 25–June 22, 1947. Baltimore, Walters Art Gallery, 1947." Archivo Español de Arqueología 22, no. 75 (1949). pp. 207–13, fig. 3.

Spanish Medieval Art: A Loan Exhibition in Honor of Dr. Walter W.S. Cook. New York: Institute of Fine Arts Alumni Association, 1954. no. 3.

Little, Charles T., ed. The Art of Medieval Spain, A.D. 500–1200. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1993. no. 28, pp. 68-69.

Brown, Katharine R. Migration Art, A.D. 300-800. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1995. no. 51, pp. 37-38.

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. 357, fig. 14.

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