MEDIEVAL BROOCHES—THE RING-BROOCH

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The brooches considered have been constructed either with a spring pin or acns, which was held in its place by a hook or catch, or with a hinged acus, which, having pierced the material, was fixed similarly by a catch, and prevented by the weight of the garment from becoming unloosened.

The term fibula, generally employed by archaeologists to denote all early brooches, has so far been applied only to the dress-fasteners of classical times; and though the word brooch (from the French broche, meaning a spit) was not introduced into England until after the Norman Conquest, it is for the sake of clearness used here to describe what are generally known among Anglo-Saxon ornaments as fibulae.

In later Roman times, and among the Irish and Anglo-Saxons, the ring-brooch was sometimes formed with an opening on one side, and the pin or acus, which was not hinged, but moved freely to any part of the ring, having been passed through the tissue, was brought through this opening. The ring was then turned till the pin rested upon its rim.

At the time of the Norman Conquest the opening of the brooch is closed, the ring becomes flat and has a pin of the same length as its diameter. Instead of running loosely, the pin is hinged upon a constriction of the ring, and it either traverses the tissue which has been brought through the latter, or a band is passed over it from beneath the sides of the ring.

When the portions of the garment thus connected are drawn back, the pin falls across the front of the ring and is held securely in its place. This ring-brooch was known as the fermail (Latin firmactihtm, signifying a clasp)—a term employed both in old French and old English inventories.

The ring-brooch was worn by both sexes. It appears on the monumental effigy of Richard Coeur de Lion at Rouen, on that of Berengaria his queen at Le Mans, and on several of the thirteenth-century sculptures on the west front of Wells Cathedral. It served to gather up the fullness of the surcoat on the breast of the knight, as shown by the effigy, known as that of William Mareschel the Elder, Earl of Pembroke, in the Temple Church; but was generally used to close the opening in the robes at the throat of either sex, and is seen thus on many effigies of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.’

Among the few examples of medieval jewelry that have survived, brooches and finger rings predominate. Brooches differ slightly according to the nationality to which they belong: those of English origin forming of themselves a class of considerable variety and extent.

The earliest were circles of small diameter and narrow frame, either plain, or decorated with simple designs. Mystic words and letters were subsequently added; but as the brooch became larger, amatory mottoes took their place.

Religious formulae were also employed, particularly in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, when the brooch reached its full development. The various inscriptions and designs engraved on medieval brooches are of great interest. The majority of inscriptions are mottoes in French, such as were frequently employed as posies upon rings and other love-gifts.

An inscription which occurs more than once is lo . svi . ici . EN . LiEV . DAMi. Another cJianson, reading thus in modern French— -Je suis ici, a toi void, is found on several brooches in the British Museum. The dainty Prioress, Madame Eglentine, in the prologue of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales wore— … a brooch of gold. The popularity of this last motto on the personal ornaments of the Middle Ages may be attributed to its supposed influence as a love-charm. A considerable number of legends are of a religious character, with allusions to the Virgin and Savior, while a few are talismanic, and contain inscriptions such as the names of the Kings of the East.

Ring-brooches, though generally circular, show a variety of other shapes, such as hearts, trefoils, lozenges, etc. A heart-shaped brooch of fine workmanship in chased and engraved gold is in the Victoria and Albert Museum. It appears to be French and of the fifteenth century. Upon its back is the inscription— Nostre et tout ditz a vostre cfjesir.

The brooches worn by the wealthy are often magnificent examples of jewelry, enriched with gems set in delicate gold work. A number of the existing brooches are of such diminutive size—less than half an inch in diameter—that they could only have been employed for fastening the very thinnest tissue. The larger gold ring-brooches, of fine workmanship and set with precious stones, are of great rarity.

In the British Museum are several choice specimens: the finest, formerly in the Londesborough Collection, dates from the fourteenth century. It is mounted with pearls, cabochon sapphires and emeralds, arranged in a variety of settings, and further enriched with four bosses carved K 129 and pierced in the forms of dragons and cockatrices.

A remarkable brooch of the thirteenth century, also from a well-known collection, that of Baron Pichon, is preserved in the Victoria and Albert Museum. It is a circular gold ring two inches in diameter, enriched with four sapphires and six rubies in high cone-like settings formed of simple sheets of metal wrapped round the stones.

The bases of these collets are hidden on the inner side by an encircling wreath of vine leaves delicately cut and stamped in gold. The back is ornamented with a leaf design in niello. There is a somewhat similar brooch, though only a fragment, in the Gem Room of the British Museum.

A gold brooch also dating from the thirteenth century, and, like the majority, of French workmanship, is in the Carrand Collection in the Museo Nazionale (Bargello), Florence. This fine example, formerly in the Debruge Collection, is decorated with exquisite Gothic foliage in naturalistic style, and with figures of two lions in full relief. It is set with two large rubies and four small emeralds. In the same collection is an extremely interesting brooch, likewise French, and of the fourteenth century. A flat ring of gold ornamented with concentric rings of enamel, the two outer being blue and the inner white.

Upon the latter, in letters reserved in the gold, is the inscription iesus autem transiens per med., which occurs also on the cameo of Charles V at Paris, and was held by those who bore it to possess a prophylactic virtue. The brooch is further ornamented with four vernicles- engraved with exquisite feeling at equal distances upon its surface.

How large was the demand for brooches of these materials can be gauged from a French writer of the thirteenth century, Jean de Garlande, a poet and grammarian, who in his Latin vocabulary refers to brooch-makers as a special class of craftsmen, who, apart from goldsmiths, were sufficiently numerous to bear the title o{fermailleurs^ —makers of fermails. To about the end of the fifteenth century belongs a satirical poem printed in London with the title Cocke Lovelies Bote, where ” latten workers and broche makers” are specially mentioned among the London crafts or trades.

The manufacture of the finest brooches, however, was always reserved for the goldsmiths—a fact indicated by the quartering of brooches on the arms of the Goldsmiths’ Company. There would be no justification for any general reference to medieval ring-brooches that omitted to give some account of those worn in Scotland. Brooches formed an indispensable accessory to the Highland dress of both sexes, in that they served to fix upon the shoulder an invariable article of clothing of the Highlanders—the Scottish plaid.

In the latest development of the Scottish brooch of the Celtic type, the pin, as has been observed, is hinged upon the ring, and after piercing the garment is held in its place by a catch at the back of the brooch. Upon the introduction of the ring-brooch with a pin equal to the diameter of the ring, this mode of fastening was only in very few cases retained, and preference in general was given to the English manner of adjustment.

The earliest form of the Scottish ring-brooch, which dates from about the thirteenth century, is a flattened circular ring, upon which talismanic inscriptions in Latin, generally of a religious character va appeared. These, together with some traces of Gothic design, last throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

After this period the knowledge of Latin seems to decrease, for it is rendered so barbarously on the sixteenth-century brooches as to be almost unintelligible. On the later brooches the decoration is purely ornamental, with interlaced work and foliaceous scrolls; and brooches of this type, on which the character of an earlier period is retained, were made as late as the eighteenth century.

The designs of the silver brooches were produced by engraving accompanied by niello work ; those of the brass brooches usually by engraving alone. The National Museum of Antiquities at Edinburgh possesses a large and important collection of Scottish brooches, while a few Highland families have preserved for many generations massive silver brooches of elaborate workmanship.

Formerly in the possession of the Campbells of Glenlyon, and now in the British Museum, is a brooch known as the Glenlyon brooch. It dates from about the fifteenth century. It is about 3 inches in width, and is formed of a flat ring set with pearls on tall cone-shaped turrets, alternating with crystals and pieces of amethyst.

Across the center is a richly decorated bar, upon which rest the points of two pins attached to the edge of the’ ring. On the back of the brooch, in black-letter, is the favorite inscription of medieval amulets. The last word, the declaration of the dying Savior, ” It is finished,” was often inscribed upon brooches and other ornaments of the Middle Ages,as were likewise the Angelic Salutation, the tituhis i.n.r.i., and other so-called caracts, all of which were considered to possess some talismanic efficacy.

In many cases the open space in the middle of the ring, as in modern brooches, was filled up, and in the early examples was sometimes occupied by a turret-like ornamentation set with a crystal; while obelisks rising from the ring of the brooch were set with polished stones such as cairngorms (still popular on Scottish jewelry), or with Scottish pearls.

The finest examples of this type of brooch are known as the “brooch of Lorn,” the ” Ugadale brooch,” and the ” Loch Buy brooch.” The brooch of Lorn, still in the possession of the lineal descendants of the Mac-dougals of Lorn, dates from the fifteenth century. It consists of a disc of silver 4′ inches in diamenter, enriched with filigree. In the centre is a raised capsule crowned with a large rock crystal, and round the ring of the brooch a circle of eight obelisks. The Ugadale brooch, the property of the Macneals of Firfergus, is of somewhat similar nature, save that the turrets, eight in number, are towards the center of the brooch and arranged close round the raised crystal.

The Loch Buy brooch, of more elaborate workmanship, is likewise surmounted by a cabochon crystal on a raised dais. On the ring, within a low border, are ten tall turrets, each surmounted with a Scottish pearl. This famous brooch, long in the possession of the Macleans of Loch Buy in the Isle of Mull, came later into the collection of Ralph Bernal, one of the first and most eminent of latter-day connoisseurs, at whose sale in 1855 it was purchased by the British Museum.

In addition to the Highland circular brooches, a considerable number in the shape of hearts have been found in Scotland, sometimes surmounted with a crown, and in a few instances set with jewels. They were mostly love-tokens and betrothal gifts, and many of them bear on the reverse the word love. Brooches of this form are known as ” Luckenbooth” brooches, from their having been commonly sold in the Luckenbooths, the street stalls, around St. Giles Church on the High Street, Edinburgh.

The use of the word Luckenbooth calls to mind the fact that the goldsmiths of Paris also worked and dwelt in booths, which as late as the fourteenth century were situated on the Pont du Change and the Pont Notre Dame. In this connection it is worth noticing that in England, as well as in France and Scotland, the working goldsmiths, like the followers of other trades, occupied distinct quarters by themselves, and they had in London one part of the Chepe set apart for them to dwell and trade in. The custom of the various crafts thus confining themselves to particular quarters, which is of remote antiquity, greatly facilitated the formation and government of trade guilds.

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Author: fairydew1

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