This beautifully conceived and finely executed bronze arm fibula (brooch) is an exceptional example of Bronze Age art. It is also an expression of personal ornament, and this style was frequently associated with men and women of high status. The design of the brooch is ingenious, as the artist has used four individual strands of bronze to create a dynamic, interconnecting scheme of four spirals which together create a striking aesthetic effect.
During the Bronze Age, between 2500 and 800 BC, most of the inhabitants of Europe lived in distinct, large-scale, groups. A gradual change from what had been loosely united pastoral associations to settled, stratified societies scattered across temperate Europe allowed for the concentrated development of agriculture, woodworking, weaving, ceramics, and metallurgy. A growing diversity of occupations and the rise of individuals with specialized skills that were beneficial to groups led to the formation of ranked societies. Elites marshalled resources and expressed their positions in ways that were easily understood. The control of metals and metal objects assured their status by redistributing wealth.
While this process was consistent throughout Europe, it did not develop at a uniform pace, with different rates of progress, some groups forging ahead while others lagged behind. Yet the consistent use of bronze as the primary manufacturing material and the symbolic role of bronze objects as a kind of currency, allows one to speak of a ‘Bronze Age’. Even within this context, ‘objects’ still had functional and aesthetic features. Personal adornment in the Bronze Age was a direct indication of social status, so the more important a person was, the more exceptional their jewellery and accessories.
Our fibula functioned as a conspicuous status symbol, due to its size, material, and decorative role, and therefore would have been immediately recognizable as the possession of a certain segment of society. A similar brooch comprising four spirals, though of much smaller is scale, belongs to the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (inv. no. 2007.498.8, eighth century BC).
A.F. Harding, European Societies in the Bronze Age (Cambridge, 2000).
For the most recent research into European Bronze Age art, H. Fokkens and A. Harding, ed., The Oxford Handbook of the European Bronze Age (Oxford, 2013).
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 13 December 1982, lot 225.
H.S. Collection, Germany, acquired 1971-1998.