This gilt bronze attachment, most likely used to decorate clothing, is an excellent example of the Scythian ‘animal style’, a quintessential feature of Scythian art.
The bold and dynamic composition shows a herd of running horses encircling a central boss. The prototypical rendering of the animals is characteristic: the style is abstract; the animals are shown in profile with large eyes and stylized features, with the horses’ manes indicated by vertical striations across the neck. Different planes are juxtaposed as the animals’ bodies interlock and flow one into the next, creating a rhythm and giving pattern to the composition.
The motifs of the stag, lion, and eagle are most common in Scythian animal style art, but the horse is also favoured for its prominence in Scythian daily life. The Scythians were a nomadic people, first appearing in historical record in the eighth century BC and travelling westwards from Central Asia, eventually reaching the Greek settlements on the Black Sea in the fifth century BC. As such, their art is populated by the animals they encountered, whose appearance, behaviour, and sounds must have been fascinating to the Scythian people. Their art is also imbued with a great sense of movement, which is conveyed in the present example by its circular composition and the energetic representation of the horses as they twist and run.
Two Scythian gold plaques excavated at Kurhan and now in the Museum of Historical Treasures of Ukraine in Kiev (seventh to sixth century BC), provide parallels for the subject matter and abstract style of the present example. Both show a recumbent horse in profile, the head turned down and back over the body, with prominent eye and stylized mane formed of diagonal striations along the length of the neck. Like the present example, these plaques are characteristically Scythian, with stylized features, the abrupt juxtaposition of planes, the abstraction of form, and the representation of the animal in profile.
E. D. Reeder (ed.) Scythian Gold. Treasures From Ancient Ukraine (New York, 1999).
Nasli M. Heeramaneck, New York, 1960s.
With Ariadne Galleries, 1980s.