Ancient Scythian costume was abounding in intricate, sewn-on gold plaques that would sparkle and chime as the heavy woolen cloaks swayed with movement. A nomadic people, the artisans among these ancient warriors concentrated their material culture on small portable objects to decorate their clothing, horses, wagons and tents. The intricacy and beauty of their creations were indications of the wealth and status of their owners; and their insatiable appetite for precious metal is testament to the high quality of gold and silver ornamentation that were preserved in their burial mounds (kurhany) that rise from the flatlands of the steppes.
The Scythians were not indigenous to the region they inhabited on the northern shores of the Black Sea, rather they originally came from the east – bringing with them the vestiges of the memory of the animals their ancestors once faced in the Altai mountains: especially red deer, snow leopards, and birds of prey. And those memories were memorialized generation after generation in the images they produced.
Quintessential among these images is the stag, as we find here, with elaborate spiraling antlers. Depicted in profile, here to the left, but equally often to the right, the red deer is depicted with its head held high and its legs folded in on themselves. With a great affinity for representations in spirals, here we also have two appliqués of felines with their bodies curved into circular ornaments, their features schematized. These plaques were all die-formed in multiples and were placed on garments in repetitive patterns. These examples were created during the height of pure Scythian style in the fifth century BC, before the influences of the Greeks that they encountered on the southwestern fringes of their territories.
Provenance: Private Collection, New York, 1980s
Exhibited: New York International Numismatic Convention, 7-10 January 2016.