The present bracelet hails from the Geometric period, an era of great foundation in ancient Greece. Not only was this the epoch of the epic poems of Homer, the Iliad and Odyssey, but it was the time when the Greek alphabet was developed, and when the Greek polis arose. In this period, rites and rituals became more defined, while state-sanctioned religion was further established. In turn, social classes became more distinct with wealth more influential. Archaeological material attests to the flowering of the visual arts during this period, particularly in the design and decoration of terracotta pots, and the casting and cold working of fine metal objects such as the present bracelet.
This exquisitely delicate piece is wrought from a single strip of bronze, coiled into a short spiral. The bronze is fashioned so that it widens in the centre and tapers towards the terminals, which comprise three hexagonal bead-like shapes, descending in size. The surface is richly decorated with engraved linear designs, including hatched triangles, rectangles and lozenges, as well as semicircular designs ornamented with punched dots. However, what makes this bracelet particularly special are the incised fish and horses. Bronze and terracotta votive offerings and painted scenes on vessels attest to an especial interest in figural imagery at this time, both anthropomorphic and zoomorphic, with a particular focus on ritual and the heroic world of the warrior. Images of chariots and armed warriors are some of the most popular from this period, and in particular, the highly stylized horse, such as that depicted on the present bracelet, which has become of the most iconic and celebrated images from antiquity.
The horse was revered in ancient Greece and expressed wealth and prestige. It appeared in a range of artistic media, notably as a component of the Parthenon Marbles, and was also celebrated in mythology, religion and ancient texts. The Athenian philosopher Xenophon (circa 430-354 BC), also a foremost equestrian, praised the virtues of the horse in his works On the Art of Horsemanship and On the Cavalry Commander. Stylized bronze horse figurines from the geometric period are known to have been popular votives at the great temple sanctuaries of Corinth and Olympia. The presence of such fine metalwork attests to prosperity and trade as well as to the high status of the owner. This bracelet in particular, with its lyrical, graceful form and intricate detail exudes a clarity and elegance that epitomizes the art of the geometric period.
A geometric bronze bracelet featuring similar-shaped terminals, though of less elaborate form, is displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (eighth century BC). A good example of the figural style in vogue during this period, and which the designs on our bracelet emulate, can be seen on a late Geometric krater attributed to the Trachones Workshop, also in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum (inv. 14.130.15, circa 745 BC).
Private Collection, UK, 1980s.