Find In Focus: Medieval Limoges Mount

Medieval objects are the second most commonly recorded objects on the PAS database. They account for 23% of the data set behind Roman material which covers a huge 40%. The bulk of this material is made up of the more common finds, such as individual coins, buckles, brooches and vessel sherds.

Percentage finds per period recorded by PAS.
Top medieval object types recorded by PAS.

Occasionally however, we come across something which really stands out. That was the case with this beautiful medieval enamelled mount.

YORYM-07928B

Made of a thin sheet of copper-alloy this mount would have adorned the terminal of an arm of a processional cross.

The front of the mount is decorated with a winged bovine animal, standing right with its head facing back towards its tail. A ringed halo surrounds its horned head. The facial features are only faintly visible as are feathers on the wings. Areas of the background retain blue enamel and it is likely that the remaining recesses also originally contained enamel settings of various colours.

This style of decoration is known as ‘Limoges’, named after the town in Aquitaine where the method was widely employed from the mid-12th century onward. A design would be carved or cast into a sheet of metal. The recessed areas were then filled with powdered glass enamel and the object fired until the powder melted and filled each area. Polishing would finish the piece to show the coloured enamel framed shiny by metal.

Limoges works of high quality multi-coloured enameled pieces adorned a variety of objects such as books, horse furniture and reliquaries and were favoured by important ecclesiastical and royal circles. The works were internationally famed and, in England, the style saw its peak popularity in the 13th century.

Limoges mounts such as this example would have been one of a set of four. Each mount would depict a different winged emblem of an evangelist, placed in a predetermined order on the reverse arms of a cross, framing the central figure of Christ. This example depicts the Ox of St Luke and the orientation of the design suggests it was originally affixed to the right arm of the cross. Example recorded by PAS suggest that the position of each evangelist was not set and variations often occurred.

Similar mounts depicting the other three Evangelists have been recorded on the database including KENT-732442 showing the eagle of St John, DENO-4E91E9 depicting the lion of St Mark, and WILT-EACA46 representing the angel of St Matthew.

KENT-732442: Eagle of St John
DENO-4E91E9: Lion of St Mark
WILT-EACA46: Angel of St Matthew

BH-0D0F26, SUSS-54B2C4, and SF-8AE233 also depict the ox of St Luke and appear to be from the same position on the cross as this example.

SUSS-54B2C4: Ox of St Luke

This object, and those like it, provide a wonderful glimpse into the vibrant medieval world.

Find In Focus: Medieval Seal Matrix

Seal matrices were used to make an impression on a wax seal as a means of authenticating a document or, more practically, to keep it closed.

There are over 7,500 seal matrices recorded with the Portable Antiquities Scheme. The earliest of these is from the Early-Medieval period (Fig 1) though these are rare. Over 6,000 examples date to the medieval period, particularly the 13th and 14th centuries, after which their use declines.

Fig. 1; SF-BE7CB0 An Early-Medieval seal matrix from Hampshire.
Fig. 1: SF-BE7CB0 An Early-Medieval seal matrix from Hampshire.

Though initially limited to the higher ranks of the church and state, the use of seals became more general from the 11th century onward and by the end of the thirteenth century tradesmen and peasants also used them.

Medieval seal matrices are usually made from copper-alloy or lead, but silver examples are also known. They are typically either flat or conical and have a central design and surrounding inscription on the die, usually added by engraving. Flat matrices tend to be circular or pointed-oval (often referred to as vessica-shaped), while conical matrices are usually circular. Many silver examples include a re-used Roman intaglio as the central design.

It is such an example which is the focus of this post.

This silver seal matrix with reused Roman intaglio was reported as potential Treasure in 2015 (Fig 2: YORYM-13A179). It was found by a metal detectorist in Markington, North Yorkshire.

Fig.2: YORYM-13A179 A silver medieval seal matrix from North Yorkshire.
Fig.2: YORYM-13A179 A silver medieval seal matrix from North Yorkshire.

The matrix itself is of 13th – 14th century date while the intaglio dates from the second to third centuries AD.

The intaglio is made of a red stone, possibly agate, jasper or carnelian, and is engraved with a winged Victory facing a seated male figure with a cockerel at his feet. This is likely to represent a winged messenger saluting the god Jupiter. The surrounding legend + SECRETI NVNCIVS means ‘Secret Messenger’ suggesting the matrix was made to fit with the intaglio’s design and that whoever made the seal understood the meaning of the intaglio.

Ancient gems were commonly reused in personal seal matrices throughout the Medieval period, and were often employed as privy or counter-seals by officials. Se below for three examples of medieval seal matrices with reused Roman intaglio.

It is unclear exactly how Roman intaglios came to be reused in such quantities, although it is possible that they were found locally by peasants working the land and passed to their lords. It is equally possible that they were imported specifically. The way in which intaglios were viewed and interpreted by medieval people shows the continuing impact of one civilisation on another.

Refs:

Downes, A, and Griffiths. R. (2017) 50 Finds From Yorkshire : Objects From the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Stroud: Amberley Publishing.

Geake, H. (2016) Finds Recording Guide: Seal Matrices; https://finds.org.uk/counties/findsrecordingguides/seal-matrices/ (accessed 03/04/2020)

Harvey, P.D.A. and McGuinness, A. (1996) A Guide to British Medieval Seals. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.