Dress ornaments

ca. 5th century B.C.
Northern Black Sea region, possibly from Maikop
Each H. 1 in. (2.5 cm)
Credit Line:
Fletcher Fund, 1924
Accession Number:
  • Description

    When the nomads of the Eurasian steppes entered the region bordering on the ancient Near East, they brought with them a highly mobile lifestyle, including a sophisticated horse-riding military and a tradition of wealth display in the form of gold ornaments for their clothing, equipment, and animal trappings. By the fifth century B.C., when these gold plaques were probably made, the art of the nomads was influenced by arts from nearby settled populations, including the Greeks and the Achaemenid Persians.

    These ornaments, with small loops on the back meant for attachment to clothing, are from a large group of gold plaques acquired by Western museums, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, in the first decades of the twentieth century. They are thought to come from the area in the northern part of the Black Sea, reportedly from the site of Maikop in the Northern Caucasus. The plaques from this group include images of stags, floral and geometric designs, and griffins like these.

    Griffins are composite animals—made up of elements of more than one animal—that were popular in nomadic art of the first millennium B.C. in the Black Sea region. The griffins on these rather small dress ornaments have a feline body with heads and wings of birds. They stand in an alert pose holding their heads high and are balanced by the wing tips of their backward-curving tails. The planes of their bodies would have reflected the light and sparkled in the sun, enhancing the wearer's status and power.

  • Provenance

    Until 1924, collection of Merle de Massoneau; acquired by the Museum in 1924, purchased from John Marshall.

  • References

    Alexander, Christine. 1925. "Jewelry and miscellaneous small antiquities: Recent Accessions." Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art 20 (7), pp. 180-181, fig. 7.

    Alexander, Christine. 1928. Jewelry, the art of the goldsmith in classical times as illustrated in the museum collection. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, pp. 47-48, fig. 102.

    Rostovtzeff, Michael. 1929. The Animal Style in South Russia and China. Princeton: Princeton University Press, p.31, pl. IX, 1.

    Rostovtzeff, Michael. 1930. Cambridge Ancient History, vol. VIII, p. 587, vol. of pls. p. 92 b-c.

    Richter, Gisela. 1930. Handbook of the Classical Collection. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 328, fig. 229.

    Dimand, Maurice S. and H.E. McAllister. 1944. Near Eastern Jewelry, a picture book. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, fig. 2.

    Kantor, Helen. 1957. "Achaemenid Jewelry in the Oriental Institute." Journal of Near Eastern Studies 16 (1), p. 6: "A series of very fine hybrid Scythian-Greek griffin and stag plaques are in the MMA."

    Harper, Prudence O. 1973-1974. "The Maikop Treasure." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 32 (5), From the Lands of the Scythians: Ancient Treasures from the Museums of the U.S.S.R. 3000 B.C.-100 B.C.(1973–1974), no. 15, p. 160.

    Hibbard, Howard. 1980. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: Harper and Row, p. 60, fig. 120.

    Harper, Prudence O. et al. 1983. In The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Selections from the Collection of the Ancient Near East Department, exh. cat. Tokyo: Chunichi Shimbun, no. 108.

    Harper, Prudence O. et al. 1984. "Ancient Near Eastern Art." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 41 (4), Spring 1984, p. 35, fig. 41.

    Leskov, Aleksandr M. 2008. The Maikop Treasure. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, p. 225.

  • See also
    In the Museum