The iconography of the Hunterston brooch and related early medieval material - NMS Research Repository
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Journal article

The iconography of the Hunterston brooch and related early medieval material

2011

Abstract

This paper highlights a new aspect of the design and iconographical programme of the Hunterston brooch. Animals embedded in the form of the brooch terminals fiank the cross panel, and are interpreted as a motif rooted in the Canticle of Habakkuk's assertion that Christ would be recognised between two living things. This Old Testament text was given wide meaning by early Christian thinkers, encompassing the central concept of the recognition, the 'knowing', of Christ and thus can be regarded as a fundamentally important subject for expression. Visual expressions of this theme are more prevalent than has been recognised, and occur in different variations across media. Objects that feature the motif include those usually identified as secular metalwork such as brooches, as well as church objects and Christian sculpture. Many expressions of the motif, including those on the Hunterston and 'Tara' brooches, do not feature figurative depictions of Christ. Instead - and in common with Pictish sculpture (but in contrast to Anglo-Saxon and Irish sculpture) - a symbol such as the cross or lozenge is used to represent Christ. It is suggested that the depiction of such a central Christian theme might lie behind the motivation to 'close the gap' between the terminals of the Hunterston and 'Tara' brooches. If so, this adaptation would provide a way to depict the motif which simultaneously maintained a visual link with the traditional brooch form whilst highlighting the 'new' Christian element precisely because it was what was added.

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