Working on the Norfolk Heritage Explorer project gave me access to many illustrations, photographs and newpaper cuttings of objects and sites across Norfolk. My original training and interest centred around the Roman period, and I was initially surprised by the complexity of many of the Iron Age objects recovered from Norfolk.
Photograph of an Iron Age gold ring terminal torc from Snettisham. (© NCC)
This is particularly true of many of the torcs, bracelets and metal objects that form the Snettisham Treasure. The designs used for these are strikingly intricate and show a fluidity that belies the rigidity of the metals used. I was impressed by how easily Iron Age metal workers used these designs not just on bracelets, but manipulated them to wrap around the surfaces of torc terminals.
Illustration of an Iron Age bracelet pattern. (© NCC)
From the illustration of the bracelet decoration it can also be seen that rather than just repeat an established decorative form, the craftsman altered the pattern with every repeated unit. As a result, the bracelet represents a pattern-book of designs for the modern craftsman to utilise. However, this lack of symmetry appears peculiar to the modern eye, where the majority of designs are balanced and symmetrical. Manipulating these designs for a modern context meant both simplifying them and finding some pivot point about which the design could be reflected to generate symmetry.
Images of painted cup by R. Fillery-Travis (© R. Fillery-Travis.)
Altering the pattern in this way, and removing it from its original context produced a thought provoking affect. The pattern has lost much of what made it identifiably Iron Age in origin, and now perhaps has more in common with the Art Nuevo designs of the early 20th century, though it has become visually easier to understand. The almost organic growth and alteration of the pattern in its original context therefore seems to be an essential part of the Iron Age design. The fact that Iron Age period craftsmen used this approach, which is quite alien to modern design, for their most valuable pieces is perhaps indicative of some of the differences between our cultures.
Image of painted cup by R. Fillery-Travis (© R. Fillery-Travis.)
The paints I used to produce this design are available from most good art and craft shops, and baking in a home oven will set them.
Ruth can be contacted at:
Iron Age torcs and bracelets, Snettisham – NHER 1487