JIAAW, Wagner Collection
The Joukowsky Institute is fortunate enough to have two hairpins, one made of bone and the other of bronze, in its collection. This Virtual Vault entry, the second in a series featuring each of the two hairpins in the vault, is about Object 297, the bronze hairpin.
This object is a thin, pointed bronze hairpin adorned with a flat finial in the shape of a bird. A closer look reveals that the bird was created with a punch pattern and is decorated with hammered circles. While the exact age of this hairpin is unknown, it is old enough for green patina to have developed over time, a sign of the natural oxidation of the bronze material.
Hairpins that are aesthetically similar to Object 297 have been identified as ancient Roman and Greek artifacts. Although this particular hairpin might not be ancient, its design offers insight into the relationship that ancient people had with nature. In his book Birds in the Ancient World: Winged Words, Jeremy Mynott describes the various ways in which ancient Greeks and Romans interacted and related with birds. Birds were not only resources for farming and hunting, but were treated as pets, agents, and friends. The ancient practice of augury further demonstrates the importance of birds in the ancient world. The Romans especially paid close attention to the calls, movements, behaviors, and appearances of birds to anticipate the likelihood of certain events. In this way, birds acted as omens from the gods, allowing for deities to communicate with earthly people and demonstrate approval or disapproval of their actions. It’s no wonder that birds showed up as decorative elements in ancient wares and jewelry, including hairpins like Object 297.
-Jinette Jimenez ‘21
Read more about ancient birds and see other examples of hairpins: