The Golden Age of Merovingian Archaeology
The Golden Age of Merovingian Archaeology
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND The first sizable French excavation, begun in 1830, was an investigation of the cemetery of Charnay (Saone-et-Loire). It was funded until i860 by the lawyer Henri Baudot (1799-1880), a member of the Academy of Sciences of Dijon, who in his will of 1870 bequeathed only a few objects from the excavation to the Commission of Antiquities. The essential part of Baudot’s collection was auctioned off publicly in 1894, at which time the remarkable objects from Charnay were acquired by the Musee des Antiquites Nationales at Saint-Germain-en- Laye. Among the most beautiful pieces is the famous brooch with a runic inscription, which had been the subject of correspondence between Baudot and the president of the Society of Antiquaries of the North.
At the beginning of the excavations in 1830 Henri Baudot had not recognized the Merovingian nature of the site. By 1840, however, when the Congress of Scientific Societies of France was held at Besan on, in the session dedica
From this time on, several French archaeologists began to identify the Merovingian content of graves, among them Auguste Moutie, who was working at the “Butte des Gargans” at Houdan in the Paris region and whose correspondence with Abbe Cochet on this subject is so illuminating. One part of the grave contents from that site is today preserved at the Nelson- Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City and the other at the Musee d’Art et d’Histoire in Dreux.
THE COLLECTORS AND THE EXCAVATORS
From 1914, he began to place part of his collection in the former Kaiser Friedrich Museum in Berlin (now the Museum fiirVor- und Fruhgeschichte), and today his objects enrich museum collections in Berlin and Cologne.
Subsequently he turned his attention to the cemetery at Vorges in the Aisne before excavating Late Roman cemeteries in the towns of Vermand (Aisne) and Boulogne-sur-Mer, which furnished him with such precious spoils as the weapons and mounts from the celebrated chieftains tomb at Vermand, glass flagons with the makers name, Frontinus, and engraved glass cups.
Froehner, in the introduction he wrote to Camille Boulangers 1909 work on the cemetery at Marchelepot, described Lelaurain s conduct as follows De Ricci, in his preface to the 1910 catalogue of Merovingian antiquities owned by Pierpont Morgan, also commented on Lelaurain’s methods.
Several beautiful pieces from Marchelepot entered Morgan s collection without their provenance, though they can now be identified from Boulanger s publication of 1909, such as a repousse disk brooch decorated with a bust in profile. The general form of the brooch, with a suggestion of claws joining the extremity of the bird’s beak, recalls that of brooches of the “Vorges type, and so a date in the middle or even the second half of the sixth century appears probable.
Stanislas Baron apparently purchased the shield boss and the silver-gilt pieces from Vermand, along with the gold bird brooches from Marchelepot and the Gallo-Roman brooches representing a dog attacking a boar, whence they passed into the collection of J. Pierpont Morgan.
It is interesting to note that at least some of the objects from Hermes belonged to the Jumel collection, and that the belt set from the famous tomb of a late Roman warrior from the same site was sold in 1902 by Cottel to the Musee des Antiquites Nationales in a group of objects deemed to have come from cemeteries “on the confines of the Somme and Pas-de- Calais.
A beautiful rectangular buckle attachment plate from the site, which came to the Metropolitan, was sketched by the abbe while it still retained its loop. The context of the discovery is unknown. It is of iron, covered with a sheet of silver bearing a repousse cross, between the arms of which are leaves and fronds.
First in the Pas-de-Calais at Saint-Amand, where he was a primary school teacher, then at Martinpuich and at Haucourt, he participated in the robbing of graves in the northeast of France. One of the chatelaine disks, published already in 1894 by Jules Pilloy and officially reported by Cottel, was said to have come from Cottel soon abandoned teaching and lived off the profits of his excavations and the antiquities market.
In this area, so favorably located and endowed, several finds from the Roman period have been made,15 but all the known early find spots lie far from the medieval center1 and cannot be connected directly with the area of the Frankish cemetery.
COMPOSITION OF THE COLLECTION
There can be no doubt about the authenticity of most of the finds, but the combinations of items in the grave groups seen in de Ricci s plates must have had an aesthetic justification or perhaps served to help in selling the pieces.
Recent studies, applying a statistical analysis, especially of beads in combination, have supported this.
It shows that Late Antique translucent beads, mostly of light color, appear singly in Frankish necklaces of the early sixth century. Characteristic of early Frankish necklaces are: glass beads with a gold or silver underlay; small black beads; and blue glass tubular beads.
The so-called cowry shells (Cypraceae) further illuminate the extent of trade with the Mediterranean in this period.
Comparable pendants can already be found in a grave from Krefeld-Gellep, no. 1803, that is dated to after the middle of the sixth century; the grave of an old woman from Schleitheim belongs to the second quarter of the seventh century; and a comparable pendant along with a coin of Madelinus, which gives a date after 630, is among the grave goods from a site at Beuningen, Gelderland, Netherlands.
Another characteristic of the New York collection from Niederbreisig is the wealth of high-quality brooches, especially the gold composite types from the seventh century. There is also a remarkably large number of pins, a frequency also matched at the cemetery of Kobern- Gondorf, about thirty kilometers south of Niederbreisig. The Niederbreisig pins in New York include one Schleiernadel, a type with a large gilded globular head that was in use at the Frankish court in the seventh century. For the most part the pins are of copper alloy with a polyhedral knop on the shaft or a spat- ulate terminal.They belonged to the hairdress of Frankish women or were used for fastening the cloak. In Frankish graves of the Rhineland, decorative pins of this type are found mosdy in the seventh century.
HISTORY OF RESEARCH
There were few hints as to the history of the excavations, the origins of the finds, or even the exact localization of the find place. De Ricci s information about the origins came from the periodical Bonner Jahrbticher, which for the most part dealt with Roman finds, the find place of which also can not be exactly determined.
Between 1934 and 1937 Hermann Stoll, at the prompting of the conservator of the Rhine Province, F. Oelmann, compiled a catalogue of all the Frankish finds discovered in the Rhineland, the so-called Frankenkatalog. In addition to the excavations of Friedrich Queckenberg, Stoll also noted the further excavations by Fritz Littauer in 1914. Herbert Kiihn’s study of the 410 pieces conserved in New York is based on de Ricci s catalogue. The connection between the Niederbreisig find complexes, which became known at different times, will be treated in the following discussion.
HISTORY OF THE DISCOVERIES
As early as November 1892 the German- isches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg purchased several saxes at a public sale held by the auctioneers Lempertz in Cologne. In September 1892 representatives from the Museum fiir Vorund Friihgeschichte in Frankfurt visited the excavations and purchased from “Joseph” Schmitz pieces that are still stored there. Letters of July 21, 1893, August > 1893, and July 16,1894, written by Jacob Schmitz, a dealer in antiquities from Andernach, survive in which he announced the auction of new finds and offered them to the Germanisches Nationalmuseum.
In 1896 the Cologne auction house of Offermann sold finds from Niederbreisig; Jacob Schmitz and Friedrich Queckenberg were identified as the owners in the flyleaf of the catalogue. Among the items were twelve belts with inlaid fittings, two saxes, three spathas, four spearheads, seventeen necklaces, nine brooches, and many neck- and armrings. But not all these finds can be considered Merovingian. The Reiss-Museum at Mannheim acquired pieces for its Niederbreisig collection at this auction, and purchased further finds from David Reiling of Mainz between 1896 and 1898. According to the Frankenkatalog, attached to the items purchased in 1898 was a note reading “Sammlung Queckenberg 1898. Also in 1896 the museum in Mainz purchased a gold disk brooch from Niederbreisig.
After that, there was a lull in the appearance of spectacular finds from Niederbreisig, probably due to the exhaustion of the find place.
On May 25,1910, Morgan, with the assistance of the dealer Jacques Seligmann, in Paris, purchased part of Dreesen’s material for 10,000. The reasons for the decision not to purchase the 140 pottery vessels noted on Dreesen’s list, and to obtain only some of the 75 glass vessels listed, are obscure.
Such skepticism existed concerning this later collection that in 1913 H. P. Mitchell visited Joseph Queckenberg in Niederbreisig on behalf of the British Museum. He noted the rumor that, on the death of Friedrich Queckenberg in 1909, his collection had contained four grave groups, but had emerged for sale with twenty-five, exactly the number illustrated in the plates in de Ricci’s catalogue.