GENEVA - Before preparing this Geneva Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels sale, I had never heard of a ‘fibula brooch.’ I found the term in Joel A. Rosenthal’s monumental monograph, JAR, vol. 1, fig. 358, where it describes a whimsical and delicate gem set and diamond brooch, also featured in our sale.
LOT 432, GEM SET AND DIAMOND FIBULA BROOCH, JAR, 1994.
Upon further research, I found that fibula brooches were first produced in the Bronze Age. Used to fasten garments, they developed from a pin surmounted by a simply decorated crescent-shaped metal head. In the Iron Age, they became lighter and the metal more ornately decorated. They were produced throughout Western civilization and particularly in areas influenced by the Romans.
GOLD CROSSBOW FIBULA, CIRCA A.D. 286-306/7 OR 308/9, GOLD, 95.15.113, PHOTO COURTESY OF THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART.
In the 1st few centuries A.D., fibula brooches were made of bronze or iron, sometimes enamelled, and in the shape of a cross, flora or fauna. Under the Merovingians (circa 457 - 511 A.D), they were produced in ‘S’ shaped pairs illustrating birds, monsters, and bovids. The Visigoths produced even more richly decorated fibula brooches, thanks to the developments of techniques in cloisonnée enamel and granulation. A beautiful East Germanic pair of fibula brooches dating to circa 430 exists in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, in Vienna. Perhaps the best known fibula brooches come from the Maghreb, and their history and form is richly varied.
In the Middle Ages, however, the fibula brooch disappeared in favour of buttons. While variations on the design in the form of safety and jabot pins were introduced in the 19th and 20th centuries, the production of fibula brooches remained rare. JAR has breathed new life into this ancient form with this striking example. We can only wonder what the Romans would have made of JAR’s contemporary version, with its precious multi-coloured natural pearls, sumptuous pink spinel, purple topaz, and diamonds.