Exhibition

Tara Brooch
Cast silver gilt, with added amber, gold, glass, and copper
Bettystown, County Meath, Ireland
Eighth Century, C.E.
Early Medieval, Celtic
22.5 cm.
The National Museum of Ireland, Dublin

Although given the name the Tara Brooch, this Irish national treasure was not found at Tara, but was found at Bettystown, County Meath. The discovery at Bettystown resulted from the collapsing of cliffs due to wave erosion.  A jeweler who studied the brooch is credited with the misnomer.  Given the exquisite nature of the brooch it is not surprising that it was thought to come from Tara, since Tara was the official residence of the High kings of ancient Ireland.

The Tara Brooch is an annular brooch, synonymous with the term ring brooch.  It is termed an annular brooch since its ring completes a full circle and closes in on itself.  The Tara brooch is paramount in its exquisite detail.  Created from gilted bronze, and intricate swirling, curvilinear pattern containing animal designs runs along the surface.  The design is miniaturist in detail and is complemented by four raised knobs, presumably amber or glass.  The patterns running along the surface are gold filigree with interlace.  The brooch adopts stylistic elements for the La Tène tradition, in its appropriation of animal heads and silver and copper intaglio design on the underside.  It is noted that originally the underside was a copper red set against a silver background.  The brooch was recently restored at the laboratories of the British Museum in London where they identified minute details of human heads as well.

The Tara brooch epitomizes the high quality among Irish brooches of the Early Medieval period.  This brooch has served as a prototype of eighth century skill in jewelry making, and has been copied many times.  This surviving brooch is one of a pair of brooches.  Brooches were often worn in pairs, linked by a chain, in order to hold a cloak on the shoulders.

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