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6th C. Russian Bronze Pommel in Bear Form

Russia, Perm region, Perm Animal Style (Permian Animal Style), ca. 5th to 11th centuries CE. An amazing cast bronze pommel handle in the form of a ravenous bear, its head down as if it is eating, its body formed to create the shape of a pommel similar to the famous lobed pommels of the Viking period. Bears were seen as dangerous creatures - but also admirably strong and fierce. Size: 2.5" W x 1.45" H (6.4 cm x 3.7 cm)

The Perm Animal Style is associated with a loosely culturally connected group of people known as the Finno-Ugric peoples who lived in west central Siberia, from modern day Perm north to the Arctic Sea. They freely took artistic influence from those who came before them, like the Scytho-Siberians, and from colonists from the west, like the Vikings, but developed their own distinct style that archaeologists know from graves scattered throughout the taiga. Birds of prey, ungulates like reindeer, canines, and bears abound in their iconography. These zoomorphic designs seem to share some common culture with the fantastical animals of pagan Viking art, but with some major stylistic differences. Notably, like the Scythians who occupied much of this landscape before them, they tend to focus on individual elements of animals - beaks, feet, claws, mouths, and eyes. Imagining the lifestyle of people in the vast regions of the north - both in taiga and in forest - animals hardy enough to live through the dark winters would have been of great interest and probably played major roles in their folklore as well as being human companions and fellow hunters (birds of prey), food sources (reindeer), and threats (bears and wolves). This iconographic style had remarkable uniformity of design across a vast region and long time period. Although nearly all of our knowledge comes from grave goods, this item seems to have been extensively used in life based upon wear patterns (unlike some other cultures, where goods are produced solely to be placed in graves). It was probably worn on the belt of its owner in life, at a time (which continued into the medieval European period) when flashing, jingling decoration was in fashion.

Condition: Small corrosion losses, especially on one side of the bear's neck. Possible small repair on lower back foot on one side.

Provenance: private Newport Beach, California, USA collection

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