2.2.5 Surface treatment

Apart from the metals used to produce the main body of figurines, a number of materials were also used to decorate their surface. Sometimes the entire surface of the figurine was covered with silver or gold, while more common was the decoration of only a small part using silver or enamel. On occasion small objects in a different metal were added to the figurine, such as Mercury 55 from St Albans which had a silver torc, and Mercury 284 from Richborough, Kent, with a gold torc and silver caduceus. The use of these techniques and attributes in different metals highlights the features thus detailed, the eyes and attributes perhaps being the most important part of the figure.

A small number of pieces have a core of one metal, which was then completely covered in another. One example has a tin core (Fragment 8 from Catterick, N. Yorkshire) and two a lead core (Jupiter 258 from Kirkby Thore, Cumbria, and Jupiter 1109 from Alchester, Oxfordshire), all of which were then bronzed. The majority have a bronze core that was then covered in silver or gold, while lead Eagle 731 from Eaton Socon, Bedfordshire, was gilded, and leaded brass Rider 825 from Torksey, Lincolnshire, was tinned. Silvered (or possibly tinned, as usually the metal has not been analysed) figurines are Mercury 34, Apollo 478 and Goat 237 from London; Genius 197 from Carrawburgh, Northumberland; Mercury 241 and Ram 717 from Caerleon; Mercury 833 from Chesterholm, Northumberland; Three-horned bull 914 from Weaverham, Cheshire, and Three-horned bull 167 from Maiden Castle, Dorset. Gilded figurines are Mercury 38 and Figure 485 from London; Cupid 73 from Gayton, Northamptonshire; Hercules 92 from Icklingham, Suffolk; Hercules 96 from Birdoswald, Cumbria; Minerva 487 from Castor, Cambridgeshire; Cockerel 515 from Cirencester; Lar 768 from Benwell, Northumberland and Mars 894 from Cromhall, S. Gloucestershire.

Sometimes only part of the figure is coated, such as Mercury 1015 from Ribchester, Lancs, in which the edges of his cloak and headgear have applied strips of white metal (Howard-Davis 2000, 246) or Arms 807 and 808 from Ashwell, Hertfordshire, in which the attributes held in the hands are gilt (Jackson and Burleigh 2007, 40 nos 2 and 3). More common, however, is the silvering of the eyes, which is recorded on 14 figurines (Jupiter 16 from Langham, Rutland; Mercury 38, Isis 127 and Hercules 169 from London; Mars 30 from Earith, Cambridgeshire; Cupid 74 from Cirencester; Hercules 93 from Cowlinge, Suffolk; Lar 104 and Venus 338 from Silchester; Venus 132 from St. Albans; Bacchus 183 from Benwell; Scholar 212 from Chesterholm, Northumberland; Mars 720 from Shirenewton, Monmouthshire and Lar 1186 from Castle Cary, Somerset). Only one figurine, Osiris 149 from Swanscombe, Kent, has gilt eyes, although it is likely that this figure was not brought there during the Romano-British period but is a post-medieval or modern import. The quality of the figures that are treated in this way varies. However, it can be said that they do tend to be higher quality figurines, and overall the highest quality figurines are more likely to have been silvered or gilded.

Niello decoration, a copper and silver sulphide with a black colour which is used with silver inlay (Craddock 1978, 11), has only been found on one figure, possibly of Nero 168, from Coddenham, Suffolk. In addition, it should be noted that the metallurgical composition of a figure can also affect the type of decoration that might be used. Gilding is best applied to pieces with low lead and tin content (Oddy and Craddock 1986, 339) while niello adheres to brass but not bronze (Craddock 1978, 11).

Enamelling is another decoration that was applied to the body of figurines, but is more commonly found on the eyes. Enamelling was used in late Iron Age and Roman Britain to decorate a variety of object types, and is seen on Horse 872 from Swansea on which a strip of red enamel was applied to the back of the horse and possibly a circular patch to the breast (Lodwick 2006, 190). Meanwhile, Horse 687 from Bunwell, Norfolk, was decorated with crescentic stamps that were probably enamelled (Gregory 1986, 330). Apart from these two horses, birds are more commonly decorated with enamel. They include Owl 206 from Chester and Cockerels 223 from Corbridge, 238 from London and 493 from Leicester. These birds all have enamelled eyes, but the example from Leicester also has an enamelled comb and that from London enamelled patches on its neck. It is interesting to note that all of these pieces, except the horse from Bunwell, are stylised creatures. Enamelling is less common on human figures, but was used for the eyes on Mercury 43 from Colchester and Attis 441 from Mildenhall, Suffolk, while Cupid 74 from Cirencester has silver irises and enamelled pupils.

Another technique that concentrates on the eyes is the use of glass or stone insets. Black pebbles were used on the head of Girl 454 from Otterbourne, Hampshire. Fourteen figurines now have only round, deep-set holes that probably held insets (Mother Goddess 5 from Yatton, Somerset; Horse 179 from Pentwyn-mawr, Caerphilly; Mercury 334, Vulcan 344, Sucellus 372, and Deity 379 from Southbroom, Wiltshire; Hare 689 from Saham Toney, Norfolk; Boar 775 from Motcombe, Dorset, and Figure 1047 from Whitchurch, Shropshire. Harpocrates 726 from St Albans; Horse and rider 781 from Braintree, Essex; Minerva 878 from Ivinghoe Aston, Buckinghamshire; Boar 889 from Rothwell, Lincolnshire and Three-horned bull 914 from Weaverham, Cheshire, may have had inset or enamelled eyes). Only three figurines (Pigeon 191 from Burgh Castle, Norfolk; Mars 1149 from Colchester and Mother Goddess 1170 from Aust, S. Gloucestershire) still have the glass in place. In addition, Harpocrates 726 from St Albans has solder in his eyes, which might indicate glass or enamel settings (Worrell 2005, 460). Of interest is the fact that five figures (Mother Goddesses 5 and 1170, Horse 179, Boars 775 and 889) all appear to be early, perhaps late Iron Age, in date and Henig (1996a, 131) suggests that glass eyes were used in the early Roman period. The figures with inset eyes that form part of the Southbroom hoard are all also in a style that suggests local interpretation of classical deities and production. Thus the use of glass insets could be a British technique.

Finally, while the use of stamps has already been mentioned with regard to the Bunwell Horse 687, the most common form of decoration that does not utilise additional materials is, of course, incision. Although the general form of the figurine was cast in the mould, detail was often added after casting. In particular this technique was used to indicate hair, feathers and scales. Belly buttons and nipples might be incised or stamped circles, and on occasion eyes were simply incised. In less accomplished pieces incision was also used to depict drapery folds (e.g. Mars 684).


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