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Work Boeotian fibula with plaque

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Archaic Greek Art (7th-6th centuries BC)

Fibule à plaque, arc à quatre coquilles

© 2002 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Archaic Greek Art (7th-6th centuries BC)

Marie-Bénédicte Astier

This bronze fibula was found near Thebes in Boeotia, in a woman's grave dating from c.700 BC. The plaque is decorated with incised motifs inspired by Geometric pottery but with new orientalizing influences. One side depicts a grazing horse with a bird; the other a ship framed by birds and fish. The composition and the treatment of the ship's rigging have been found on other fibulae attributed to the "Boatmaster".

Boeotian fibulae

Fibulae were often made in bronze, as the color of this alloy after casting is similar to that of gold, and were used to arrange the folds of the tunic on the body. Some were used as temple offerings, and others were placed in graves, such as this large fibula with plaque found in a woman's grave near Thebes in Boeotia, along with three other bronze fibulae, two statuettes of hinds, an intaglio and strips of gold decorated with geometric motifs. Its imposing size and shape are characteristic of the fibulae with plaques produced in Boeotia. The principal feature is a rectangular plaque decorated with finely incised decorative motifs, the lower edge of which forms the catch for the pin. The pin is linked to the end one of a row of four shells that form the bow, via a double-spiral spring. The shells are engraved with lines and zigzags.

Narrative scenes and animal motifs

The decorative engraving on the plaque features a combination of an animal theme and a narrative scene. The reverse side depicts a horse, its head lowered as if grazing, and between its legs a bird with outspread wings. The space is filled with other motifs, including stars, zigzags, and chevrons. The front, meanwhile, bears the outline of a rigged ship with a crew of six sailors, floating on the broken line of the waves and framed by two birds in the sky and fish in the sea. The scene almost certainly illustrates an episode from the works of Homer, transcribed thanks to the invention of the Greek alphabet in the second half of the eighth century BC. Alternatively, it may relate to a contemporary scene taken from life, as the Greeks were mounting bold expeditions round the Mediterranean in search of fertile shores where they could settle and found new cities. The composition and treatment of the ship's rigging have been found on other fibulae attributed to the "Boatmaster".

A work lying between the Geometric style and new orientalizing influences

Made c. 700 BC, this fibula stands at the cusp of two periods and two stylistic trends. The craftsman who created it drew freely from the decorative repertoire of Geometric pottery, and the typical image of the horse with its characteristically shaped head, the warship and the zigzag filling motifs are borrowed from the Attic Dipylon vases of the eighth century BC. But the decoration also reflects the growing influence of orientalizing motifs, carried throughout the Mediterranean basin by commercial exchanges from the early seventh century BC. The fibula thus combines the decorative vocabulary of the Geometric style with themes from the Near East, such as real and imaginary animals and friezes depicting animals running and grazing.


B. Schweitzer, Die Geometrische Kunst Griechenlands, 1969, pp. 219-25.
C. Blinkenberg, Fibules grecques et orientales, 1926, pp. 147-82.
M. Collignon, "Note sur des fibules béotiennes à décor gravé", Mémoires de la Société Nationale des Antiquaires de France 55, 1896, pp. 159-79.

Technical description

  • 'The Boatmaster'

    Fibule à plaque, arc à quatre coquilles

    Vers 700 avant J.-C.

    Provenance : environs de Thèbes (Béotie)

    Production béotienne

  • Bronze

    H. : 12 cm. ; l. : 27,50 cm.

  • Legs Maignan, 1909 , 1909

    Br 1880

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Bronzes room
    Room 663
    Vitrine M2 : Grèce, époque orientalisante (fin du VIIIe - VIIe siècle avant J.-C.)

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