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Works Thomas Girtin

A Bronze Age Palstave and a Roman Bow Brooch

1795 - 1796

Primary Image: TG0246: Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), A Bronze Age Palstave and a Roman Bow Brooch, 1795–96, watercolour on wove paper, 19.8 × 24.7 cm, 7 ¾ × 9 ¾ in. Society of Antiquaries of London (Primeval Antiquities 6.4).

Photo courtesy of Society of Antiquaries of London (All Rights Reserved)

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)
  • A Bronze Age Palstave and a Roman Bow Brooch
1795 - 1796
Medium and Support
Watercolour on wove paper
19.8 × 24.7 cm, 7 ¾ × 9 ¾ in

‘Thos Girtin Del’ lower right, by Thomas Girtin; ‘Celt found May 1792 on Stanley Moor Derbyshire and Fibula near Little Chester / found in digging the Canal between Little Eaton and Derby exhibited Jany 28. 1796 / by the Revd M Homfray, the possessor’ on the bottom of the sheet, by (?) John Homfray

Object Type
Commissioned from Thomas Girtin; Studio Watercolour
Subject Terms
Miscellaneous Studies

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
Collection Website


Revd John Homfray (1768–1842); presented to the Society 28 January 1796


Lewis, 2007, pp.368–69; Smiles, 2007a, pp.127–28; Smiles, 2007b, p.124; Nurse, 2022, p.59

About this Work

Girtin produced this watercolour for the Revd John Homfray (1768–1842), who was elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in December 1794. Homfray commissioned Girtin to produce images of two antiquities that he owned, and the resulting watercolour was presented at a meeting of the Society on 28 January 1796. It shows three views of a Roman bow brooch, termed a ‘Celt’ in the inscription added later to the drawing, where it was also noted that the object had been found in ‘May 1792 on Stanley Moor Derbyshire’. Beneath is shown a ‘Fibula’, now identified as an early Bronze Age axe head or palstave, which was discovered ‘near Little Chester found in digging the canal between little Eaton and Derby’. Girtin worked extensively for James Moore (1762–99), another member of the Society of Antiquaries, and it may have been through him that Girtin received the only commission of his career to depict antiquities rather than the buildings associated with them. In contrast to the standard plain descriptive drawings presented to the Society’s meetings or reproduced in its publications, Girtin’s watercolour both carefully records the details of the object and adds attractive pictorial qualities in colour. The brooch, shown from three different angles, opened and closed, has carefully detailed shadows that enhance its three-dimensionality and illustrate its function. The artist thus carefully records the variations in the colouring of the metal, and this is even more pronounced in the bronze axe head, where the green patina is rendered in great detail. It is hard to believe that such subtle modulations of colour could have been copied from another drawing and Girtin’s watercolour was presumably made directly from the objects themselves. The artist further enhanced the aesthetic quality of what by tradition was a strictly utilitarian practice by adding a simple double line border and what is perhaps the most ornate signature he ever employed, complete with the Latin suffix ‘Del’, short for ‘delinit’ or ‘he created’.

by Greg Smith

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