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LOT 1151

Sold for (Inc. bp): £9,920

1" (5.03 grams, 27mm).

A flat-section silver plaque depicting a standing female in profile in pleated skirt and ornate headdress holding a drinking horn in her extended hands, pierced lug to the reverse; remains of gold on the surface.

From an old Munich collection; acquired on the German art market before 2000. Supplied with a positive X-Ray Fluorescence metal analysis certificate.

Accompanied by an Art Loss Register certificate.

Cf. Graham-Campbell, J. Viking Art, London, 2013, item 34; Swedish History Museum, item 108864.

Representations of female figures holding drinking horns have often been referred to as Valkyries. Although it is impossible to verify this identification securely, it is highly tempting to make the connection between Valkyries and serving of a magical drink in myths. Drinking horns, popular in modern pictures of Vikings, were probably used only during special occasions, such as greeting important guests, celebrations or seasonal holidays. They were closely connected to the aristocracy, not only by virtue of their material value, but also as a result of their social and ritual roles. As M.J. Enright points out, it is probable that Germanic tribes adapted the concept of the military group, which played an important role in strengthening the bond between a king/chief and warriors, from Celts in the age of Roman expansion. In a Germanic environment, this concept was slightly modified, and the serving of a drink by a noble/spiritual woman under the supervision of king/chief was viewed as a cultic act to strengthen the bond in that specific group, with the god Wodan (Odin) as a patron (see Lady with a Mead Cup: Ritual, Prophecy and Lordship in the European Warband from La Tène to the Viking Age). In later sources, especially Eddas, we can find several examples of goddesses serving or preparing a drink. Hel is waiting for Balder with mead in her realm of death, the giantess Gunnlod is the guardian of the magic mead (later stolen by Odin) or Freyr's bride-to-be Gerd serving a drink to Skirni as an act of welcome and also reconciliation. The connection between a giantess and a magic drink is strong, as the goddess Freya asks another giantess, Hyndla, to serve a magic beer to her protégée Ottar. We can also find a reference to a minor goddess Beyla, servant of god Freyr, whose name can be a reference to a 'bee' thus connecting her to preparation of an 'ordinary mead'. In Asgard (the realm of the gods) goddesses Sif and Freya served the drink as an act of peace and conciliation, but it had no magical attributes. Women with drinking horns are also depicted on the famous Gotland picture stones either greeting a rider on a horse, approaching a bounded figure in a snake (?) pit (possibly Gunnarr or Ragnar Lodbrok) or serving a drink to a hero (possibly Sigurd). The connection with rider scenes is one of the main reasons for identifying them as Valkyries, the servants of Odin choosing the one who will die on a battlefield and go to Valhalla. It is possible that we observe the same ritual 'bonding' between fallen warrior and his king, Odin. An alternative identification for these female figures might be lesser deities. As R.Simek pointed out, the majority of small female figures have no drinking horn, but are richly adorned, and most likely represent minor fertility goddesses. These goddesses are named in the Eddas as servants of Frigg and Freya, but originate in the much older tradition of the so-called matrones, known from the late Roman period. Whether fertility goddess or Valkyrie, the image of a noble 'lady with a drinking horn' had a special meaning developed through centuries, making it one of the most distinctive and mysterious features of Viking culture.