This magnificent ornament, consisting of a woven gold strap with gold and garnet cloisonné dragon terminals, was acquired in Kyrgyzstan by Sansyzbay Umutkor in the closing decade of the nineteenth century.


     Photo: Sotheby's

 LONDON- Sotheby’s will sell a previously unrecorded fifth century gold royal collar set with garnets and glass from the time of Attila the Hun.

This magnificent ornament, consisting of a woven gold strap with gold and garnet cloisonné dragon terminals, was acquired in Kyrgyzstan by Sansyzbay Umutkor in the closing decade of the nineteenth century.

The ‘Umutkor’ collar would have been worn by people of the highest social status, and the craftsmanship of its design befits the quality of the materials used.

Having remained in the same family collection, it comes to auction with an estimate of £200,000-300,000 and will form the centrepiece of Sotheby’s Old Master Sculpture & Works of Art sale in London on 3 December 2014.

Erik Bijzet, Sotheby's European Sculpture & Works of Art Specialist, commented: “I was intrigued when I first saw the collar as its opulence and forceful decoration immediately evoked the great power of the ancient ruler who wore it.

Even fragments of Eastern Hunnic jewellery are exceedingly rare, so finding a complete collar which originated in the region where the Huns first emerged is nothing short of spectacular.

It is a privilege to handle a seminal work of art made by one of the formative peoples in world history, a people that ruled from the Atlantic coasts in Europe to the plains of China.”

The Umutkor terminals were most likely found in the region of the modern Kyrgyz Republic where their nineteenth century owners lived. These ornaments are relatable to a tradition of high-status dragon and beast terminals made from the late fourth century onwards.

Such pieces were introduced to the west by the Huns, a group of horse-riding nomads from the east who moved into the region northeast of the Black Sea in the late fourth century.

Torcs, necklaces and armrings with beast-head terminals have been found from Central Asia to the Caucasus, Black Sea and Carpathians.

Attila and his Huns are seen in the West as barbarians. In the late fourth and fifth centuries they viciously subjected all of the European tribes and forced Rome and Constantinople to pay vast sums of gold just to keep the Hunnic horde out of their cities.

Such an image has endured to this day but when faced with the finesse of a major piece of Hunnic craftsmanship, a sense of their sophistication is immediately apparent. The workmanship of the cloisonné dragon terminals is typical of many Hunnic-period ornaments where craftsmen had access to garnet stones of excellent quality.

Whilst their goldworking techniques were superbly controlled, the workshops relied upon traded stones pre-cut to certain shapes, such as the rectangles on the Umuktor terminals.

The length of the Umutkor collar would have encircled the neck, to rest on the upper chest region of either a man or a woman. The back ends of the terminals are open sockets fashioned to receive the strap ends; each dragon has a ribbed loop in its mouth to tie the two ends together, and the fastening ties were probably weighted with the two beads that accompany the collar, to hang down the wearer's back.

During the Hunnic period the economic and cultural exchange between east and west conspired to produce exceptional objects, and the re-emergence of this royal collar is of value not only to scholars but also to collectors of exquisite and rare jewels.

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