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Fork with Spirally Fluted Handle

6th century - 7th century
0.95 cm x 3.02 cm x 24.13 cm (3/8 in. x 1 3/16 in. x 9 1/2 in.)

On view


Additional Images
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Additional Image Detail, handle
Detail, handle
Additional Image Detail, horse head finials on handles
Detail, horse head finials on handles
Additional Image Pictured with BZ.1940.54 (spoon)
Pictured with BZ.1940.54 (spoon)
Additional Image Profile
Additional Image verso

These two implements (BZ.1940.53 and BZ.1940.54), of almost identical length, share key design elements, namely the spirally fluted handles and the finials in the shape of horses’ heads. It is quite likely, then, that they were created as a set, or as part of a set. Their survival together is a happy coincidence. The survival of any fork from antiquity, moreover, amounts to an archaeological phenomenon, because forks from the premodern Mediterranean are so rare that there has been debate about when and where the device itself might have been invented. Their use is almost never attested in texts or images, and known only through a small number of surviving examples. Those that have survived are relatively large, and often bronze, so they may have been used for cooking or serving, rather than eating. The Dumbarton Oaks pieces, because they are longer than average and elaborately decorated, were probably used for serving.

These pieces are said to have been found at the site of ancient Nineveh in Iraq in 1938. Earlier excavations at the Sasanian fortress at Qasr-i Abu Nasr, the precursor to the Persian city of Shiraz in Iran, lent credence to a find spot in Mesopotamia, since they uncovered a bronze fork of almost identical design. Certain aspects of the spoon, such as the pear-shaped bowl and the solid disc attaching it to the handle, recall Roman spoons of earlier or similar dates, suggesting an exchange of table fashions at the eastern end of the empire.

- J. Hanson

H. Swarzenski, "The Dumbarton Oaks Collection," The Art Bulletin 23 (1941): 77-79, esp. 79.

The Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection of Harvard University, Handbook of the Collection (Washington, D.C., 1946), 51, no. 92.

The Dumbarton Oaks Collection, Harvard University (Washington, D.C., 1955), 53, no. 124.

M. C. Ross, Metalwork, Ceramics, Glass, Glyptics, Painting, Catalogue of the Byzantine and Early Mediaeval Antiquities in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection 1 (Washington, D.C., 1962), 2-3, no. 3, pl. 16.

Handbook of the Byzantine Collection (Washington, D.C., 1967), 14, no. 50.

B. A. Henisch, Fast and Feast: Food in Medieval Society (University Park, 1976), 185.

A. Kirin, J. N. Carder, and R. S. Nelson, Sacred Art, Secular Context : Objects of Art from the Byzantine Collection of Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C., Accompanied by American Paintings from the Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, ed. A. Kirin, exhibition catalogue, Georgia Museum of Art, (Athens, Ga., 2005), 90-91, no. 34.

D. Sherlock, "Roman Forks," The Archaeological Journal, Vol. 164, 2007, p. 256, illus. 3.

G. Bühl, ed., Dumbarton Oaks: The Collections (Washington, D.C., 2008), 114, pl. p. 115.

Ancient Tines. National Geographic, August 2014, 24.

Exhibition History
Cambridge, Fogg Art Museum, "A Selection of Ivories, Bronzes, Metalwork and Other Objects from the Dumbarton Oaks Collection," Nov. 15 - Dec. 31, 1945.

Athens, GA, Georgia Museum of Art, “Sacred Art, Secular Context: Objects of Art from the Byzantine Collection of Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C., Accompanied by American Paintings from the Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss,” May 15 – Nov. 6, 2005.

Acquisition History
Purchased from E. S. David by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, October 1940;

Collection of Mildred Barnes and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, D.C., October-November, 1940;

Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Byzantine Collection, Washington, D.C.

Spirals|Spirally Fluted