Treasured: Maria Speake on her favourite object

The Retrouvius co-founder shares the story of the mysterious bronze bird that brought two worlds together

elle decoration   maria speake, retrouvius   treasured featured
Mark Cocksedge

My husband Adam’s great-aunt Yvonne was an extraordinary woman. She was an art historian – a specialist in Renaissance jewellery – at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and had helped pack up the British Museum during the Blitz. She lived to 100, and was still wearing her collection of Pucci dresses well into her 80s.

She had a marvellous apartment that looked out over Hyde Park and was filled with an eclectic mix of furniture, paintings, drawings and silverware. I was immediately drawn to this little bronze bird, which was sat on a velvet mount that she’d made. She told me that two dear historian friends of hers had found it lying in a ploughed field near Oxford – as it turned out, in the very same village that I grew up in.

Suddenly, there was this connection back to my world. My father is an archaeologist, so this bird was an interweaving of different generations and interests. He thinks it’s likely to be a medieval piece, though she’d thought it was Roman. It’s hollow underneath, so it could have sat on the top of a staff, and it probably had a ceremonial function. Yvonne stuck a little label on the back with mine and Adam’s names on it there and then.

Us positive types are always saying, ‘Look up!’ but perhaps this is a reminder to look down too. My life is about treasuring things that are unwanted or lost. Pheasant, falcon... I don’t really mind what it is, I’m just thrilled that it’s got a continuity. Maybe I’ll go back to the village and bury it in the ground when I’m about to pop my clogs.

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