ANGLO-SAXON JEWELLERY (FIFTH TO SEVENTH CENTURY)—MEROVINGIAN JEWELLERY Part 3: Brooches and Rings

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Fibulae or brooches are the most numerous of all Anglo-Saxon ornaments. They are remarkable both for their beauty and their excellence of workmanship. Probably more than one was usually worn ; and four or five have been found in the same grave on different parts of the body.

The different types of brooches from various districts of England are sufficiently clearly marked to permit their classification as the ornaments of distinct peoples. For the present purpose it is convenient to divide them into three main classes, each class consisting, naturally, of many varieties:

(1) Circular jeweled brooches found among the remains of the Kentish Saxons, and of the Jutes of the Isle of Wight.

(2) Brooches of the sunk or concave circular type worn by the Saxons of Berks, Oxford, and Gloucestershire.

(3) Cruciform brooches —a type of the elongated form of brooch. They are peculiar to the Angles who formed the population of Mercia, East Anglia, and Northumbria.

The circular jeweled brooches found in the cemeteries of Kent and sometimes in the Isle of Wight, but scarcely ever in other parts of England, may be subdivided again into three classes.

The first of these, and the most numerous, is composed of a single piece of metal decorated with chased work and set with jewels.

The second group comprises those formed of a disc of bronze or silver, decorated with a disc of gold foil covered with inlaid cells forming triangles and circles, with three bosses grouped round a central boss. This type is rarer than the first, and is often of great beauty.

The third group, the finest and rarest, is distinguished by being formed of two plates of metal joined by a band round the edges, the upper part being prepared in the cloisonne manner for the reception of stones or pastes, while the pin or acus is fixed to the lower. Brooches of this type, in which the stones, mostly garnets, are set upon hatched gold foil between delicate gold cloisons, represent at its utmost perfection the process of inlaying already described.

Three of the finest circular jeweled brooches are: the Kingston brooch in the Mayer Collection at Liverpool, the Abingdon brooch in the Ashmolean Museum, and the Sarre brooch in the British Museum.

The first, which is certainly the most beautiful, is 3 inches in diameter. The front is divided into compartments subdivided into cells of various forms, enriched with vermicular gold, with turquoises and with garnets laid upon gold foil. Concentric circles which surround a central boss are treated alternately in colored stones and worked gold. The Abingdon brooch is divided into four compartments, each decorated with interlaced gold wire, and mounted with a boss of ivory, horn, or shell, with a fifth boss in the center of the brooch. The rest of the ground is decorated with garnets upon hatched gold foil.

The Sarre brooch, 2 inches in width, is ornamented in a similar manner, and has a large central and four smaller bosses composed of a substance resembling ivory, set with carbuncles.

The next main class of brooches comprises the concave circular, known also as the cupelliform or saucer-shaped, found in the West Saxon cemeteries. They are of bronze or copper, thickly gilt, and very rarely decorated with jewels. They have a plain edge, and a center covered with interlaced and other ornamental patterns.

Cruciform brooches form the last and most widely distributed group. They have trefoil or cruciform tops; but must not be held to have any connection with Christianity because they approach the form of a cross, for they are found in purely pagan graves.

Some varieties are found in other parts of England besides Mercia, East Anglia, and Northumbria, but they are rare in Kent. These cruciform Anglian brooches are of cast bronze, generally gilt, but sometimes plated with silver. They are often of enormous size, and covered with rude and elaborate patterns such as are found upon early Scandinavian objects. Since the patterns were added after the brooches were cast, it happens that, though forms are frequently identical, decorations differ on nearly every specimen. With the rarest exception, they are never garnished with precious stones. This kind of brooch appears to have been evolved about the fourth century.

There are other brooches somewhat of the sarne form, but not usually found in England. Another very similar brooch from Abingdon is in the British Museum. Remains of pagan Saxondom, Archceologia the top is square-headed. Though not unknown in France and Germany, brooches of this design are chiefly-Scandinavian. An important series of both of the types last mentioned is preserved in the British Museum while the fine collection belonging to Sir John Evans contains many splendid specimens.

Another variety is known as the “radiated” brooch, from the fact that its upper part, which is rectangular or semicircular, is ornamented with obtuse rays. The finest example of this type, and the largest known (it measures 6 inches), is in the Bavarian National Museum at Munich. It dates from about the sixth century; and was found in a rock tomb near Wittis-lingen on the Danube in 1881.

It is silver, gilt upon the upper side, enriched with a cloisonne inlay of garnets in a variety of patterns, and further ornamented with interlaced gold filigree. A Latin inscription on the under side contains the name uffila. Radiated brooches, which Mr. Roach Smith considers to be prior in point of date to all other Anglo-Saxon types, extend over the greater part of Europe. But they are rare in England, though a few have been found in Kent and are preserved among the Gibbs Bequest.

There is yet another type of Anglo-Saxon brooch, annular in shape. It consists of a plain ring, with a pin traveling round it attached to a small cylinder. This annular brooch is comparatively rare in Saxon times. Its interest lies in the fact that it is the parent of a much more important brooch worn throughout the Middle Ages.

In common with all primitive peoples, the Saxons held rings in less esteem than other ornaments. The few that have been found are simple bronze hoops. Rings were more frequent, however, among the Merovingians.

The chief feature in Merovingian rings, which are often of gold, is that the bezel is for the most part large and circular. It is either roughly engraved in the manner of Childeric’s signet, or else is ornamented with cloisonne inlay. Other rings have a high projecting bezel.

Continued in Part 4

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Author: connielimon2014

Bead Jewelry Artisan, mother of one daughter and grandmother of two grandsons, daughter of Korean War Veteran.

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