ANGLO-SAXON JEWELLERY (FIFTH TO SEVENTH CENTURY)—MEROVINGIAN JEWELLERY Part 4: Buckles

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ANGLO-SAXON BUCKLES are either roughly engraved in the manner of Childeric’s signet, or else ornamented with cloisonne inlay. Other rings have a high projecting bezel. Buckles of gold, silver, and bronze, used to fasten the belt or girdle, or employed on some other part of the dress, are particularly abundant in Kentish graves. They vary considerably, many being of particularly good design, set with garnets and ornamented with gold filigree. The largest examples can be assigned to the girdles of men, the smallest and richest to those of women. Some of the best are in the Gibbs Bequest.

One of the finest examples of Anglo-Saxon jewelry is the magnificent gold buckle discovered in a grave near Taplow, Bucks, and now in the British Museum. The base of the tongue and the oval ring-are inlaid with glass pastes upon gold foil; while the buckle plate, enriched with three garnets, is bordered with many graduated rows of finely twisted gold wire, and has its center filled with a sort of vermiculated pattern upon repouss ground.

Women’s graves have generally yielded a number of objects of personal use as well as of adornment. Articles of toilet, such as tweezers, etc., are found by the side of the skeleton, and resemble the modern chatelaine.

There exist, in addition, curious bronze pendants sometimes shaped like a pot-hook, which, found in pairs near the waists of female skeletons, are known generally as girdle-hangers. Their exact purpose was for a long time a mystery, but archaeologists are now mostly of the opinion that they were fastenings for bags or purses suspended from the girdle.

With the exception of the brooch-pin, which is always made of iron, Anglo-Saxon jewelry is almost invariably composed of gold, silver, or of some alloy, and is very rarely of iron, like the buckles found in the Prankish cemeteries. These iron buckles, owing to the perishable nature of their material, are often much disfigured by rust, but many are sufficiently well preserved to exhibit a beautiful and elaborate inlay of silver, sometimes accompanied by gold.

Many examples of them are preserved in the museums of France and Germany. Some are of extraordinary size. The buckle and plate alone of one in the museum at Berne measures no less than 8f by 4I inches and half an inch in thickness. Buckles of this kind have never been found in England.

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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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ANGLO-SAXON JEWELLERY (FIFTH TO SEVENTH CENTURY)—MEROVINGIAN JEWELLERY Part 2: Earrings and Necklaces

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A certain number of earrings have been found, but they are not common. They are generally a ring of silver wire, plain, or twisted into a spiral form, and hung sometimes with beads of colored glass or clay.

The earrings worn by the Franks during the contemporary Merovingian period are of a type unrepresented in Anglo-Saxon jewelry. They differ in size, but are nearly all of the same pattern, and have a plain hoop. One end is pointed to pierce the ear, and on the other end is a polygonal metal cube, each side of which is set with a slice of garnet or red glass.

Anglo-Saxon necklaces are composed of beads of many varieties. The most common, of glass and numerous colors and shapes, are very similar to the Roman beads. Beads of amethystine quartz, probably of Transylvanian or German origin, and particularly beads of amber from the Baltic, are found strung on necklaces, or were hung singly from the neck. When one remembers the superstitious respect which was universally paid to precious stones, and especially to amber, in early times, it is probable that these were regarded as amulets.

The more sumptuous necklaces, which must have been worn by ladies of rank, are composed of gold beads or of precious stones in delicate settings of twisted or beaded gold. The pendent ornaments hung to the necklaces are very beautiful. Some are formed of large, finely colored garnets cut into triangle or pear shapes and mounted in gold. Others, generally circular, are of pure gold worked in interlaced or vermiculated patterns and set with precious stones.

A striking group of pendants is formed of coins of foreign origin. These are industrial arts of the Anglo-Saxons Roman or Byzantine, or rude copies of them made in England by Anglo-Saxon goldsmiths.

In the British Museum is an elaborate necklace of glass and terracotta beads with pendent gold coins of the seventh century, which was found, together with a splendid brooch, at Sarre, in Kent. Three of the pendants are coins of Emperors of the East — Mauricius and Heraclius—and the fourth is a coin of Chlotaire II of France.

The central pendant, also circular, is ornamented with a section from a rod of Roman millefiori glass set in gold. Besides coins—the frequent use of which in late Roman jewelry has already been noticed—there exists a well-known class of personal ornaments known as nummi bracteati, bracteate coins, and sometimes as “spangle money.” They are thin discs of metal stamped in a die, so that the design appears in relief on the face and incuse on the back. They are generally of gold, have a beaded edging, and are supplied with loops, also of gold, for suspension.

Continued in part 3

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ANGLO-SAXON JEWELLERY (FIFTH TO SEVENTH CENTURY)—MEROVINGIAN JEWELLERY Part 1

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The invasion of Britain by the Teutonic I races in the fifth century personal ornaments lost their Roman character, and assumed a peculiar type which betrays the impress of a fresh nationality on design and workmanship. A near alliance by origin and geographical position existed between the Jutes, Angles, and other kindred tribes commonly known as the Saxons, who settled in Britain, and the Franks, who stationed themselves in Gaul.

The ornaments of all these tribes bear on this account a close similarity. Hence Anglo-Saxon jewels may for the most part be taken as representative of all the rest; and the only contemporary Merovingian ornaments to be noticed will be those that differ from the Anglo-Saxon types.

In England as well as in France this remarkable group of jewelry belongs to the period which immediately followed the extinction of the Roman power in both countries, and extends from the fifth to the middle of the seventh century.

Personal ornaments in England were the last in Europe to receive a characteristic species of surface decoration. For Kent and the Isle of Wight form the extreme limit of the geographical area in which jewelry ornamented with cloisonne inlay has been found. The process attained here the highest point of excellence.

Anglo-Saxon jewelry occupies an exceedingly important position in the history of the goldsmith’s art. Its beauty lies in its delicate gold work and peculiarly harmonious blending of colors. So remarkable is the fertility of fancy with which each jewel is adorned, that scarcely any two are exactly identical in ornamentation.

However complicated the system of knot work, and however frequently the same form might require filling in, each workman appears to have been eager to express his own individuality, and to originate some fresh method of treatment or new variety of design.

In common with other Teutonic nations, the Anglo-Saxons were peculiarly fond of personal ornaments. They held in high esteem both the smith—the producer of weapons—and the goldsmith who manufactured the rings and bracelets employed as rewards of valor.

A passage in the ” Exeter Book,” which dilates on the various stations in life and the capacities required for them, refers thus to the goldsmith: ” For one a wondrous skill in goldsmith’s art is provided: full of he decorates and well adorns a powerful king’s nobles, and he to him gives broad land in recompense.”

The graves or barrows of our Anglo-Saxon ancestors have proved singularly prolific in personal ornaments. Extensive cemeteries have been discovered in the midland, eastern and southern counties, and particularly upon the towns of Kent, Sussex, and the Isle of Wight.

The barrows of Kent have revealed personal ornaments of greater wealth and refinement than those of any other parts. The majority of Anglo-Saxon pins were no doubt employed for fastening up the hair. They often have as a head the figure of a bird or grotesque animal, ornamented with garnets, like similar pins from the Continent.

One of the best, which comes from the Faver-sham graves in Kent, is in the Gibbs Bequest, now in the British Museum. It is of silver, formerly gilt; its upper part is flat and in the form of a bird set with cut garnets. Gothic tribes had a great predilection for the bird as a decorative subject.

Continued in Part 2

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