LATE ANGLO-SAXON JEWELLERY (SEVENTH TO NINTH CENTURY) Part 2: Remarkable Christian Jewels

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Another remarkable jewel, preserved in the British Museum, is termed the Dowgate brooch, or the Roach Smith nouche (or brooch), in memory of the learned and energetic antiquary whose property it once was. Others consider that the jewel was the head of a book-marker or pointer. Many are of the opinion that the enamel is English, and not, as some hold, of Byzantine origin.

The brooch was found near Dowgate Hill in Thames Street, London, in 1839. It is composed of a circular enamel representing a full-faced head and bust, enclosed in a border of rich gold filigree covered with beaded ornament and set at equal distances with four pearls.

The fine cloisons of the enamel work are arranged so as to mark the outlines of the face, a crown upon the head, and the folds of the drapery of a mantle or tunic. The dress is classical in appearance, and seems to be fastened on the right shoulder. Two other enameled brooches of the same kind of workmanship, also in the British Museum, are the Townley brooch, also known as the Hamilton brooch, which is said to have been found in Scotland, and the Castellani brooch, formerly in the collection of Signor Castellani, and stated to have been found at Canosa, Italy.

The latter brooch is set with a circular enamel representing the bust of a royal personage wearing large earrings, and upon the front of the dress a circular brooch with three pendants hanging below it. At the lower part of the gold and enamel frame of the Castellani brooch itself are three loops, which must have held pendants exactly similar to those attached to the brooch worn by the enameled figure.

Pendants of this kind are represented, as has been seen, on the Ravenna mosaics, and appear to be characteristic of Byzantine brooches. And it is probable that this, as well as the Townley brooch, as explained in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries is of Continental origin.

Though similar in some respects to the other enameled jewels, these two brooches differ considerably from them. “These differences,” says a recent writer, ” seem to accentuate the difficulty of tracing the origin of this enameled work.

It may well be that some of was executed in this country by the craftsmen in the employ of King Alfred but it may fairly be assumed that on the journeys to Rome and elsewhere, undertaken by Ethelwulf, Alfred, and Ethelswitha, they and their suites would acquire jewelry of this class, which must have been comparatively common in Rome, and in other important centers at that time.

The rings dating from the time of pagan Saxon-dom are few and unimportant, those, on the other hand, that belong to this later period, though rare, are more numerous, and are of considerable historical and artistic interest.

It is somewhat curious that the finest date almost exclusively from the ninth century, and that most of them are inscribed. It is to this fact, doubtless, that they owe their preservation. No Anglo-Saxon rings, as far as we are aware, are ornamented with enamel. Many are enriched with inlays of niello.

Gold rings thus inlaid sometimes have the appearance of having been enameled, for the niello seems to have a bluish tinge, but this may be due, as Mr. Davenport suggests to some optical effect caused by the yellow gold. The most important inscribed Saxon rings, three in number, are historical relics of the highest order. They belonged respectively to Ethelwulf, King of Wessex, father of Alfred the Great; and Ethelswith, Queen of Mercia, and sister to King Alfred.

The ring of Alhstan, at once the earliest episcopal finger ring and the first in chronological order of these inscribed gold rings, was found in 1753 at Llys-faen, in the county of Carnarvonshire. It was one of the chief treasures of the famous collection of finger rings formed by the late Edmund Waterton, and is now ‘ Catalogue of the Alfred the Great millenary exhibition in the British Museum, in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The initials of its owner are inscribed in niello upon four circular compartments, separated by four lozenge-shaped compartments also inlaid with niello. The most famous of all English rings—says M. Fontenay, “par son originality et son caractere”—is that of Ethelwulf, King of Wessex. It is in the form of a bishop’s mitre with only one peak, and bears the inscription above which are two peacocks pecking at a tree.

The legend and subject are reserved in gold upon a nielloed ground. The ring was picked up in its present bent condition in 1780 by a laborer in a field at Laverstoke, near Salisbury, where it had been pressed out of a cart-rut. It is now in the British Museum.

The third of this remarkable series of inscribed rings is that of Ethelswith, Queen of Mercia, daughter of Ethelwulf. It has a circular bezel, in the middle of which is a rude representation of an Agmis Dei engraved in relief with a background of niello. The inner side of the bezel is incised with the inscription ►t” EATHELSviTH REGNA. This beautiful ring was found near Aberford, in Yorkshire, about the year 1870, and came into the possession of Sir A. W. Franks, who bequeathed it to the British Museum.

Several other Saxon rings are preserved in the British Museum. Among them is one with a plain hoop and beaded edges, bearing around it in gold letters on a nielloed ground an inscription recording the name of the owner, Ethred, and the maker, Eanred. It was found in Lancashire, and bequeathed to the museum by Sir Hans Sloane in 1753.

Another ring (found near Peterborough in the River Nene) is peculiar for having two bezels opposite each other. Both sides of the hoop and each bezel are engraved with interlaced designs inlaid with niello. The bezels are each flanked by three small beads of gold—a characteristic ornamentation of a certain class of Teutonic and Merovingian rings, termed by the French bagiies a trois grains.

In the Victoria and Albert Museum is a silver ring of unusual form. It has an oval bezel, engraved with convoluted ornament in five divisions, the center being filled with a serpent-headed monster. It was found in the Thames at Chelsea in 1856.

A type of ring which occurs more than once is formed of a hoop, which widens gradually into a large oval bezel ornamented with bands of rich plaited gold work. One of these rings, found at Bossington, near Stockbridge, is in the Ashmolean Museum. It has in the center a male portrait surrounded by the inscription, nomen ehlla fid in xpo (My name is Ella ; my faith is in Christ).

More remarkable, perhaps, than any of the above, on account of the peculiar beauty of its workmanship, is a gold ring in the possession of Lord Fitzhardinge, and preserved, together with the Hunsdon jewels, at Berkeley Castle. It has a large bezel of quatre-foil form. In the center is a raised circular boss ornamented with a cross or wheel-shaped design in beaded gold. Radiating from this center are four heads of monsters, inlaid with thin lines of niello, and having projecting eyes formed of dots of dark blue and dark brown glass or enamel. The hoop of the ring, of considerable girth, is hexagonal in section. At the junction of its ends at the back of the bezel, immediately behind the monsters’ ears, it is finished with a graduated wire of filigree, terminating with three small balls.

The ring dates from about the tenth century. Nothing is known concerning its discovery. It is probably Saxon, but may be of Irish origin. Beyond these finger rings and the enameled jewelry, we possess few other examples of later Saxon ornaments; yet there exist a small number, which, though executed somewhat after the manner of the older jewels, probably belong to this later period of Saxon art.

Among such ornaments is a necklace from Desborough, Northants, and now in the British Museum. It is formed of beads of spirally coiled gold wire. Circular pendants, having one side convex and the other flat, alternate with gold pendants of various shapes and sizes, set with garnets.

From the center of the necklace hangs a cross. One other ornament in the British Museum, particularly worthy of attention, is a beautiful set of three ornamental pins of silver gilt, which were found in the River Witham, near Lincoln.

The three pins have heads in the shape of circular discs, and are connected together by two oblong pieces of metal with a ring at each end. The pins average four inches in length. The interlaced ornament on their circular heads is arranged in four panels separated by radial divisions.

The penannular brooch, known as the Celtic brooch, so common in other parts of the British Isles about this period, has rarely been found in England. A few examples occur in close proximity to undoubted Anglo-Saxon remains, but they are confined mostly to the north of England. Its extreme rarity leads one naturally to the conclusion that it found but little favor in England.

In Scotland and Ireland, however, where it was almost universally worn, this type of brooch attained the highest degree of excellence both in design and workmanship.

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LATE ANGLO-SAXON JEWELLERY (SEVENTH TO NINTH CENTURY) Part 1: Christian Jewels

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After the landing of St. Augustine in 597 and the baptism of Ethelbert, King of Kent, the conversion of the upper classes in England appears to have been rapid, and by the third decade of the seventh century the greater part of the country had accepted Christianity.

Old customs, however, with regard to burial and the adornment of the corpse, were slow in disappearing, and even as late as the time of Charlemagne (742-814) we hear of orders being issued that the Saxons were no longer to follow the pagan mode of burial, but to inter their dead in consecrated ground.

The general abandonment of the custom of burying ornaments with the dead is responsible for the small number of the later Anglo-Saxon jewels now extant. But the few examples surviving from the period which terminated at the Norman Conquest are of exceptional merit.

There can be no doubt that the introduction of Christianity produced a profound change in the character of personal ornaments. New forms and methods, due to closer association with the Continent, were introduced into the goldsmith’s productions by the Church, which at the same time fostered the splendid traditions of the older English jewelers.

The characteristic of the finest pieces of Saxon jewelry of the Christian period is their ornamentation by means of cloisonne enamel. It has already been noticed that Anglo-Saxon jewels were decorated with gold wires, some twisted or beaded, or rolled up and plaited together, and soldered on to a thin gold plate ; while others were flattened into strips forming compartments, which were filled with pieces of garnet or colored glass cut to shape.

When the spaces between strips, so disposed as to make up the outlines of figures or ornament, were filled with enamel paste and fired, the result was enamel of the cloisonne type. This cloisonne enamel naturally resulted as soon as the Saxon jeweler had mastered the art of fusing vitreous colors upon metal.

From whom did he learn this art ? Was enameling introduced by the followers of Augustine from Rome or Byzantium, or did the Irish missionaries bring afresh into England an art of which the Celts were past masters?

The question is one that cannot be answered ; but it is not without interest to note the great influence of the Irish craftsmen on the art productions of the time. A remarkable development of goldsmith’s work in Ireland succeeded the introduction of Christianity.

Enamel was largely employed in the decoration of early objects of ecclesiastical metalwork, and attained perfection in the translucent cloisonne: enamel of the Tara brooch and the Ardagh chalice.

The far-reaching influence and extraordinary activity of the Irish missionaries, many of them no doubt skilled goldsmiths, are well known. ” Irish missionaries labored among the Picts of the Highlands and among the Frisians of the northern seas.

An Irish missionary, Columban, founded monasteries in Burgundy and the Apennines. The canton of St. Gall still commemorates in its name another Irish missionary.'” The processes of their artistic metalwork must have made themselves felt wherever these Irish missionaries penetrated.

The wandering scholars and artists of Ireland left both their books and their art-apprentices in England, as they had left them along the Rhine and the Danube. At Glastonbury, St. Dunstan, the patron saint of English smiths, lingered as a youth among the books with which the Irish missionaries had endowed the monastery, and associated doubtless with the monastic craftsmen who had learned the arts of their Celtic predecessors.

Every priest was trained in some handicraft, and many monks became excellent goldsmiths. St. Dunstan (924-988), like St. Eloi of France (588-659), at once a goldsmith and a royal minister, himself worked in the precious metals and he appears to have been a jeweler as well, for we find in old inventories, entries of finger rings described as the productions of the great prelate.

In the Wardrobe Account of Edward I, in 1299 is ” Unus anulus auri cum saphiro qui fuit de fabrica Sancti Dunstani ut credebatur”; and in the inventory of that mediaeval fop, Piers Gaveston, 1313 is: ” Un anel d’or, a un saphir, lequel seint Dunstan forga de ses mayns.”

The artistic traditions of the old Saxon jewelers became almost the sole property of the clergy; and the Venerable Bede, writing at the commencement of the eighth century, alluding to the monastic jewelers of his day, describes how “a skilled gold-worker, wishing to do some admirable work, collects, wherever he can, remarkable and precious stones to be placed among the gold and silver, as well to show his skill as for the beauty of the work.”

The description of these stones as “chiefly of a ruddy or aerial color” would seem to indicate that garnets and turquoises had not even then been entirely supplanted by enamels. Certain it is that the earlier Christian jewels retained for a time the technique of those of pagan Saxondom.

For example, the gold cross of St. Cuthbert, discovered in his tomb in Durham Cathedral in 1827 and now preserved in the Cathedral Library, is inlaid with garnets in the cloisonne manner. The internecine wars of the Saxons and the early-ravages of the Norsemen, from which England was delivered by Alfred during the ninth century have left the country little repose for the cultivation of the jeweler’s art.

Yet, in spite of the unhappy condition of England, the art, judging from inscribed jewels noticed hereafter, was still practiced, and needed only some presiding genius to awaken it to new life. There is little reason to doubt that jewelry was among the foremost of the arts which Alfred is known to have encouraged; indeed, his interest in such work is asserted by a well-sustained tradition.

And if the world-famed jewel to be described is, as seems probable, to be associated with Alfred of Wessex, he must then have personally supervised the production of other contemporary jewels. The Alfred jewel, the finest example left of Anglo-Saxon craftsmanship, and the most famous of all English jewels, is preserved in the Ash-molean Museum at Oxford.

It was found in 1693 at Newton (or Petherton) Park, three miles from the Isle of Athelney, Somerset, whither Alfred had fled from the Danes in the year 878, and was presented to the museum in 1718 by Thomas Palmer, grandson of Colonel Nathaniel Palmer, near whose estate it was found. The jewel is 2 inches long, i- wide, and half an inch in thickness.

It somewhat resembles a battledore in shape; it is flat front and back, while the other parts of its surface are rounded. The obverse is of rock crystal, beneath which is a plaque of semi-transparent cloisonne enamel of blue, white, green, and brown, representing the figure of a man. Upon the reverse, is an engraved gold plate. The smaller end of the THE ALFRED JEWEL oval is prolonged into the form of a boar’s head, from the snout of which projects a hollow socket. Around the sloping sides of the jewel, from left to right, runs the legend aelfred mec heht gewyrcan {Alfred ordered me to be made), in gold letters, exquisitely chiseled in openwork upon the band which encircles the enamel and its crystal covering.

The whole of the gold work is beautifully executed in filigree and granulation. There is considerable doubt as to the actual use of this precious jewel. Professor Earle has placed it among the category of personal ornaments, and holds that it was executed under the personal supervision of Alfred the Great, and formed the central ornament of his helmet or crown. The enameled figure is probably intended for that of Christ, represented, as is frequently done in early ecclesiastical art, holding two scepters.

The gold setting of the jewel, it is generally agreed, was made in England, and in the opinion of many the enamel is of native origin.- Somewhat similar in shape to the Alfred jewel, and probably employed for the same purpose, is a jewel known as the Minster Lovel jewel, which was found half a century ago in a village of that name near Oxford, and is now preserved in the Ashmolean Museum. It is circular above, with a projecting socket below. The upper part is ornamented with a cross-shaped design in cloisonne enamel.

Continued in Part 2

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