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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Author: fairydew1

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