LATE ANGLO-SAXON JEWELLERY (SEVENTH TO NINTH CENTURY): 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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Author: fairydew1

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