The British Museum's collections, £16.99
Length: 24.000 cm (pin)
Diameter: 10.200 cm (hoop)
Weight: 201.500 g
Britain, Europe and Prehistory
The Londesborough Brooch
Ireland, 8th- 9th century AD
An outstanding Irish brooch
This silver and gold brooch belongs to a ‘Golden Age’ in Irish art, which saw the production of the finest jewellery worn by people of rank and wealth. Evidence from sculpture and literature suggests that brooches like this one were used to fasten cloaks, and worn by both men, at the shoulder, and also by women on the breast.
The Londesborough Brooch is unusual in that all its fine decoration is cast and no filigree was used. The three domed bosses look like miniature shrine fittings, which suggests that it may have been made for a senior churchman. Its original find spot is not known.
The brooch is a heavy silver ring cast with complex patterns of interlace, spirals, animal and bird motifs and then thickly gilded on the front. Seven circular amber settings on the hoop compliment the gold. The use of chip-carving, best seen on the panels of interlace, adds to the glittering surfaces. The pin was made from three pieces and the head is decorated in a style to match the hoop, with a large domed boss and amber at its centre. Two L-shaped fields at the top corners once held blue glass. The back of the brooch is also decorated with amber and has two inset gilded copper alloy discs with Celtic triskeles.
The rich mixture of motifs on the Londesborough Brooch is typical of the finest Irish work of the eighth century. It is known as the Insular style and combines Celtic, Germanic and classical elements.
This brooch was once in the collection of Alfred Denison, 1st Baron Londesborough. Lord Londesborough collected classical, medieval and Renaissance pieces in the 1850s and presented a notable collection of rings and brooches to his wife, including medieval Irish and Anglo-Saxon items.
I.M. Stead and S. Youngs, Celts, British Museum Pocket Treasury (London, The British Museum Press, 1996)
F. Henry, Irish art During the Early Chr (London, Methuen, 1965)
T. Richard Blurton, The enduring image: Treasures (London, The British Council, 1997)
S. Marzinzik, Masterpieces: Early medieval a (London, British Museum Press, 2013)
S.M. Youngs (ed.), The work of angels: masterpiec (London, The British Museum Press, 1989)