Good impressions: image and authority in medieval seals
11 January – 20 May 2007
The medieval period saw an unprecedented use of seals to validate legal documents and to protect personal correspondence. This exhibition features royal, Episcopal, ecclesiastic and aristocratic seals alongside those of towns and tradesmen to take a comprehensive look at how medieval people saw themselves.
Many of the secular seals are rare survivals of non-religious art showing the medieval fondness for nature and animals. High status seals include those of Robert Fitzwalter, principal among the barons who compelled King John to agree to Magna Carta and Isabella of Hainault, queen of Philip II of France. From the 1140s to the early 1300s, the aristocracy used small counterseals set with classical gems to demonstrate taste refinement and education.
The recent find from Swanley, Kent of a thirteenth century silver seal set with a gem portrait of the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius (reigned AD 138-161) belongs to this category of seal and is on display for the first time.