- Museum number
Cast, gilt-copper alloy cloisonné enamel disc brooch, with a flanged border composed of two beaded concentric bands. The enamel is set on a sheet-metal back-plate, secured by a gilded collar. Against a background of dark blue translucent enamel is a geometric design consisting of a small circular cell in the centre filled with white enamel within a light blue roundel, flanked by four triangular fields in a cruciform arrangement. One pair of triangles, which face the centre, is inlaid with green enamel, the other two, facing outwards, are filled with light blue. The surface of the enamel is damaged and pitted. The underside of the brooch, which is also gilded, is slightly concave. The pin-catch and hinge, composed of bent metal strips, were originally soldered to the back of the flange. The pin and hinge are original, but the pin-catch has been replaced in antiquity and secured by a small rivet.
- Production date
Diameter: 2.60 centimetres
- Curator's comments
- Webster et al 1984
Provenance: Colchester, Lexden Road. Formerly in the Pollexfen collection.
Commentary for 1935,1210.1 and 1870,0402.59
The publication by Evison of an enamelled disc from Great Saxham, Suffolk (Evison, V. 1977, An enamelled disc from Great Saxham, ‘Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology ‘, 34, pt. 1. 1-13), prompted a long overdue reappraisal of Insular enamelwork of pre-Conquest date, and resulted in the identification of a class of small cloisonné disc brooches previously unrecognised in England. Earlier finds, such as one from London in the Roach Smith collection, acquired by the British Museum in 1856, and the two examples above, went unheeded or were misinterpreted. Kendrick, for example, published all of them as belonging to the late fourth century (Kendrick, T.D. 1938, ‘Anglo-Saxon Art to 900 AD’, London, 67, fig. 13).
Subsequent discoveries, the majority of which are regrettably devoid of any archaeological context, have revealed the existence of two distinct types of brooch of different construction. Whether this has any chronological significance is not yet clear, due to the complete lack of datable material associated with these objects. One group, to which these two brooches belong, has a cast, everted flange containing an enamelled roundel on a sheet-metal back-plate, which is held in position by an applied vertical strip. It is to this group that the only other published example, the brooch from Coventry, belongs (Evison 1977, 10, fig. 3d); others are known from Dunstable and a collection in Kent. The second group of brooches is cast-in-one, with a flat back creating a tray for the cloisonné enamel, and a series of small lobed projections around the rim, each filled with a blue glass cabochon. This use of glass inlay occurs on other late Anglo-Saxon objects such as the ninth-century Strickland brooch (Wilson, D.M. 1964, ‘Anglo-Saxon Ornamental Metalwork 700-1100 in the British Museum, Catalogue of Antiquities of the Later Saxon Period’, I, London, no. 152), and the portable sundial from Canterbury (Cathedral Treasury (cat. 77)). Brooches of this second type include the one from London discussed above, another from Feltwell, Suffolk, now in Moyse's Hall Museum, Bury St Edmunds, and another, reputedly from Faversham, now in a private collection.
It may be seen that apart from the one found in Coventry, the remaining brooches have a marked distribution pattern, concentrated in the Eastern Counties, London and Kent. Similar cloisonné brooches have also been found in Scandinavia, but their exact relationship with the English material is difficult to establish. Certain stylistic features link the English finds together: the range of colours employed - light blue, turquoise, emerald green, yellow and white - and the use of dark blue translucent enamel on a copper alloy base; the hinge and catch-plate set diagonally on the back of the brooch; and the curious phenomenon of two pairs of diametrically-opposed fields of colour within a symmetrical design, which can be seen here on the Colchester example (1870,0402.59), but occurs most strikingly on the Coventry brooch. This has a foliate cross motif in which two opposing arms are opaque white enamel, while the other two are emerald green.
The designs on the brooches are of varying complexity, but all are based upon curvilinear cruciform motifs and four-petalled rosettes, the curved sides of which produce an Anglian cross. A similar arrangement of fields can be seen on the late ninth-century Minster Lovell jewel (Hinton, D.A. 1974, ‘A Catalogue of the Anglo-Saxon Ornamental Metalwork in the Department of Antiquities, Ashmolean Museum’, Oxford, no. 22), which provides us with an approximate date for the beginning of this brooch type in England, but the majority must belong to the tenth century and be broadly related to the smaller base-metal disc brooches which were then in vogue, some of which, like the one from Bird-in-Hand Court, Cheapside (Wilson 1964, no. 37), have the same raised central field and flanged border.
It now seems clear that both champlevé and cloisonné enamel were being produced in this country before the Conquest (cf. the “Brasenose Disc” held by the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, 1887.3072 (cat. 91) and possibly a crucifix reliquary held by the Victoria and Albert Museum, Department of Metalwork, 7943.1862 (cat. 118)), albeit not on a very grand scale. It is to be hoped that further scientifically excavated discoveries will throw additional light on the complex problem of its origins, manufacture and continuity of production.
Bibliography: Kendrick, T.D. 1938, ‘Anglo-Saxon Art to 900 AD’, London, fig. 13, n. I.
- Not on display
- Antique repair.
- Acquisition date
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number