- Museum number
- Object: The Aedwen Brooch
Silver circular brooch of hammered sheet, slightly convex, and irregular in circumference, decorated with engraved zoomorphic and degenerate foliate ornament. The design is built upon four intersecting, double-contoured circles. Each circle contains a lozenge-shaped panel with incurved sides, surrounded by four subsidiary lentoid fields. Linking these fields and the four corners of each lozenge are nine equally-spaced rivets covered by sheet-metal bosses, one of which is now lost. Each lozenge-shaped panel has an animal motif, with a secondary, lightly-incised contour line. The background is sketchily filled with cross-hatching. The two lower panels each contain a quadruped: that on the left has an almond-shaped eye and an open mouth with a short lappet; one foreleg is raised, and the body is decorated with wavy lines; the tail is tucked behind the back legs. In one corner is a plant spray and between the legs is a cruciform interlace knot. The second quadruped has a scrolled ear and a semicircular eye, and it glances backwards; one foreleg is raised, the hip is spiralled, and neck and body are decorated with wavy lines. In the bottom left corner is a plant spray. The two upper panels have interlaced ribbon animals. In the left panel are three entwined snakes, two of them sharing the same body, with open mouths, semicircular eyes, and rings where the necks and tails cross their bodies, which are decorated with circles of varying size. The other panel contains a single interlaced snake, its looped body flanked by an acanthus spray and a scrolled cruciform knot. The ten subsidiary lentoid fields each contain a shell-spiral with fillets. Similar linear ornament, ultimately derived from leaf designs, also occurs in each of the four wing-shaped fields between the intersecting circles and the border of the brooch. Each field has a pair of eye-shaped motifs with irregularly-placed fillets, separated by a central triangular panel. The brooch has two borders; the inner one is plain, but the outer band is decorated with running crescents and triangles. On the back of the brooch is a fragmentary silver strip, flanked by two incised triquetras and secured by two rivets - all that remains of the attachments for the missing pin and catch-plate. Scratched upon this strip are seven unintelligible, pseudo-runic characters. Around the perimeter of the brooch is an inscription in Old English, consisting of an alliterative line and two rhyming couplets.
- Production date
Diameter: 14.90 - 16.40 centimetres
- Curator's comments
Webster et al 1984
Despite its rather poor workmanship, the Sutton Brooch's imposing size and literate inscription imply that it was made for a woman of some social standing. Stylistically, it is essentially a hybrid, combining late Viking-style elements with Anglo-Saxon, resulting in a rather poor-quality descendant of the group of silver disc brooches first seen in the ninth century (cf. reg. no. 1952,0404.1). In its basic construction and disposition of fields it is related to such objects as the larger brooch from the Beeston Tor hoard (Wilson 1964, no. 3), but the animals in the main fields, with their multi-lobate snouts and ribbon bodies with interlace rings belong to the Ringerike style, as does the shell-spiral ornament of the lentoid fields. The remaining ornament seems to represent an Anglo-Saxon version of Scandinavian motifs, but has degenerated into virtual abstraction. The Anglo-Saxon aspect of this piece is reinforced by the inscription on the back: its owner-formula followed by a curse also occurs in contemporary wills and charters.
Provenance: Sutton, Isle of Ely, Cambridgeshire; ploughed up in 1694 with the remains of a lead casket, about one hundred silver coins of William the Conqueror (1066-87), five heavy gold rings, and a silver dish or disc. Formerly in the collection of John Taylor, published by Hickes in 1705 (Hickes, G. 1705, ‘Linguarum Vett. Septentrionalium Thesaurus’, 2 vols, Oxford), and subsequently lost until 1951, when it was purchased by the British Museum.
Exhibitions: British Museum 1977, ‘Animal in Art’, London, no. 155; British Museum 1980, J. Graham-Campbell, ‘Viking Artefaces – A Select Catalogue’, London, no. 146; Copenhagen, Aarhus and York 1981-2, ‘The Vikings in England and their Danish Homeland’, no. 14; London, Hayward Gallery 1984, ‘English Romanesque Art 1066-1200’, Arts Council of Great Britain, no. 222.
Bibliography: 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. 83, fig. 34 and refs, PL. XXXI; Okasha, E. 1971, ‘A Handlist of Anglo-Saxon Non-Runic Inscriptions’, Cambridge, no. 114 and refs; Mottram, S. 1972, The West Dereham Ring, ‘Antiquaries Journal’ 52, 342; Hinton, D.A. 1978, Late Saxon Treasure and Bullion in ‘Ethelred the Unready’, ed. D. Hill (‘British Archaeological Reports’, BS 59), Oxford, 135, 155, fig. 7:2, no. 28; Horn Fuglesang 1980, ‘Some Aspects of the Ringerike Style’, Odense, no. 50 and refs, PL. 28; Dodwell, C.R. 1982, ‘Anglo-Saxon Art: A New Perspective’, Manchester, 12, 242 n. 47; Okasha, E. 1983, A Supplement to Handlist of Anglo-Saxon Non-Runic Inscriptions, ‘Anglo-Saxon England’ 11, 118 and refs.
The brooch type is Anglo-Saxon (Bruce-Mitford 1956; Wilson 1964, 52f.), but the ornament, which is poor in the quality of its draughtsmanship and engraving, is a mixture of degenerate renderings of English and Scandinavian (Ringerike) styles. The Ringerike-style elements are most noticeable in the snakes and the heads of all the animals.
Date: Late Viking Period.
Literature: Bruce-Mitford, R. L. S. (1956): Late Saxon disc-brooches, in D. B. Harden (ed.) 'Dark Age Britain', London,193-8, plsxxviii-xxix; Wilson, D. M., and Klindt-Jensen, O. (1966): 'Viking Art', London, 142, pl.lxvi.a; Fugelsang, S. H. (1979): 'Some Aspects of the Ringerlike Style', Odense, no. 50.
The Brooch was turned up by the plough in 1694 in a lead casket with about a hundred silver coins of William the Conqueror, five heavy gold rings, a plain silver dish (or disc). Lewis (1840), 255, says it was found in 1634 with 'several coins and gold rings, and three silver plates, one of which had a curious inscription'. This need not be taken too seriously; Hickes's date and description are probably reliable. The piece, although never forgotten, was not rediscovered until 1951, when the British Museum acquired it from a Dublin dealer. Its history between these two dates is unknown; it is possible that it was in the possession of a member of the Howard family at some time.
There are scratches on the back appear to be accidental, save possibly for a triangle below the letters, HINEAÞ.
See pp. 3, 7, 31, 36, 48-50, 52, 80, 84, 86-90 and pls. XXXI and XXXII.
Hickes, G. (1705): Linguarum Vetterum Septentrionalium. Thesaurus, Oxford, iii, 187-8; Camden, W. (1772): Britannia, 2nd ed. (E. Thompson), London, i, 493; Lewis, S. (1840): A Topographical Dictionary of England, 4th ed., iv, London, 255; Stephens, G. (1866-1901): The Old-Northern Runic Monuments of Scandinavia and England . . ., London/København, i, 289-93; Stephens, G. (1884): Handbook of the Old-Northern Runic Monuments of Scandinavia and England, London/Copenhagen, 218; Black, G. F. (1888-9): 'Notice of two Sculptured Stones at Kirk Andreas . . . with notices of other bind-rune inscriptions', Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, xxiii, 340 and fig. 6; Stephens, G. (1894): The Runes, whence came they, London/København, 20; Fox, C. (1923): The Archaeology of the Cambridge Region, Cambridge, 300; Smith, R. A. (1925b): 'The Beeston Tor Hoard', The Antiquaries Journal, v, 137 and fig. 2; 'Victoria History of the Counties of England: Cambridgeshire', i, 328; Bennett, J. A. W. (1950-1): 'The Beginnings of Runic Studies in England', Saga Book of the Viking Society for Northern Research, xiii, 273; Bruce-Mitford, R. L. S. (1952e): 'A late-Saxon disk-brooch from the Isle of Ely', British Museum Quarterly, xvii, 15-16; Thompson, J. D. A. (1956): Inventory of British Coin Hoards, London, 131 and pl. xxi, b; Wilson, D. M. (1958c): 'Some Archaeological Additions and Corrections to J. D. A. Thompson, Inventory of British Coin Hoards', Medieval Archaeology, ii, 170; Thompson, J. D. A. (1959): 'Some additions and corrections to J. D. A. Thompson, Inventory of British Coin Hoards: A Recension', Medieval Archaeology, iii, 280; Wilson, D. M. (1960a): The Anglo-Saxons, London, 69, 162, 223 and pl. 78; Wilson, D. M. and Blunt, C. E. (1961): 'The Trewhiddle Hoard', Archaeologia, 98, 108.
- On display (G1/fc17)
- Exhibition history
2018-2019 19 Oct–19 Feb, London, British Library, Anglo-Saxon England
1977 London, BM, Animals in Art
1980 19 Feb-20 July, London, BM, The Vikings
1980 4 Oct-1981 4 Jan, USA, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Vikings
1981 11 Apr-16 Aug, Denmark, Copenhagen, The Danish National Museum, The Vikings in England and their Danish Homeland
1981 5 Sep-31 Dec, Denmark, Århus, Moesgård Museum, The Vikings in England and their Danish Homeland
1982 3 Apr-31 Oct, York, Yorkshire Museum, The Vikings in England and their Danish Homeland
1984 5 Apr-8 Jul, London, Hayward Gallery, English Romanesque Art 1066-1200
1992 1 Apr-20 Jul, France, Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Les Vikings... Les Scandinaves et l’Europe 800-1200
1992 1 Sep-15 Nov, Germany, Berlin, Altes Museum, Wikinger, Waräger, Normannen. Die Skandinavier und Europa 800-1200
1992 26 Dec-1993 14 Mar, Denmark, Copenhagen, Nationalmuseet, Vikings and Christians
2015 18 July-18 Oct, Ely Museum, Collections on Show
2017-2018 1 Dec-22 Apr, Oxford, Bodleian Library, Designing English
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- found 1694.
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number