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disc brooch

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    Open-work silver sheet metal disc brooch, riveted by means of a quincunx of small rivets (the central one missing) to a gilded copper-alloy base plate. The decoration has at its centre a small nielloed cross with square terminals from each of which springs a bushy plant with long pointed and lobed leaves. The plants are enclosed within arcs which converge towards the brooch rim where they are pinned by the rivets. The back is plain and the riveted pin attachment is damaged.


  • Culture/period

  • Date

    • 9thC(early)
  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Diameter: 6.1 centimetres
    • Weight: 28.7 grains
  • Curator's comments

    Webster & Backhouse 1991
    Part of the Pentney hoard (1980,1008.1-6).

    This is the smallest of the Pentney Hoard brooches and it differs from the others in that though the design is executed in openwork, it is riveted by means of a quincunx of small rivets (the central one missing) to a gilded base plate. Unlike the other brooches, this shows signs of wear.

    At the time of its discovery this extraordinary hoard, found during the digging of a grave in Pentney churchyard in 1978, doubled the tally of known Late Saxon silver disc brooches. Not only that, the virtuoso craftsmanship and inventive decoration of at least three of the brooches put them in the first rank of Middle Saxon metalwork. They also raised, however, fresh questions: did the presence of pairs in this hoard suggest that the disc brooches were worn in pairs, something not previously suspected? or does the pristine condition of five of the brooches indicate that this is a maker's, not an owner's, hoard? There are some technical and stylistic tricks shared in varying combinations (e.g. long-leafed plant tendrils on 1980,1008.3, 4 & 6, pecked surfaces and bag-bellied animals on 1980,1008.1-3, but none that suggest that any but the paired brooches were made by the same hand, or even that all are necessarily from the same workshop. On balance therefore, they may more probably be seen as a personal hoard, though whether of precious metal as such, or of jewellery as worn by one individual, is impossible to tell.
    On stylistic evidence, the five large pieces in the hoard (1980,1008.1-5) must belong to the first third of the ninth century. It is possible that they were buried in the 840s, during the first Viking raids on East Anglia, but unknown local factors leading to their concealment cannot be discounted. The earliest brooch, (1980,1008.6), shows signs of wear, and is significantly different in scale, construction and decoration, which is wholly based on plant motifs. The low plants with their central lobe, long leaves and looping tendrils have parallels in late eighth-century metalwork, for example, on the Witham pins (1858,1116.4). The four paired brooches, however, 1980,1008.1-2 and 1980,1008.3-4, though linked in plant decoration to brooch 1980,1008.6, show in their animal ornament many close stylistic links with manuscripts of the first third of the ninth century, notably the Book of Cerne (Cambridge, University Library, MS Ll.1.10), The Royal Bible (British Library, Royal MS 1 and the Cotton Tiberius Bede manuscript (British Library, Cotton MS Tiberius C. ii). The last two manuscripts are usually associated with the beginnings of the classic ninth-century Trewhiddle style in Anglo-Saxon metalwork, and it is no surprise therefore to see clear elements of this in the smaller beasts on brooch pair 1980,1008.1-2, and, in the border cartouches of the second pair, 1980,1008.3-4, fully-fledged early Trewhiddle-style creatures. The largest brooch, 1980,1008.5, makes extensive use of niello inlay as a background to ornament which is entirely composed of a completely developed and confident version of the Trewhiddle style. The brooch's larger size and multiple bosses look forward to the more elaborate brooches of the later ninth and tenth centuries. Its crisply suave execution is the work of a consummate craftsman in complete control of his medium. The fact that the brooches were buried in East Anglia does not of course imply that they were made there: but one or two pointers suggest indeed that there may have been a specifically local version of the Trewhiddle style in the early ninth century, into which context the larger brooches would readily fit. The copper-alloy motif-piece from Bawsey (very near Pentney itself) (The Castle Museum, Norwich, inv. no. 198.97) shows a sketch for an unusual bag-bellied animal identical in type to those on brooches 1980,1008.1-2 and 1980,1008.5, and which occurs on the ninth-century strap-end (City and County Museum, Lincoln, inv. no. LAU SP78Ag2) from Lincoln. Equally, the highly distinctive, finely speckled long-stemmed fruiting plants on the lobes on 1980,1008.1-2 appear elsewhere only on two unpublished East Anglian strap-ends (one from Stibbard, Norfolk, one not more closely provenanced than Suffolk), both closely similar to the Lincoln piece in type. Finally, the distinctive clamped animal-headed pin attachment on the largest brooch 1980,1008.5 has its only surviving parallel in an unpublished recent disc brooch find from Elmsett, Suffolk. That these animal-head clamps also closely resemble those that fix the River Witham (Lines.) pin-shafts to their disc-heads (1858,1116.4) also supports a relatively early date within the ninth century as well as an Anglian origin. The possibility of a major workshop producing Trewhiddle-style metalwork somewhere in East Anglia certainly receives support from the quantity of fine ninth-century metalwork which has been found in Norfolk and north Suffolk.

    Bibliography: Wilson, D.M. 1984, ‘Anglo-Saxon Art’, London, 96, fig. 120.


  • Bibliography

    • Webster & Backhouse 1991 187 (f) bibliographic details
    • Tait 1986a 249 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display

  • Exhibition history

    2017 9 Jan - 15 May, Lynn Museum, King's Lynn, Norfolk, Pentney Brooches
    2014-2015 Jul-Jan, Berlin, Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte, Vikings
    2013 14 Sep - 2014 24 Feb, Norwich, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Masterpieces: Art and East Anglia
    2010-2011 2 Oct-23 Jan, Norwich Castle Museum, The Art of Faith
    2005-2006 Jul-Jul, Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery, Pentney Brooch

  • Subjects

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Acquisition notes


  • Department

    Britain, Europe and Prehistory

  • Registration number



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Object reference number: MCS6072

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