Collection online

hanging bowl

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    Copper alloy hanging bowl of 'Celtic' type. Slightly everted rim with two rows of beading, very little in situ. Inside at the centre is a circular enamelled escutcheon with a beaded collar, from which rises a rotating model fish on a pedestal, with a beaded surface. This is now separate from the bowl. The body of the bowl is fragmentary and patched in one place with silver, on which is engraved two birds' heads. Underneath the bowl, in the centre, is another enamelled escutcheon in red and blue millefiori with gold peltas. There are three copper alloy loops for suspension along the rim, each connected to the bowl by a copper alloy strip. The loops are connected to three circular enamelled escutcheons, each with a cast copper alloy boar's head mount below it. One of the escutcheons is now separate. Three square enamelled escutcheons are placed between the circular escutcheons.


  • School/style

  • Culture/period

  • Date

    • late 6thC-early 7thC (c. AD 600)
  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Diameter: 29.8 centimetres (rim diameter)
    • Depth: 13.5 centimetres
    • Width: 1.2 centimetres (applied rim)
    • Thickness: 0.1 centimetres (main sheeting of bowl)
    • Diameter: 6.2 centimetres (fish escutcheon)
    • Height: 3.5 centimetres (column with fish)
    • Length: 9.2 centimetres (fish)
  • Curator's comments

    Bruce-Mitford 2005
    Discovery and history: Found in the Sutton Hoo ship-burial, excavated by C. W. Phillips in 1939. Presented to the British Museum by Mrs E. M. Pretty, JP.

    Description: Large A type bowl with rim supplemented over the whole circumference by an added decorated strip. The bowl is of fully developed form with three circular hook-escutcheons and three square non-functional escutcheons between them, and escutcheons also inside and outside the countersunk base. The added rim carries a light incised scroll decoration between borders of small pyramidal bosses. Under each hook-escutcheon is an appliqué, deeply modelled, in the form of a stylized boar's head, pointing upwards. These boars' heads have been shown to be of an alloy quite different from that of any other late Celtic metalwork tested, but close to that of two Coptic buckets. This raises the possibility that the three boars' heads could be later additions to the bowl (Oddy, in Bruce-Mitford 1983, pt. II, 961), and perhaps not made for it but for some other artefact from which they may have been transferred. All the escutcheons have elaborately decorated frames. A rotating fish stands on a pedestal at the centre of the interior base escutcheon. There is profuse millefiori decoration, used on all the escutcheons, and green and translucent blue enamel is used as well as red. The bowl shows high-grade antique repairs carried out in silver by a Germanic craftsman.
    The hook-escutcheons have broad hooks which terminate in simplified animal-heads resembling seals or otters, with sunken eyes filled with an unidentified substance resembling bitumen (see Oddy, Bimson, and Cowell in Bruce-Mitford 1983, pt. I, 302, col. 2). The head rests on the rim. The suspension rings are large, circular in cross-section, and with a continuous double groove round the circumference.
    The junction of escutcheons and hooks is marked by a massive almost quadri-spherical moulding which impinges greatly on the circular field of the escutcheon.
    The large riveted silver patch on the body of the bowl has Style II birds' heads at either end, projecting from a rectangular frame, and the eyes of the three boars' heads all contain garnets with silver beaded-wire collars and backed by patterned gold foil, set in semi-spherical sockets originally intended for enamel.
    The three non-functional square escutcheons are set below the carination on which the tops of the hook-escutcheons are aligned, i.e. slightly lower than the hook-escutcheons on the bowl.
    All the escutcheons, except the fish escutcheon inside the bowl, are decorated with running scrollwork in the fine-line style, of exceptionally high quality; and all, including the fish escutcheon, are heavily charged with millefiori insets. In the square escutcheons the scrollwork is divided into four identical self-contained units by pointed-ovals in the corners. The pointed ovals are filled uniquely with green enamel in which slashes of red are incorporated. It is an important stylistic feature that the millefiori is kept separate from the scrollwork. Both forms of decoration thus have maximum impact in their own right or style and neither interferes with the other.
    The pelta-theme occurs in translucent blue glass in the escutcheon under the base, which is in a brilliant state of preservation.
    The fish pedestal in the interior base escutcheon is surrounded by a ring of tight trumpet-spirals that form interlocking pelta-shapes facing inwards and outwards alternately. The reserved linear patterns on all escutcheons are silvered. The frames are not, but are of a special high-tin alloy which gives them a grey silvery look.
    The fish: The rotating fish is a very rare example of sculpture in the round. It is also of value for its bearing on the use of the hanging-bowls. There is no ground for supposing that it represents the Christian ichthus. Indeed, watched by the surrounding seals or otters, it seems part of a genre scene. The fish has been identified as a rainbow trout or salmonoid. It is shown with scales and fins, and the body is spotted by small sunken pits filled with enamel of unidentified colour or colours.
    An unexplained feature is the presence of iron in the fish's mouth with rust traces in the fish's interior. There was no iron in the hanging-bowl, or in contact with it in the ground, except for a nail through one handle external to the bowl, so that the residue in the fish's mouth must represent an original feature and not corrosion derived from another object.
    Escutcheon frames: These are elaborately decorated and of special importance. The affinity with the Ballinderry (3) fragment (Group 1, no. 31) possibly a frame or penannular brooch hoop in the making, and with the hoop of the well-known Ballinderry brooch is remarkable.
    Millefiori and polychrome enamelling: This is an outstanding feature of the bowl. For the millefiori rods and translucent blue-glass inlays 208 inlays, cut from ten different rods, are used on the bowls, as compared with the some 115 inlays from 10 different rods of the Manton Warren bowl (Scunthorpe Borough Museum, Scunthorpe: 57/39).
    There is also on the Sutton Hoo bowl a unique use of green enamel (on the square escutcheons), and unique also the insertion of red leaves into this green matrix and the use of open rings and pelta-shapes in translucent blue glass. The best reproductions in colour of examples of millefiori work on this bowl, and of some of the escutcheons, are to be found in Bruce-Mitford 1960,108, pl. 17.

    All other aspects of this bowl, and of the two other Sutton Hoo hanging-bowls (1939,1010,111-112) are fully treated in the British Museum publication of the ship-burial (Bruce-Mitford 1983, pts. I and II), where enamelling techniques are examined in depth by Mavis Bimson and a wide range of analytical information is provided.

    Associated finds: The Sutton Hoo ship-burial is the richest Anglo-Saxon or early Germanic burial known, and is still, in spite of variant ideas floating about, probably that of King Redwald of the East Angles (d. 625-6). The grave-goods included 37 gold coins, 41 items of gold jewellery, the richest with mosaic glass inlays, helmet, shield, spears, mail coat, knives, a lyre, cauldrons and buckets, remains of 26 different textile weaves, a sceptre (whetstone), an iron stand (standard), and many other items including three hanging-bowls.
    It is the only Anglo-Saxon burial to have contained more than one hanging-bowl. Our ability to date the burial closely is of great importance in hanging-bowl studies, as in so much else.

    Discussion: The thirty-seven gold coins (Merovingian tremisses) and the historical context together enable the ship-burial to be dated with a unique degree of precision to early in the third quarter of the seventh century. This fact gives it great importance in hanging-bowl studies by providing a ‘terminus ante quem’ for the various developments that the three hanging-bowls show.
    This is the most elaborately decorated hanging-bowl to survive, matched only by the Lullingstone (1967,1004.1) and Keythorpe Hall, Tugby (Lost) band bowls in elaboration. It is distinguished for its polychromy (green-and-blue enamel is used as well as red) and for its extensive use of millefiori.
    The advanced and imaginative use of their glass techniques and a number of other factors make it probable that the Manton Warren (Scunthorpe Borough Museum, Scunthorpe: 57/39) and Sutton Hoo bowls were produced in the same workshop, though not contemporaneously. There are evident differences in style, but the ingredients are there: high-relief moulded appliqués associated with hook-escutcheons, seen on no other bowl; very extensive use of millefiori and coloured glass; sunken enamel spots (the frames of the Manton Warren escutcheons and the Sutton Hoo fish); and interlocking pelta-themes.
    Such scrollwork as there is on the Manton Warren bowl is in a fine-line style. The hook-forms are different, though both have the marked protrusion at the base of the hook, but the hooks of the Sutton Hoo (1) bowl seem a one-off job, not expected to be matched. The rim type and shape of bowl is the same (Bruce-Mitford 1983, pt. I, 264-70; but see Youngs 1989, 50, for a contrary view). The frames of the Manton Warren hook-escutcheons are unfortunately lost.
    The Sutton Hoo bowl is the supreme example of the fine-line style seen in the Faversham (3) escutcheons (1870,0402.801-2) and also both Irish and Scottish finds such as the Norries Law plaques and hand-pin (National Museums of Scotland, Edinburgh: FC30, FC33 and FC34), hand-pin from Castletown (National Museums Ireland, Dublin: P. 634, Petrie Collection) the Dowris latchet (1854,0714.97) and the River Bann escutcheon (Ulster Museum, Belfast: AL18.39); and many other pieces besides.
    It has been suggested, on Chinese analogies of relevant date, that the iron rod once apparently protruding from the mouth of the rotating fish might have been magnetized and used for navigation. This cannot be scientifically supported (Bruce-Mitford 1983, pt. I, 239-44 and 296-8, analysis by M. S. Tite) but should not be dismissed out of hand. The fish in its pedestal inside the bowl is paralleled only by the quadruped sitting erect on the interior base escutcheon (or its equivalent) in the eighth to ninth century River Witham bowl (Lost).
    The Germanic repairs (silver patches and garnet eyes) of the boar's head (with twisted silver-wire collars; cf. the Ipswich, Hadleigh Road bowl, Ipswich Museum: 952-225) indicate the continued importance of the bowl in the eyes of its Germanic owners; also the absence of a local Celtic workshop with bowl-making skills to repair in keeping with the original style and techniques; and lastly a degree of use in Germanic hands before a burial in c. AD 625, allowing a suggested date of manufacture c. AD 600.

    Bibliography: Kendrick, D.T., 1940, “The large hanging-bowl” in The Sutton Hoo ship-burial, ‘Antiquity’ 14, 30, pl. XII; Phillips, C.W., 1940, The excavation of the Sutton Hoo ship-burial, ‘Antiquaries Journal’ 20, 163; Åberg, N., 1943, ‘The Occident and the Orient in the Art of the Seventh Century’, vol. i, ‘The British Isles’, Stockholm , passim; Liestøl, A., 1953, The hanging-bowl, a liturgical and domestic vessel, ‘Acta Archaeologica’ 24,169; Henry, F., 1956, Irish enamels of the Dark Ages and their relation to the cloisonné techniques, in B.D. Harden (ed.), ‘Dark Age Britain: Studies Presented to E.T. Leeds’, London, 79; Haseloff, G., 1958, Fragments of a hanging-bowl from Bekesbourne, Kent, and some ornamental problems, ‘Medieval Archaeology’ 2, 102; Bruce-Mitford, R.L.S., 1960, Decoration and miniatures, in T.D. Kendrick et al (eds.), ‘Evangeliorum Quattuor Codex Lindisfarnensis’, commentary vol. ii (I.iv), Oltun and Lausanne, 109-10, pl. 17; Henry, F., 1965, ‘Irish Art in the Early Christian Period (to 800)’, rev. edn., London, pl. 25; Bruce-Mitford, R.L.S., 1968, ‘The Sutton Hoo Ship-Burial: A Handbook’, London, pl. 10 and 11a; Fowler, E., 1968, Hanging-bowls, in J.M. Coles and D.D.A. Simpson (eds.), ‘Studies in Ancient Europe: Essays Presented to Stuart Piggott’, Leicester, 295; Vierck, H., 1970a, Cortina Tripodis: zu auffrängung und gebrauch subrömischer hängebecken aus Britannien und Irland, ‘Frühmittelalterliche Studien’ 4, 26; Stevenson, R.B.K., 1974, The Hunterson brooch and its significance, ‘Medieval Archaeology’ 18, 31; Longley, D. 1975. ‘Hanging-bowls, Penannular Brooches and the Anglo-Saxon Connection’, BAR, BS 22, Oxford, 20; Stevenson, R.B.K., 1976, The earlier metalwork of Pictland, in J.V.S. Megaw (ed.), ‘To Illustrated the Monuments: Essays on Archaeology Presented to Stuart Piggot on the Occasion of his Sixty-fifth Birthday’, London, 248; Kilbride-Jones, H.E., 1980b, Hanging-bowls in ‘Celtic Craftsmanship in Bronze’, London, 247, fig. 79; Bruce-Mitford, R.L.S., 1983, ‘The Sutton Hoo Ship Burial’, vol. iii (2pts), ‘Late Roman and Byzantine Silver, Hanging-Bowls, Drinking Vessels, Cauldrons, and other Containers, Textiles, the Lyre, Pottery Bottle, and Other Items’, ed. A.C. Evans, London, pt.I, 202-44, 264, 300-7, figs. 150 and 154-81,pls. 4b, 5, 6a and b, 7a and b; Evans, A.C., 1986, ‘The Sutton Hoo Ship Burial’, London, 72, figs. 57-60; Bruce-Mitford, R.L.S., 1987, Ireland and the hanging-bowls – a review, in M. Ryan (ed.), ‘Ireland and Insular Art AD 500-1200: Proceedings of a Conference at University College Cork, 31 October – 3 November 1985’, Dublin, 33; Warner, R.B., 1987, Ireland and the origins of escutcheon art, in M. Ryan (ed.), ‘Ireland and Insular Art, AD 500-1200’, Dublin, 21; Brenan, J., 1991, ‘Hanging Bowls and their Contexts: An Archaeological Survey of their Socio-Economic Significance from the Fifth to Seventh centuries AD’, BAR British Series 220, Oxford, cat. no. 54, 266-8; Ryan, M., 1992, The Sutton Hoo ship-burial and Ireland: some Celtic perspectives, in R. Farrell and C.N. de Vegvar (eds.), ‘Sutton Hoo: Fifty Years After’, American Early Medieval Studies 2, Oxford (Ohio), 83, 90-5.Niello analysed, cf.
    W. A. Oddy, M. Bimson and S. La Niece , The Composition of Niello Decoration on Gold, Silver and Bronze in the Antique and Mediaeval Periods. In: Studies in Conservation, Vol. 28, No. 1 (Feb., 1983), pp. 29-35.


  • Bibliography

    • Bruce-Mitford 2005 88 bibliographic details
    • Bruce-Mitford 1983 Figs. 150, 154-181 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display

  • Exhibition history

    2016 11 Mar- 25 Sep, Edinburgh, National Museum of Scotland, Celts.
    2015-2016 24 Sep-31 Jan, London, BM, G30, 'Celts: Art and Identity' 2005 14 Mar-30 Oct, Woodbridge, The National Trust-Sutton Hoo Exhibition Centre, Hanging Bowls 1980 10 Mar-30 Sep, Sweden, Stockholm, Statens Historika Museum, The Vikings are Here

  • Condition

    Antique repair.

  • Subjects

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Acquisition notes

    Excavated 1939. Third boar's head excavated from 1939 spoil heap in 1967

  • Department

    Britain, Europe and Prehistory

  • Registration number


COMPASS Title: Hanging bowl from the ship-burial at Sutton Hoo

COMPASS Title: Hanging bowl from the ship-burial at Sutton Hoo

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Object reference number: MCS8016

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