Good Impressions: image and authority in medieval seals

Project team

Department of Britain, Europe and Prehistory 

Supported by

  • Exhibition and conference supported by
    Dr John H Rassweiler

Share this project

The exhibition Good Impressions; image and authority in medieval seals looks closely at the images employed on seals in Europe from around 1100 to 1540 AD. Most seals say something about their owners. A king, for instance was represented in a very specific way, as was a queen, a bishop or a noble lord and lady. 

The exhibition features magnificent seals owned by royalty, bishops and aristocrats and places them alongside the seals of cathedrals, monasteries and guilds to give an authoritative view of medieval life and identity. Other seals were mass-produced and were bought purely for their visual or comic appeal. They were not engraved with a name but usually carry an inscription relating to their imagery. For instance a seal with a sleeping lion uses the legend ‘wake me no man’. The categories explored in the display include religious seals, counterseals, secret seals, royal and aristocratic seals, seals using images of animals and seals connected with trade and commerce.

The exhibition was accompanied by a free international conference at the British Museum on 16 and 17 February 2007. Speakers from the United States, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the United Kingdom address a wide variety of topics on the subject of sealing in the middle ages. The conference papers will be published in a British Museum Scholarly Paper.

This project has been completed.

J. Cherry and J.Robinson [eds.],  Good Impressions: image and authority in medieval seals (British Museum scholarly publication, 2007)

Read this publication online 

Seal-die of Robert Fitzwalter

Seal-die of Robert Fitzwalter. The coat of arms of an English baron. Medieval, about AD 1213-19. From England.