Dieter Quast and Alexandra Hilgner from the Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum (RGZM) in Mainz explain the initial questions of the project “Weltweites Zellwerk – International Framework” regarding the origin and development of garnet cloisonné jewellery in the early middle ages. Garnet gemstones from India arrived in a vast amount during the 6th century in the Merovingian kingdom in central Europe. In the 7th century, the cloisonné jewellery style was suddenly disappearing. Was it because of a change in fashion or did something happen to the former trade routes? The International Framework project, organised by the RGZM, the SAI Heidelberg and the LVR-LandesMuseum, Bonn with partners in Sweden, the UK and Hungary tries not only to find answers to these questions regarding the value and the meaning of the gemstone garnet, but also to understand the international trade and economic interactions in the “dark ages”.
Hello, I am Christiane Stempel, goldsmith, conservator and responsible for the technological examination of Early Medieval garnet objects that have been brought to the Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum in Mainz for scientific analyses within the project “Weltweites Zellwerk”.
During my work, I made some observations that raised questions regarding the manufacturing and the use of the patterned foils behind the garnets.
Transparent stones were often underlaid with gold foils to reflect the light through the stone. This is particularly important when the stone is backed up with cement. In the Early Medieval period textured backing foils were used on a large scale. The three-dimensional pattern increased the reflective effect. I examined a great number of objects from different find-spots in Sweden, Anglo-Saxon England and the Rhineland and I found all the varieties of pattern commonly known from the literature such as standard waffle, boxed waffle (Varying in the number of enclosed squares [9 to 25]), ring-and-dot, lozenge, boxed lozenge and rectangle (stack bond). They only differ in fineness (number of lines/mm), depth of texture and contour sharpness.
Unfortunately, the project nears its end and I would like to use the remaining time to carry out some technical experiments:
Producing the pattern
There are indications (see figures 3-7) that at least a number of foils weren’t manufactured with dies. It looks as if lines were traced immediately on to the foils to form the grid pattern.
N. D. Meeks and R. Holmes described in their article “The Sutton Hoo Garnet Jewellery” an experiment with a scriber that they used to draw the lines directly onto the foils. But in their opinion, the result was not satisfying. (N. D. Meeks/R. Holmes, The Sutton Hoo garnet jewellery: an examination of some gold backing foils and a study of their possible manufacturing techniques. Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archaeology and History 4, 1985, 143-157.) I would like to pick up the idea again, but instead of a scriber I will do the work with a profiled hand-operated tool, comparable to a creaser. It is used until today in bookmaking and leather processing to imprint decorative lines onto a leather surface. In contrast to a pointed scriber the elongated working face of a creaser can be of any cross-section.
The theory that has to be verified in practice is as follows: The grid pattern can be formed with a sliding forward motion of the tool, running it along a ruler with moderate pressure to form parallel lines, then rotating the workpiece by 90 degrees and repeating the action. For my experiments, I will use a small creaser-like tool that I have made by removing the cut of a square rifle file. As foil materials, I will use tin foil (0.03 mm) as well as sterling silver foils of different thicknesses (0,025 mm to 0,04 mm).
Using foil for stone securing
Not a small number of foils seem to have a further purpose: In many cases, the foils are trapped between the stone edges and the surrounding metal of the setting. Is it possible to hold a stone in place with the foil?
If times permits, I would like to produce a foil in the way outlined above using a fire-gilded silver foil. In the next few weeks, I will report about my experiments and I am curious about the results and your comments.
Featured image: Buckle, Endre socken, Statens Historiska Museet Stockholm 484:12, detail: garnet cloisonné with foils behind the garnets. (photo: RGZM/Stempel)
The Staffordshire Hoard is the largest ever find of Anglo-Saxon treasure, of gold, silver and garnet objects, at around 5kg. It was found in 2009 by a metal-detectorist and became an international sensation. Following seven years of conservation cleaning and reconstruction work, some seven-hundred objects have now been identified, from an original 4500 fragments. Most are fittings from richly-decorated swords, which were the possessions of warriors and maybe even princes and kings. Some were decorated with the sacred symbols of gods, both pagan and Christian. Other objects include a rare helmet and a small but significant collection of Christian items, including pectoral and processional crosses. Dating to the 7th century AD, the hoard shows us an early England that was wealthy and capable of great artistic achievement, but in an age of violence and warfare, and driven by the politics of the warband.
Dienstag, den 18. Oktober, 18.15 Uhr
Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum – Vortragssaal
Im Rahmen der Vortragsreihe “Weltweites Zellwerk”
Foto: (c) http://www.staffordshirehoard.org.uk
Toby Martin, University of Oxford
During the fifth to seventh centuries AD, an ostentatious style of feminine dress flourished in Europe featuring large and decorative brooches. Thanks to the simultaneous (and perhaps not coincidental) rise of the furnished burial rite, thousands of these objects survive in museum collections. The geographical scale of this style was unprecedented, covering most of modern day Europe, from Norway to lowland Britain and Iberia, across to the Ukraine and up into the Baltic. As such, its analysis has much to tell us about contacts between populations in Europe, and how they used styles of jewellery as a means of creating and negotiating a material and social network. Traditionally, this material has been analysed using typology with the aim of grouping the material to reveal information about migration or ethnicity and more recently other forms of identity. Therefore, both the subject of enquiry and the method used in its investigation have a stated aim to reduce complex relationships into delineated groupings populated by objects or by people. In this presentation a new Europe-wide database of this material will be introduced and used to illustrate the possibilities of an alternative means of investigation. Instead of typology, a formal network analysis will be used to switch the focus of attention to the complex relationships between objects, and the web of linkages that these relationships create when examined en masse.
This is the abstract of the presentation held during the lecture series in summer/autumn 2016.
Lecture held by Helena Hamerow, Oxford
This lecture will consider the exchange networks by which garnets – both as a component of ornamental metalwork and as a ‘raw’ material – circulated around the North Sea Zone during the fifth to seventh centuries, with a particular emphasis on Anglo-Saxon England. Possible entry points for this material and the mechanisms behind its distribution will be considered, as will the appearance and significance of raw, unmounted garnets deposited in bags or pouches in early medieval burials. Aspects of workshop production will also be touched upon, particularly in relation to composite disc brooches. Finally, evidence for the decline in the availability of garnets around the North Sea Zone will be considered, above all in the form of ‘cannibalized’ and recycled garnets.
Lecture held during the conference “Gemstones in the first Millennium AD. Mines, Trade, Workshops and Symbolism.” October 21st, 2015 at the Roemisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum, Mainz (Germany).
Foto: West Hanney Brooch (detail), Institute of Archaeology Oxford University: Ian R.Cartwright (2013).
Garnets are ubiquitous in the material culture of Anglo-Saxon England. They appear on buckles, brooches, shoulder clasps, and sieve spoons. They once lined the wings of a dragon on what is possibly the most famous Anglo-Saxon artefact, the helmet from the Sutton Hoo ship burial. Their beauty was, perhaps, imitated in ink and vellum in images which sought to recreate the beauty of jewels on manuscript. Continue reading Towards an Understanding of Anglo-Saxon Stone Names