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23 August 2013

An example of true interlace in the Staffordshire Hoard

As Cym Storey illustrated in her blog on filigree patterns, there is an incredible variety of decorations within the Hoard. So far though all the filigree objects displayed one common feature: they fit the description of illusory interlace (see image 4).

Coatsworth and Pinder (1) describe filigree as follows:

The main elements in filigree are short lengths of beaded and/or twisted wires which are bent into simple repeated motifs, formed into interlace patterns…

In most cases this interlace is illusory in that the wires do not actually run over and under each other. In some examples (…) the pattern is made up of plain and beaded wires which form a true interlace.

K811 (image 1) is one example of true filigree found in the Staffordshire Hoard. A second example is the very similar object K76 (image 2).

Object K811 is an example of true interlace

Image 1. K811 is an example of true interlace. The object is highly damaged and has lost a great deal of its original shape, but it could have originally been a hilt ring.

Object K76 likely to be a part of K811

Image 2. K76 likely to be a part of K811.

The photomicrograph (image 3) shows that the simple interlace pattern is actually given by two strands of beaded wire running over and under each other. The difference in manufacture of this object is made obvious when presented with K68 (image 4), that features a pattern formed by short lengths of wire.

Photomicrograph of K811

Image 3. This photomicrograph of K811 clearly shows two strands of beaded wire running over and under each other.

Object K68 is a gold panel decorated with a filigree snake

Image 4. K68 is a gold panel decorated with a filigree snake. The interlace decoration is composed by short lengths of beaded wire and therefore is illusionary, if compared to K811.

There are some Anglo-Saxon objects outside of the Hoard which share a similar interlace design style; one spectacular example is the Windsor pommel (image 5). Although stylistically quite different from the Hoard examples, it shares the same interlaces technique. The pommel dates from eighth or ninth century and is now owned by the Ashmolean Museum,Oxford.

Sword pommel found at Windsor

Image 5. Sword pommel found at Windsor, Berkshire (AN1909.518)
Source: http://projects.oucs.ox.ac.uk/woruldhord/education/weapons.html

Interlace of course was not only used as a decorative technique on objects, but also on other forms of Anglo-Saxon art, such as manuscripts.  The intricate designs of the illuminated book of Kells (image 6) or in the earlier book of Durrow (Trinity College Library MS 57) are examples of a similar visual language (2).

Detail from the Book of Kells, (Trinity College Dublin MS 58)

Image 6. Detail from the Book of Kells, (Trinity College Dublin MS 58), available to view online at http://digitalcollections.tcd.ie/home/index.php?DRIS_ID=MS58_003v

Another illuminated masterpiece, the Lindisfarne Gospels, is also available to view online at http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/sacredtexts/ttpbooks.html

Deborah Magnoler,
Staffordshire Hoard Conservator
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery 

 

References:

  1. Coatsworth E. & Pinder M (2002) : The art of the Anglo-Saxon Goldsmith, Boydell Press,  p.126
  2. Webster L. (2012):  Anglo-Saxon Art, The British Museum Press, p.18