During my placement I treated two objects from the Staffordshire Hoard: K1195, a gold and garnet cloisonné pommel cap with an attached rivet, and K127, a garnet cloisonné decorative strip.
Both objects are decorated with a geometric, “mushroom” type cloisonné pattern characterized by stepped and arced cell walls inlaid with garnets. This pattern is found on a number of the objects in the Staffordshire Hoard, as well as fittings from Sutton Hoo and in other contexts in Scandinavia and elsewhere on the Continent. One of our treatment goals is to reveal these ornamental patterns so we can appreciate the craftsmanship involved and assess their stylistic and technical contexts and relationships to one another. Soil removal also reveals information about their construction, wear patterns, and damage, all of which add to our understanding of these objects.
Many of the objects in the hoard show signs of intentional and purposeful damage. It is still not clear why these objects were disfigured in the way that they were, but soil removal allows us to examine the objects to understand the manner in which they were disassembled, ripped or pried from their original settings.
Cleaning of the pommel cap revealed a horizontal mark along its bottom edge where a thin, flat tool – possibly a knife – may have been inserted between the pommel cap and hilt plate to pry the hilt fittings apart.
The strip fragment is finished on one end but torn on the other end. The rough, torn edges were folded over the cloisonné surface, and the strip was also folded in half and twisted slightly.
Construction and Use
On some of the cloisonné objects, the damage allows us to see and appreciate how the objects were made. The cell framework is often torn along soldering joins and we can begin to reconstruct how the goldsmith conceptualized the overall cloisonné patterns and cut each band of gold to form the cells.
The torn sidewalls of the cloisonné strip also enable us to see incised laying out marks where the cloisonné cell walls would have been soldered to the inside of the sidewall, and how the beaded wire was soldered to the outside.
After the garnets were inlaid, the tops of the cell walls would have been rubbed down over the edges of the garnets to clasp them securely in place. The damage allows us to see how the cell walls on the pommel cap and strip fragment are less than a quarter of a millimetre in thickness and how the tops of the cell walls on the pommel cap are more rubbed down than on the strip fragment.
The goldsmith may have more vigorously burnished the tops of the cell walls on K1195 or this may relate to use wear. The filigree decorating the top of the rivet housing on the pommel cap also shows signs of wear along the edges and may indicate that this object was in use for many years and possibly by many owners before it was buried.
The minimal traces of wear on the strip fragment and very light burnishing may suggest that this strip decorated an object that served a more ceremonial purpose that may not have been handled on a regular basis. It may also indicate a later date of manufacture than the pommel cap.
Piecing it all together
The cleaning and identification of these characteristics – cloisonné pattern, cell size, wear patterns – allow us to correlate these objects with other items in the Hoard. K127 features a cloisonné pattern that includes square cells, also found on a number of other strip fragments (K1, K463, K643, K681, K712, K1313), as well as the two lentoids (K270 and K843). The other strip fragments also feature beaded wire, and similar patterns of damage.
Further conservation of the strip fragments may allow us to reconstruct how these fragments fit together and consider whether this damage corresponds to the logistical requirements associated with removing the strips from their prior context, the divvying up of war booty, or an act of purposeful destruction intended to metaphysically disrupt or “break” the power of these objects.
The cell work and cut garnet plates on K1195 were smaller than on other geometric cloisonné objects in the Hoard like the strip fragment. The cloisonné pattern on the pommel cap suggests an intuitive application of an established decorative scheme, adapted to fit the very particular shape of the pommel cap.
The pommel cap may also be associated with two other grip collars discovered in the Hoard; these two fittings (K1155 and K850) feature the same cloisonné pattern, cell dimensions, and heavy burnishing on the tops of cells. Further cleaning and analysis of the gold content may help us better understand the relationship between these objects.
Graduate student in conservation and art history at the Institute of Fine Arts – New York University in New York.