Boss Hall Brooch © Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service
Exhibition: Anglo-Saxon Art in the Round, Gallery 3, Ipswich Town Hall Galleries, until September 5 2009. Free.
Visitors entering Gallery 3 in Ipswich will soon find themselves transported back to an era of our country’s history dominated by warriors and kings. The Anglo-Saxon period was a time of transition, the dominant Pagan religion was being chased out by the literary monks of Christianity and people spoke the Germanic tongue of their recent ancestors from across the North Sea.
This new exhibition from Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service digs deep into what is a fascinating piece of our past, displaying rare items that have never been shown in the area before.
From the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge comes a selection of 1,200 year old coins, part of their newly acquired De Wit collection. Coins are a valuable resource of Anglo-Saxon art and these are no exception, featuring bold images of people, animals, birds and mythical beasts as well as religious symbols and magical runes.
Anglo-Saxon penny © The Fitzwilliam Museum
Among the vibrant images etched upon the ancient currency lurk a few famous faces. Offa, King of Mercia, who is often acknowledged as the most powerful Anglo-Saxon king before Alfred the Great, makes an appearance, as does the Western European conqueror Charlemagne. One coin is believed to be the earliest known in England to depict the face of Christ.
On show to the public for the first time ever are weapons from an Anglo-Saxon burial ground, the Coddenham Bed Burial. They were given to fallen women and warriors as vital equipment on their journey into the afterlife.
Another popular outlet for Anglo-Saxon artistry was jewellery, and the elegant and ornate Boss Hall Brooch from Sproughton is on display alongside many other examples of the craft.
Anglo-Saxon Art in the Round does not ignore the efforts of the people who found these items and brought them to public attention. Their stories, from the Edwardian poet and archaeologist Nina Layard to the 21st century treasure-finder Corinne Mills, are also told, providing another layer of discovery and context to this rich exhibition.