The Alfred Jewel #1

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    The Alfred Jewel used to be displayed on a pedestal in the middle of a room, so that you could walk all round it, and admire the way that you could see through the letters pierced in the side. And then they ran out of space, and stuck it away in an ordinary case at the side of a gallery, and it was, frankly, much less spectacular. Now they've got more space again, and they've made a really good job of showing it off properly.

    The piece is just over 6cm long; the stippled appearance is due to the use of a technique called granulation, whereby tiny beads of gold were soldered onto the base; underneath the teardrop-shaped crystal is cloisonné work depicting a male figure, and around the outside the words "Ælfred mec heht gewyrcan" — Alfred ordered me made. Below the mouth of the animal head is a socket, possibly for a pointer of wood or ivory. It has been plausibly suggested (though without real evidence) that this might have been a pointer sent out with a copy of King Alfred's own translation of Gregory the Great's Pastoral Care: in the preface Alfred says that he is sending a copy of the book to each bishopric in England, and with each copy an æstel, se bið on fiftegum mancessa (an æstel worth fifty mancuses); and a gloss by the Worcester Tremulous Hand has æstel meaning a 'stalk' or 'stick'.

    Taken at the official, invitation-only, re-opening of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. They were really, really only just barely ready to re-open: some of the cases had exhibits but no labels, and some labels but no exhibits; but the space itself is beautiful, with much more on display, and much better displayed than before.

    Front view of the same piece here.

    1. xopherlance 62 months ago | reply

      Thanks for the great photo, as well as the interesting explanation of the historical information behind it!

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