Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Staffordshire Hoard in Washington

Yesterday I slipped over to the National Geographic museum in Washington, DC to see part of the Staffordshire Hoard. It is a not a large exhibit but it is well put together, with some excellent videos explaining what we know and don't know about the hoard. Even though I have spent plenty of time staring at photographs of these objects, it was still exciting them in person.

I found myself most impressed by the fine filigree work on some of the pieces. These designs are made with gold wire, some of it less than a millimeter thick, arrayed in complex designs. Without my glasses I could not even see these designs, and this got me wondering who did it and how.

Was this work mainly done by boys, like the finest lace was once made by young girls? Was goldwork a profession for the myopic? One of the experts in the exhibit videos speculates that maybe doing this work from the age of seven made the artisans short-sighted.

The wire was made by twisting and rolling sheets of gold, and this gives it the bumpy appearance.

However these objects were made, and by whom, they are a beautiful reminder of how noble men once equipped themselves for battle, with gold and gems as well as spears and shields.

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