News story

Rare 8th century brooch at risk of leaving the UK

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has placed a temporary export bar on an Anglo-Saxon brooch from the late 8th – early 9th century.

An Anglo-Saxon bronze brooch over 1,000 years old is at risk of being exported from the UK unless a buyer can be found to match the asking price of £8,460.

In order to provide a last chance to keep this rare item in the UK, Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has placed a temporary export bar on the Anglo-Saxon gilt bronze lozenge-shaped brooch from the late 8th – early 9th century AD.

The brooch is considered the most elaborate example of a rare type of Anglo-Saxon brooch, and its decoration is unique. There are only twelve similar brooches in existence, but this one stands out amongst them for its high skill and creativity. Most have geometric or zoomorphic design, whereas this one is decorated with a dense and complex foliate pattern. Examples of decorated metalwork from this period are not as common as in earlier centuries, and as a result, a new discovery such as this can help to illuminate our understanding of 8th and early 9th century England. The use of gilding, singular ornament and the high quality of the brooch indicates that it was used by an individual of significant social status. A contemporary illustration of the Virgin Mary in the Book of Kells shows her wearing a brooch of similar type, which suggests that they were worn by high-status women, and may have carried a Christian meaning.

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey said:

“This rare and beautiful brooch gives us a fascinating glimpse into what life was like over 1,000 years ago. With an object as old and as rare as this one, it is important that we protect it for the UK in order to help us better understand what life, society and culture was like during Anglo-Saxon times. I hope that the temporary export bar that I have put in place will result in a UK buyer coming forward to buy this brooch and save it for the nation.”

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey took the decision to defer granting an export licence for the brooch following a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA), administered by Arts Council England.

The RCEWA made their recommendation on the Anglo-Saxon brooch on the grounds that it was of outstanding significance for the study of Anglo-Saxon art and material culture.

RCEWA Member Leslie Webster said:

“This beautiful object has intriguing stories to tell, and would be a marvellous acquisition for a UK museum. It impresses with its skilful and subtle design, but it also discloses something intriguing about the Anglo-Saxon mindset.

At first sight, its decoration baffles the eye with a seemingly abstract tangle of swirls and corrugations; but if you take time to unravel the pattern, it reveals itself as an elegant interplay of twining plants, whose pointed leaves and interlacing stems identify it as a version of the Christian ‘Tree of Life’ design, which was widespread in the art of this period. Anglo-Saxons loved riddles, both verbal and visual, which run through their poetry and art. The teasing design of this brooch, challenging the onlooker to work out its true nature, is a wonderful example of that fascination with ambiguity; and in its design as well as in its form, it may also reveal something about the ways in which people chose to signal their beliefs and status.”

The decision on the export licence application for the brooch will be deferred for a period ending on 26 January 2016 inclusive. This period may be extended until 26 March 2016 inclusive if a serious intention to raise funds to purchase the brooch is made at the recommended price of £8,460 (net of VAT).

An image of the Anglo-Saxon brooch can be downloaded here.