Is Norfolk treasure the best in Britain?
PUBLISHED: 14:52 04 December 2018 | UPDATED: 14:58 04 December 2018
An Anglo-Saxon gold treasure unearthed by a student while metal-detecting in Norfolk is in the running to be named the UK’s museum acquisition of the year.
The Winfarthing Pendant is on the shortlist to find the Art Fund’s Work of 2018, a public vote that showcases the breadth of museums’ collecting across the UK.
The nationally significant find was discovered in December 2014 by Tom Lucking, then a student at the University of East Anglia, while pursuing his hobby of metal-detecting.
Recognising he had discovered an undisturbed grave, he left the burial intact until it could be excavated by archaeologists from Norfolk County Council’s Find Identification and Recording Service, based at Gressenhall.
Excavation showed the grave to have contained an aristocratic Anglo-Saxon lady who died between about AD 650-675. Her jewellery included a large gold pendant inlaid with hundreds of tiny cloisonné-set garnets forming sinuous interlacing beasts and geometrical shapes.
Now the beautiful gold and garnet pendant is one of 10 works nationally to make the Art Fund’s shortlist to name the nation’s favourite acquisition of the year.
The purchase of the treasure, valued at £145,050, was supported by grants from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Friends of the Norwich Museums.
Tim Pestell, senior curator of Archaeology at Norfolk Museums Service, said: “The purchase of such an important find for the Norfolk Museums archaeology collections was a highlight of the year. We’re delighted that it’s now made the Art Fund’s national shortlist for Work of the Year 2018 – the Art Fund were instrumental in helping us secure the Winfarthing Treasure for the public and it’s lovely to see this extraordinary find recognised in this way.”
The other shortlisted works, with a combined value of £5.2m, encompass painting and sculpture, including a recently discovered work by Italian Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi, a powerful anti-slavery painting and a decorated urn by Grayson Perry titled Posh Art.
There is also the first work by American artist Kehinde Wiley to enter a public collection in the UK; Yinka Shonibare’s colourful sculpture Earth; and Eric Ravilious’ 1939 painting Beachy Head, depicting the white cliffs shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War.
The online poll runs until 5pm on December 15 with the winner to be announced on December 18. All those who vote will be entered into a free prize draw, with the chance of winning a lifetime National Art Pass worth £1,850.
A measure of the pendant’s beauty and archaeological importance is that it is currently on display in the British Library’s major exhibition Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms until February 19. It will go back on display at Norwich Castle Museums & Art Gallery on its return next spring.
Vote for your favourite Art Fund work of 2018
FULL LIST OF WORKS IN THE POLL
Kehinde Wiley, Ship of Fools (2017), Royal Museums Greenwich
Unknown maker, Anglo-Saxon pendant (650-700), Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery
Leonora Carrington, Portrait of Max Ernst (c1939), National Galleries of Scotland
Lubaina Himid, Toussaint L’Ouverture (1987), Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (mima)
Grayson Perry, Posh Art (1992), Victoria Art Gallery
Eric Ravilious, Beachy Head (1939), Towner Art Gallery
Unknown artist, Am Not I a Man and a Brother (c1800), International Slavery Museum
Artemisia Gentileschi, Self-Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria (c1616), National Gallery
John Bellany, The Boatbuilders (1962), Scottish Maritime Museum
Yinka Shonibare MBE, Earth (2010), Wolverhampton Art Gallery
MORE ABOUT WINFARTHING TREASURE
* Excavation showed the grave to have contained an aristocratic Anglo-Saxon lady who died between about AD 650-675. Her jewellery included a large gold pendant inlaid with hundreds of tiny cloisonné-set garnets forming sinuous interlacing beasts and geometrical shapes.
* Cleaning of the brooch revealed the delicate shape of these and tiny details like the eyes of the beasts being formed from tiny inlaid garnets about half a millimetre in size.
* A second necklace string comprised two gold beads, two pendants made from identical Merovingian coins and a gold cross pendant inlaid with delicate filigree wire. The latter shows she was probably among the earliest Anglo-Saxon converts to Christianity.
* A bronze bowl had been buried at the lady’s feet, along with an imported Continental pottery jar, a knife and a belt hanger of bronze rings.
* This find is an exceptional example of the type of jewellery restricted to a few women of high status in the seventh century England and is the female counterpart to the sort of male war-gear found in the Staffordshire Hoard and at Sutton Hoo.
* This burial can be linked with two other rich female graves from the early Kingdom of East Anglia, excavated at Harford Farm, Caistor-by-Norwich and Boss Hall near Ipswich. This raises the intriguing possibility that these ladies all knew one another in life and were quite possibly related.