Sunday, 27 July 2008

Sutton Hoo

Today we went to Sutton Hoo. It's a fantastic place, and I can't recommend it highly enough. You won't see all the fantastic jewels they unearthed, but we did see some, and on the basis of what we did see, I'd say, go. I didn't regret it. I think it's wonderful.

The famous helmet is in the British Museum, of course, but don't panic about that, because there's really very little of it left. What you see here is reconstructions in all their glory, and they are fabulous. This is a 2m high sculpture in mild steel, suspended over the entrance to the Exhibition centre, and it's simply magnificent! Check out the supporting rod-work inside, which is a work of art in itself!

To be honest, the remains of the mounds themselves, apart from mound 2, which was rebuilt to it's original height, was unimpressive. Could easily have just been part of the topogrophy, but it was still a delightful and evocative site.

Back in the Exhibition Centre, the only thing that really captured my attention was one of a pair of clasps made from gold with cloisonné garnet and (can't remember) glass inlay which looked completely new. The label said, "Unrestored". Look at this stuff. It's 1500 years old and was made by a man working with a charcoal brazier. If you don't know about soldering
without gas, I can tell you it's a nightmare. This complexity of soldering, even with gas is absolutely top quality stuff. I cannot imagine the skill of the man who did this. I remind you, all the yellow stuff is gold.

Lemmy try a bit. All the red stuff, is garnet. Get a piece of garnet, polish it down to the thickness you need, then somehow make it the complex shape you need, then place it in position. Most pieces were so precise, they didn't need glue! Get that!

And even forgetting the astonishing levels of skill required, just remember how old it is, and that it was made entirely by hand. Look at that piece of chain, holding the pin onto the clasp. A man, 1500 years ago, made each link of that chain, by hand, and joined them together. I could do that, though not remotely as well. He was a world class jeweller, yet this piece of work enables me to relate to him. It is truly humbling.

It's 5 inches long. Actually, this image is upside down, but I don't know why. I don't think it matters much, but if you disagree, I'll fix it.

OK, mouth still open in amazement, I'm going to bed. Night night.

Edit: One slightly odd thing, which I don't understand, is a detail of the construction. Onto the gold back-plate, he soldered the little gold "walls" that make up the cells into which the glass and garnet are fitted, but before that last stage, in the bottom of each cell, he dropped a little square of gold leaf, which looks, if you click the picture and examine it larger, for all the world as though it's been textured into a series of rows of dents and bumps. Almost like a reflector. I think this was a way of getting more reflected light back out through the garnet, to make the piece glow even more brightly. Ain't nothing new under the sun, right?

4 comments:

The Dotterel said...

The craftsmanship is amazing, as you say. I've never been to the site, but have gazed in awe at the treasures in the BM many times. Michael Wood did a fantastic programme about it years ago, if I remember rightly. Did you see it?

Rob Clack said...

Don't recall seeing the Michael Wood programme, which is a shame as he's rather good.

A Mother's Place is in the Wrong said...

What gorgeous stuff - and those clasps look as if they could have been made yesterday - except the workmanshsip wouldn't be nearly so wonderful! Hope you're feeling better. M :-)

A Mother's Place is in the Wrong said...

PS Had a closer look at the enlarged picture, and am even more amazed. They're quite beautiful. M x