Archive for March 13th, 2020

V&A acquires rare Medieval cluster brooch

Friday, March 13th, 2020

The Victoria & Albert Museum has acquired a medieval brooch that is the only one of its kind ever discovered in the UK. Only seven of them are known to exist in the world. It was discovered by metal detectorist Justin Owens at a 2017 rally on a farm that was once a royal hunting grounds near Brigstock, Northamptonshire. It was only four inches under the surface and so caked with mud that Owens at first thought it was a bottle cap or some other piece of trash. Cleaning revealed it was an extremely rare late medieval brooch of gold and jewels.

The front face of the brooch is a triangular setting outlined by three gold bars with a central rectangular gemstone, almost certainly a spinel, in a four-prong mount. Around the stone are alternating flower and bow shapes with twisted gold wires filling gaps. At the three corners of the triangle are are box bezels topped with a pointed gemstone giving them a pyramidical shape. One of the three is missing its gem point. The surviving two are diamonds. White enamel balls accent the piece and there would originally have been pearls, now lost.

The front face is mounted to a roughly circular gold back plate divided into six pie slices. At the center of the outer edge of each wedge is a rivet keeping the setting elements in place, mounted to the back plate. There’s another rivet in the middle where the six divides meet. It holds the central gem in place. The pin is intact, hinged to the back plate. The style of design dates it to between 1420 and 1600.

James Robinson, Keeper of Sculpture, Metalwork, Ceramics and Glass at the V&A, said: “This intriguing and exquisite late medieval cluster brooch is a rare survivor with a tantalising story to tell.

“It’s sculptural design, exceptionally fine gold and enamel work, stunning diamonds, central cabochon spinel and pearls (now lost), all express burgeoning opulence and extreme wealth.

“It would have been made for someone from the highest echelons of society. The loss of some diamonds and the brooch’s severely bent pin belie the visible trauma it would have suffered when it was likely ripped off its wearer during the thrill of a hunt.

“It makes a truly captivating and unique addition to our world-class jewellery collection, which traces the story of jewellery in Europe from ancient times to the present day.”

After a painstaking conservation using the most delicate of tools including pheasant and ostrich feathers, the brooch will go on display in the V&A’s Judith Bollinger Jewellery Gallery alongside the silver, sapphire and diamond coronet Prince Albert had made as wedding gift for Queen Victoria.

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