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Translating animal art: Salin’s Style I and Anglo-Saxon cast saucer brooches

By T.M. Dickinson


Saucer brooches are actually the most frequent bearers of Salin’s Style I in England, but have been overlooked because of perceptions of the derivative nature of their ornament. This paper seeks to rectify the inbalance by accepting that translation (in a physical and linguistic sense) is the key to understanding both the form which Style I took on saucer brooches and potentially its meanings. The study is based on 281 cast saucer brooches (almost half the total corpus of the type): half feature zoomorphic decoration on its own and half combine zoomorphic and geometric motifs. The animal art is characterised in terms of motifs, presentation and composition. While ‘coherent’ motifs, recognisable from the classic, early repertoire of Style I, are reasonably well represented, attention is mostly given to the way motifs and designs were transformed, involving both established principles of Style I design (abbreviation, addition, re-assembly and ambiguity) and adaptation to the pre-existing, geometric-based, saucer-brooch tradition. Although calibrating the pace of change (devolution?) is difficult, the process can be shown to have endured throughout the 6th century and to have been most practised in western Anglo-Saxon districts. Explaining the meaning and role of this transformed animal art is obviously hard, but it is argued that it was the result not of ignorance or carelessness, but a deliberate choice. By adopting images from Northern Germanic mythology and blending them with other (Roman and Saxon) symbols, meanings were both perpetuated and subtly altered, enabling important kindred outside Kent and the main Anglian areas to negotiate their own identity and affiliations

Year: 2002
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