Striking Gold: The Golden Age of Anglo-Saxon Art, 966-1066

The exhibition of late Anglo-Saxon art currently at the British Museum (until 10th March) offers a splendid – indeed, a golden – opportunity to view many of the most notable works of art (and of related historical interest) surviving from what may reasonably lay claim to being (as the accompanying catalogue declares) 'one of the greatest periods of English art'. Smaller in scale and far less daunting than the recent Arts Council exhibition on English Romanesque art (reviewed in History Today in June 1984), this exhibition is sponsored jointly by the British Museum and the British Library; it focuses upon the century leading up to the Norman Conquest, when 'a distinctive Anglo-Saxon style burgeoned and flourished'.

This style emerged both in direct response to, and also as an inextricable part of, the resurgence of religious, cultural and artistic life which swept through late Anglo-Saxon England. Its roots lay in the reign of Alfred the Great (871-99), following retrenchment against the Viking incursions and disruptions. Once he had secured his kingdom against the Vikings, Alfred launched a substantial programme of educational, cultural and social revival, which some of his successors – notably the pious Æthelstan (824-39) and Edgar (959-75) – continued to foster. This revival amounted to a fundamental redistribution, rather than a reincarnation, of earlier Anglo-Saxon forms.

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