Adorn: Spotlight on the Boss Hall Brooch

8 Nov 2019

IPSMG:R.1996.41; The Boss Hall Brooch

On loan from Ipswich Borough Council


Cymbeline Storey, Conservation Officer (Colchester)

We’re going to take a closer look at one of the many stunning objects currently on display in Colchester Castle in the exhibition Adorn: Jewellery: the Human Story.

The Boss Hall Brooch was found in a woman’s grave, excavated in 1990 in the Boss Hall Industrial Estate, Ipswich. Dating from the late 7th century, the brooch is made of gold with cloisonné garnet inlay and gold filigree panels. Cloisonné is a decorative technique in which compartments are created by soldering thin metal strips vertically onto a metal backing, thereby creating enclosed cells. These cells are then filled with something to create a beautiful design – typically enamel or gemstones. In the case of the Boss Hall brooch, the material is garnet. The below image demonstrates the structure and layers of a cloisonné cell. 



As you can see, the cells are first filled with a paste-like substance, then a thin, textured gold foil is placed on top. The foil backing reflects light and really makes the garnets sparkle and show off their deep red colour. Without it, the garnets would appear quite dull and dark.

The garnets are then cut to the shape of the cell and placed on top. To ‘lock in’ the garnets the top surface is then rubbed down to slightly deform the tops of the gold walls.

This technique was really something of a technical feat in the 7th century, when every step of the process had to be done meticulously by hand – particularly when you consider the tiny size of each cell. This brooch would have been an expensive item fit for a high-status individual.

Cloisonné garnet decoration was popular with the Anglo-Saxons. Other notable finds with Anglo-Saxon cloisonné garnet objects are the Sutton Hoo excavation and the Staffordshire Hoard. The Boss Hall Brooch has a geometric design, but some other Anglo Saxon finds feature animal designs or other complex patterns. Take a look at the Sutton Hoo and Staffordshire Hoard finds to see their similarities and differences to this brooch.

You can come see this beautiful piece yourself at Colchester Castle, where it will be on display until 16 February 2020.


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