Where it all started: Time

This is the piece that started it all, over 30 years ago. Bronze and walrus ivory casket from Gandersheim (Anglo-Saxon origin, late 700's)
I don't know what it was about researching this piece that got me all fired up, but after awhile I found myself travelling back in time to an early workshop, selecting tools by firelight- images dancing on the walls and even the smell of fresh bread to compliment a bowl of stew sitting near my lap for hours. A bite here, carve a little there.
It doesn't really matter when you are in your element.
Heres a small excerpt from the book I had been reading at the time:
"Gandersheim Casket. This elegant house-shaped small casket is one of the finest pieces of Middle Saxon carving to have survived. It dates to the late eighth century, and was at Gandersheim Abbey in Germany during the Middle Ages, passing in 1815 into the ducal collection at Braunschweig where it remains to this day. Constructed of carved whalebone panels set in a bronze framework, the casket's walls and lid are exquisitely decorated with an intricate programme of interlacing creatures, vine-scroll and spiral ornament. Behind this elegant surface is a complex cosmological iconography, gridded and grounded in sacred numerology. The casket's very close stylistic relationship to some late eighth- and early ninth-century sculpture from the east midlands, particularly at Peterborough (Medehamstede), suggests an origin in that area. Mercian-style animal ornament also occurs on some of its metal fittings. On the underside of the basal frame is an apparently Old English runic inscription which has not been satisfactorily read; the base itself seems to be a replacement of an earlier frame, and the possibility exists that the runes were copied from a somewhat earlier original."

Here are a few more (I have hundreds of examples in my library) and maybe, if you settle into your own mind a bit you can smell the bread as I did. Oh, and the stew is good too. 

It is possible that the Norse casket tradition evolved after native craftsmen came into contact with reliquaries captured by Viking raiders and brought back to Scandinavia.

Ranvaiks casket shrine
Ranvaik’s Casket

House-shaped casket of Celtic manufacture, ca. 8th cent. A.D. This casket was most likely a reliquary seized from a Celtic church or monastery and taken back to Norway as loot. Runes incised on the bottom read, "Ranvaik owns this casket". Construction is thin plates of a copper alloy over a box made of very thin yew-wood. Left: Front View. Right: Rear view showing hinges.

Gandersheim Reliquary

Photo of 8th century carved walrus ivory casket with bronze fittings from the Gandersheim Monastary. Thought to have been manufactured in southern England. Size 5" x 2-5/8" x 5" (12.7cm x 6.67cm x 12.7cm). From the collection of the Herzon-Anton-Ulrich-Museum. 

Three caskets survived to the modern era, although one, the Cammin Casket, was destroyed in the firebombing of Dresden:

The Bamberg Casket a 10.4" x 5.1" square oak box covered with thin, carved sheets of walrus ivory in the Mammen style of ornament. The seams are covered with gilt-bronze bands engraved with a formal tendril pattern, which are nailed to the wooden base. "Barbaric, vulgar and ostentatious... a satisfying object which a queen would be proud to own".

Bamberg Casket

The Cammin Casket a 24.8"l x 13"w x 10.2"h wood box overlaid with 22 sheets of carved elk-horn in the Mammen style of ornament. The seams are covered with gilt-bronze bands engraved with formal tendril patterns, ribbon interlace and scrolled leaf patterns, which were nailed to the wooden base. This casket may very well have been made by the same workshop as the Bamburg Casket, above.

cammin casket001
Cammin Casket

The Franks Casket a small box of carved whalebone produced by Viking craftsmen in Northumbria at the end of the 7th cent. A.D. The lid and sides have runic inscriptions, and the motifs carved with scenes both from Norse and Classical mythology and Christianity, including the tale of Weland Smith, the Adoration of the Magi, a sacrifice to Óðinn, the discovery of Romulus and Remus with the wolves and the image of a Viking archer named Egill (whose story, unfortunately is now lost).

frankscasket lid p

Franks Casket

This carved whalebone casket was made by Viking craftsmen working in Northumbria ca. the late 7th cent. A.D.

So you can see where one could get lost pouring over these things.
Almost There Folks, 2015
A Few Words on Inspiration


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Saturday, 30 September 2023


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