RARE ANGLO-SAXON GOLD AESTEL
Measurements: 3.6 cm - length, 11.27 grams - weight
Description: A rare Anglo-Saxon gold leaf-shaped book pointer comprised of a flat base with raised round dome with a portrait of a man. The portrait is executed in cloisonné technique with borders of gold wire. In the portrait the man is facing frontally against the blue background, wearing a red robe and with his brown hair down. The entire surface of the finial is decorated with filigree and granulation. Above the portrait, there is a gold equilateral cross in a circle of beaded wire. Below the portrait, there is a pierced cylindrical shaft used for attachment of this aestel.
The techniques used in the production of this jewel represent the peak of the Anglo-Saxon craftsmanship under the patronage of the West Saxon court. For the cloisonné portrait the image was laid down with golden wires, the spaces in between were filled with glass paste of different colours. The word Æstel, or aestel, derives from the Latin hastula meaning ‘a little spear’. Most likely it was used to point out the lines in the pages of a manuscript.
The male portrait at the centre of the composition is difficult to identify, given the lack of details and attributes. However, the portrait can possibly refer to a saint, a bishop or a member of the local aristocracy. King Alfred the Great is known to have commissioned several such aestels and sent them to all the bishops of his kingdom with a copy of his translation of Pope Gregory I’s Regula Pastoralis. The Bodleian Library of Oxford possesses the only surviving copy of King Alfred's translation. All surviving aestels differ slightly in size, form and decoration but most share typical features of domed body, riveted socket and flat base. The best known is the Alfred Jewel, now in Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.
Provenance: Purchased through Spink & Son, King Street, London SW1, on behalf of Maurice Braham and Lord Alistair McAlpine in 1980; restored and retained by Maurice Braham until 1997 (September), then sold to a private collector in London. Accompanied by a positive X-Ray Fluorescence metal analysis certificate.
Period: 9th century AD
Condition: Extremely fine. Slight wear of the enamel surface. Slight indentations to the gold surface.