The Alfred Jewel by Mary Elizabeth Podles

A Thousand Words

The Alfred Jewel

by Mary Elizabeth Podles

The gold, enamel, and crystal ornament known as the Alfred Jewel, standing slightly over 2.5 inches high, is a dazzling display of Anglo-Saxon workmanship from the late ninth century, a period that we generally consider rather a dark age. The front of the jewel depicts a half-length figure holding two foliated scepters; he has been variously interpreted as Christ in majesty, Christ as the Divine Wisdom, or perhaps, based on comparison to other contemporary images, the sense of sight. The enamel plaque is executed in cloisonné, that is, the outlines are made from gold wires attached to a back plate, and the colors are laid in with enamel and fired. The back plate is overlaid with a thick piece of rock crystal; its unusual teardrop shape suggests that it was an older, possibly Roman, gem repurposed by the Anglo-Saxon craftsman.

A gold filigree frame holds the crystal in place. Around the edge in tiny letters runs the inscription, "AELFRED MEC HEHT GEWYRCAN" ("Alfred had me made"). At the bottom, the edges of the frame are attached together by a dragon-like creature with a hollow snout, worked in fine wire filigree and gold granulation. On the back, in low relief, is a plant design, likely a representation of the Tree of Life.

THIS ARTICLE ONLY AVAILABLE TO SUBSCRIBERS.
FOR QUICK ACCESS:


Mary Elizabeth Podles is the retired curator of Renaissance and Baroque art at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. She is the author of A Thousand Words: Reflections on Art and Christianity (St. James Press, 2023). She and her husband Leon, a Touchstone senior editor, have six children and live in Baltimore, Maryland. She is a contributing editor for Touchstone.

Print &
Online Subscription

Get six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for only $39.95. That's only $3.34 per month!

Online
Subscription

Get a one-year full-access subscription to the Touchstone online archives for only $19.95. That's only $1.66 per month!

bulk subscriptions

Order Touchstone subscriptions in bulk and save $10 per sub! Each subscription includes 6 issues of Touchstone plus full online access to touchstonemag.com—including archives, videos, and pdf downloads of recent issues for only $29.95 each! Great for churches or study groups.

Transactions will be processed on a secure server.


more on art from the online archives

32.4—July/August 2019

Sojourner Knight

on Single-Mindedness in Durer's Ritter, Tod, und Teufel by Anthony Costello

30.3—May/June 2017

St. Luke the Evangelist

by Mary Elizabeth Podles

33.2—March/April 2020

Christ Chapel at Hillsdale

An Architectural Sign of Mere Christianity by Michael Ward


more from the online archives

32.6—November/December 2019

Strategic Christians

The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis by Alan Jacobs by Jesse Russell

33.2—March/April 2020

Christian Pro-Family Governments?

Old & New Lessons from Europe by Allan C. Carlson

33.3—May/June 2020

Consolation in Death

Bach's Cantata BWV 106, Gottes Zeit ist die allerbesteZeit (God's time is the very best time) by Ken Myers

calling all readers

Please Donate

"There are magazines worth reading but few worth saving . . . Touchstone is just such a magazine."
—Alice von Hildebrand

"Here we do not concede one square millimeter of territory to falsehood, folly, contemporary sentimentality, or fashion. We speak the truth, and let God be our judge. . . . Touchstone is the one committedly Christian conservative journal."
—Anthony Esolen, Touchstone senior editor

Support Touchstone

00