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 . . .

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Mary Elizabeth Podles is the retired curator of Renaissance and Baroque art at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. She and her husband Leon, a Touchstone senior editor, have six children and live in Baltimore, Maryland.

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