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V&A Museum Acquires Medieval Buried Treasure

Late medieval gold cluster brooch with diamonds, cabochon spinel and enamel

Late medieval gold cluster brooch with diamonds, cabochon spinel and enamel decoration, German or … [+] French, c1400-1450.

Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the world’s leading art & design museum, recently made a surprising new acquisition: a 600-year-old medieval brooch, found by a metal detectorist in the English countryside. Believed to date from 1400-1450, the brooch is now on display alongside pieces of jewelry belonging to the Queen and Beyoncé. It’s likely to have been made in either France or Germany and is one of only seven the Medieval cluster brooches in the world.

The brooch was found on former royal hunting ground in Northamptonshire, England, in 2017 by Justin Owens, who did not initially realize what he had found: “It was a complete surprise. At best, I’d hope to come across a Roman or Medieval hammered coin on a dig, but to find something so rare was a total shock. Now I’ve seen it cleaned up, I can’t believe how exquisite it really is,” he says. The museum acquired the piece via the UK’s National Treasure Act, which requires people who find certain categories of object to report them to their local coroner and offer it for sale to a museum at an expert-set market price.

The late medieval gold cluster brooch is now in the hands of experts at London's Victoria & Albert Museum.

The late medieval gold cluster brooch is now in the hands of experts at London’s Victoria & Albert … [+] Museum.

Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The triangular brooch represents a flower, with two diamonds arranged around a central spinel cabochon and enamel embellishment. Experts believe there were originally pearls on the brooch, which have since been lost, pointing to the “extreme wealth” of the owner, according to James Robinson, Keeper of Sculpture, Metalwork, Ceramics and Glass for the V&A. “It would have been made for someone from the highest echelons of society. The loss of some diamonds and the brooch’s severely bent pin belie the visible trauma it would have suffered when it was likely ripped off its wearer during a hunt.”

The V&A believes it is likely to have been worn on the shoulder, pinned to ‘sumptuous’ fabric as part of a display of status. It’s also heavy with symbolism; in Medieval times, diamonds represented strength and eternity; red stones like the spinel at its center symbolized passion and good health and the lost pearls would have stood for purity. An expert conservator removed nearly 600 years of mud to reveal the brooch’s original beauty, using both high-tech tools and delicate ostrich feathers for cleaning.

“It’s amazing to think who might have worn this and how it ended up buried underground, undisturbed, for so many years,” says Owens.

The brooch is available to see at the William & Judith Bollinger Gallery, Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

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