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The Fuller Brooch

The Fuller Brooch, Anglo-Saxon, late 9th century, 11.4 cm in diameter, © Trustees of the British Museum
The Fuller Brooch, late 9th century, Anglo-Saxon, 11.4 cm in diameter 
© Trustees of the British Museum

The earliest known personification of the Five Senses

This splendid circular brooch is made from hammered sheet silver. The centre part is decorated with five figures who represent the five human senses (see the diagram below). In the centre is Sight, with large staring oval eyes. Sight was thought of as the most important of the senses in medieval times. The other four senses surround Sight, and can be identified by their actions. Taste has a hand in his mouth. Smell’s hands are behind his back, and he stands between two tall plants. Touch rubs his hands together. Hearing holds his hand to his ear. In the outer border are human, bird, animal and plant motifs, which may represent different aspects of creation.
Diagram of Fuller Brooch, 5 senses
The figures stand out clearly because the background has been inlaid with black niello ( a hot liquid metal).
The meaning of this brooch would have been easily understood by King Alfred the Great (died 899), soldier, administrator, and Christian scholar who wrote about gaining inner wisdom through the "eyes of the mind." It may have been made in his court workshop.
Both men and women would have worn a brooch like this on an outer garment to make sure that it was visible to other people.Although its pin and fixings have been removed, the brooch has survived in excellent condition. Early in the twentieth century a curator at the British Museum thought that it must be a fake because it was in such good condition. He advised the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford which had been lent the brooch, to take it off display. It was then bought by Captain Fuller (after whom the brooch is now named) for the value of its silver. However, after the beautiful Strickland Brooch, also in the British Museum, was found, this one was re-examined and confirmed as genuine because the niello inlay was a type only used in the early Middle Ages.

Suggested readings:
R.L.S. Bruce-Mitford, "Late Saxon disc-brooches" in Dark-Age Britain (London, Methuen, 1956), pp. 171–201.
T. Richard Blurton, The enduring image: Treasures from The British Museum (London, The British Council, 1997).
The British Museum logo
© Trustees of the British Museum

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  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user P A
    I can't really imagine how the brooch and/or a couple of pins would be able to do the function of a zipper or buttons. Can someone explain to me how you actually use this or how archaeologists think they used it?
    (3 votes)
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    • leafers ultimate style avatar for user Karen Hendrickson
      Your question got me to wondering what people did to hold their clothes together. The first button-button hole combination doesn't seem to have shown up in Germany until the 13th century and zippers were not used in clothing until the 20th century. Men and women's clothing of the 5th and 6th century used few fasteners. Women wore an under dress of linen or wool with long sleeves that was pulled over the head and had a draw string neck. The sleeves could be fastened with clasps or laces. Over that came an outer dress. This was a cloth tube and brooches or clasps were used to pin this to the under dress. Last, came a belt -- a chance to wear a fancy buckle. They also wore cloaks fastened together either at the center or at the shoulder with a brooch.
      Men wore a hip-length under shirt. Over that came a tunic. Trousers were held up with a belt threaded through loops at the top of the trousers. Men also wore leggings tied to the legs with strips of cloth. They also wore cloaks that could be fastened with a brooch.
      So, there were drawstrings, belts, lacing, and tying. Besides brooches, there were also pins were made of thorn, bone, wood, horn, or metal. These were like large straight pins but much larger and could be used to fasten cloaks and so on. The pennacular brooch was used before the Anglo-Saxons and into the Middle Ages. This was often of two parts: a circular horse shoe shape often made from wire and a long pin. The circular part was put over the two pieces of cloth to be joined and then the pin went in and out of the pieces in the center of the "horse shoe." There is also a pennacular brooch where the pin is attached to the circle opposite the open part of the horse shoe. For other brooches, the pin is on the back. I tried to find a picture of the back of one of the brooches, but I couldn't.
      (15 votes)
  • leaf red style avatar for user David Scott
    Is it me, or do the figures look unnaturally cartoonish? Like you can still tell it was made long ago, but there's a sort of modern sense to it...anyone else feel this way?
    (6 votes)
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    • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Миленa
      I think that's because the brooch has a very very clear dark-bright contrast. It's not burnished in the slightest. Also, just like in pencil-drawn political cartoons, the contrast between the silver background and black lines is very clear and monochrome. I think that if the colors were different or if the brooch were burnished, it would no longer look cartoony.
      (2 votes)
  • leafers seed style avatar for user outstanley
    Soooo..did captain Fuller make any money on this transaction?
    (2 votes)
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