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.
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.
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).
© Trustees of the British Museum