Brooching the Subject: Mediaeval Jewellery in Context


Jewellery is one of the longest-standing features of human cultures. Made from the most varied of materials, from shell and bone to metal, wood, and stone, its evolution has allowed it to remain an important means of communication about not only individuals, but also societies. Today, for example, a rapper’s ‘bling’ has become emblematic of the loose-spending, big-living aspirations of street culture, and even an item as simple as a gold band–worn around the third finger of the left hand–can dictate how others will interact with its wearer. Affiliations to schools, branches of the military, and other institutions are also captured in our jewellery, as are rejections of these social norms (think of the less-common piercings.)

The purposes of mediaeval jewellery, like those of its modern counterparts, was incredibly varied, and yet no object captures these contradictions between personal and social meaning quite like brooches. The brooch, often called by…

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