Roman To English: The Migration of Forms in Early Northumberland
10 July – 10 October 2010
A collection of remarkable sculptural fragments from the ancient kingdom of Northumbria reveals contrasts and underlying continuities between the Roman and Anglo Saxon periods.
The third in a series of the Institute's Gallery 4 study exhibitions looking at ancient artefacts, Roman to English presents a group of carved sandstone fragments, displayed within a gallery context for the first time.
Traditionally, these objects are approached from an archaeological viewpoint, examining their style, subject matter and historical context. Centred upon the four faces of the shaft of a cross, the exhibition presents a unique set of artefacts as works of art that not only speak to each other, but are also active participants in larger discourses of political, national and cultural identity.
The Roman sculptures date from the third and fourth centuries, and the Anglo-Saxon works from the late seventh and early ninth century. They illustrate the survival, revival, reuse or reworking of styles, symbols and carving techniques across the centuries. At the same time the sculptures evoke tensions, contradictions and hauntings.
We cannot be sure of the exact nature of the larger compositions of which these fragments once formed a part. Echoes of the earlier works reverberate in the later ones in ways that cannot be tied directly to simple matters of style or composition. There are also echoes of empire and empire building - and of course of decline and fall.
The Roman sculptures are all from the area of Hadrian's Wall, a now fragmentary monument to the Roman Empire. The Anglo-Saxon fragments are part of an appropriation and reworking of a vision of Rome that both fit the agenda of an expanding Northumbrian church and played a significant role in the of the making of England and the earliest ideas of Englishness.
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