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Norfolk treasure is Britain’s favourite work of art

18 December 2018

Norfolk Museums Service’s Winfarthing Pendant has been named as the winner of Britain's favourite work of art acquired for a museum with Art Fund support in 2018.  A public poll saw more than 5,000 people vote for their favourite.  The nationally-significant Anglo-Saxon gold treasure, which was found by a Norfolk student while metal-detecting at Winfarthing near Diss, was saved for the nation earlier this year following a fundraising appeal by Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery.

The pendant was voted the nation’s favourite acquisition of the year from a shortlist of 10 works of art and objects that Art Fund helped UK museums to buy in 2018. 5,000 members of the public voted.  The shortlist of works ranged from Grayson Perry’s Posh Art at Victoria Art Gallery, Artemisia Gentileschi’s Self-Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria at the National Gallery, Yinka Shonibare’s Earth at Wolverhampton Art Gallery, Leonora Carrington’s Portrait of Max Ernst at National Galleries of Scotland to an unknown artist’s Am not I a man and a brother at the International Slavery Museum.

Art Fund is the national fundraising charity for art and has helped UK museums and galleries to acquire all of the items on the shortlist, including the Winfarthing Treasure, for public display.  The purchase of the treasure, valued at £145,050, was also supported by grants from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Friends of the Norwich Museums.

The Winfarthing Treasure was discovered in December 2014 by Tom Lucking, then a student at the University of East Anglia, while pursuing his hobby of metal-detecting.  Recognising he had discovered an undisturbed grave, he left the burial intact until it could be excavated by archaeologists from Norfolk County Council’s Find Identification and Recording Service, based at Gressenhall.

Cllr. Margaret Dewsbury, Chairman of Norfolk County Council’s Communities Committee, said:  “This is fantastic news and proves once again that the objects in our Museums Service have national-level appeal.  We’re grateful to the organisations who helped save this incredible object for the people of Norfolk, namely Art Fund, the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Friends of the Norwich Museums.”

Excavation showed the grave to have contained an aristocratic Anglo-Saxon lady who died between about AD 650-675.  Her jewellery included a large gold pendant inlaid with hundreds of tiny cloisonné-set garnets forming sinuous interlacing beasts and geometrical shapes.

Dr Tim Pestell, Senior Curator of Archaeology at Norfolk Museums Service, said:  “We are absolutely thrilled that the Winfarthing Pendant has been named as Britain’s favourite work of art in Art Fund’s annual poll, especially so given the quality of this year’s shortlist which contained some truly remarkable works.  It’s intriguing to think what the pendant’s seventh-century creator would make of the lasting appeal of their masterpiece, well over a millennium after it was first crafted.  We’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone that voted for this unique treasure and we’re looking forward to it going back on display in the Anglo-Saxon and Viking Gallery here at Norwich Castle in spring 2019, after it returns from its loan to the British Library for Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War.”

The pendant is currently on display until 19 February 2019 in the British Library’s major exhibition Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms – proof of the pendant’s beauty and considerable archaeological importance.  It will go back on display at Norwich Castle Museums & Art Gallery on its return next spring.

Previous winners of Art Fund Work of the Year include: Sir Edwin Landseer, The Monarch of the Glen (c.1851), National Galleries Scotland (2017) and Unknown artist, The Armada Portrait of Elizabeth I (1588), Royal Museums Greenwich (2016).

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