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The Mediterranean Scenes on the Franks Casket: Narrative and Exegesis

Cross, Katherine ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-9038-5527 (2015) The Mediterranean Scenes on the Franks Casket: Narrative and Exegesis. Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 78 (1). pp. 1-40.

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Abstract

The Franks Casket, a whalebone box created c. 700, probably in Northumbria, presents images of episodes from Christian, Roman and Germanic historical traditions across its front, back, sides and lid. Interacting with these images are inscriptions which mix Old English runes and Latin script. The casket's intriguing combinations of traditions have generated much discussion, but their meanings remain ambiguous.

This article focuses on the three 'mediterranean' scenes: the discovery of Romulus and Remus suckling from the she-wolf; the sack of Jerusalem by Titus in AD 70; and the Adoration of the Magi. By investigating the place of these narratives within early Anglo-Saxon culture, I argue that they were all of primarily Christian significance. The casket seems designed to be read on several levels. On a historical level, the episodes all connect with an early medieval view which privileged the role of Rome in Christian history, as expounded, for example, by Orosius. Moreover, I read the specific representations of these narratives as responses to contemporary developments in the Northumbrian church, thus adding to arguments that the casket was created in a monastic milieu. The panels reflect Anglo-Saxon ecclesiastics' relationship with the church of Rome, certain interests in the exegetical significance of the Temple, and the introduction of the cult of the Virgin to England. Specifically, I suggest that the sphere of influence of Wearmouth-Jarrow is a likely context of production.

The significance of the three Germanic scenes on the casket may be reassessed in light of this interpretation. I argue that, rather than juxtaposing two contradictory world views, the casket's designer sought to unite local Anglo-Saxon and imported Christian history into one narrative. Comparison can be made with the extension of the West Saxon royal genealogy in the ninth century, which similarly combines pagan gods and heroes with biblical history.

Item Type: Article
Status: Published
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/JWCI26321947
School/Department: Library and Learning Services
URI: http://ray.yorksj.ac.uk/id/eprint/5955

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