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‘There is nothing outside the box’: Considering the institutional narratives and object histories of the Franks Casket

‘There is nothing outside the box’: Considering the institutional narratives and object histories of the Franks Casket

Lecture by Meg Boulton

Given at the University of York, on February 3, 2015

The Franks Casket, a much studied, famously ambiguous 8th century Anglo-Saxon object, presented to the British Museum in 1867 after its rediscovery, was recently redisplayed alongside the re-design of the Sutton Hoo exhibit, in a manner that makes its object-status clear to those engaging with it. This extraordinarily sophisticated and intellectually complex object is possessed of a mysterious history and an equally contentious iconographic programme, containing scenes from various cultural and visual traditions, argued to speak to the ‘universal history of the Church’.  The richly carved whalebone retains only part of its original appearance, being, at some point, dismantled –the end panel being bequeathed to the Museo Nazionale del Bargello (represented in the British Museum by a cast) whose display of the panel is vastly different to that of the casket in London. In addition to these, there also exists a replica casket, held at Bede’s World in Jarrow, providing additional museological, political and psycho-geographical narratives around this object.

Through its various narratives, of object, fragment and replica, the casket, which already presents a narrative drawn from many places and cultures, acquires further significances and nuances in its various (and vastly different) modes of display and replication, and in the choices and contexts given to it by the pan-European institutions that display it. This paper considers the various institutional contexts and narratives given to the casket in its various states and identities, asking what these Institutional re-imaginings and contextual constructs do to the viewing of this intriguing box.

To learn more about Franks Casket, see this video from Archaeosoup:

franks casket - photo by John Schulze



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