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The Sutton Hoo Treasure, the Lindisfarne Gospels, the Stockholm Codex Aureus, the Ruthwell Cross, the Alfred Jewel - these are among the greatest works of art ever produced in the British Isles. Yet they are only the isolated survivors of a far richer heritage which has been decimated by chance, violence and decay. If the high civilization that flourished between the mission of St Augustine in 597 and the Norman Conquest in 1066 remains shadowy and mysterious, it is not because its achievements were small but because history has been merciless.
David M. Wilson, Director of the British Museum, is the world expert on the Anglo-Saxons and their art. In spite of his many important contributions to the subject, he has never attempted a general survey before. Indeed no such survey has been written since since that completed by one of his predecessors, Thomas Kendrick, forty years ago - forty years in which a great deal has happened. There has been a steady stream of discoveries - some of them, like the Pentney brooches, of the very highest quality. There have been advances in techniques of dating, and advances too in our understanding of the religious and political background. Much remains controversial - and Dr. Wilson does not run away from controversy - but it is safe to say that this will be the authoritative book for the next forty years. It illustrates and discusses every important work of Anglo-Saxon art from the Sutton Hoo ship-burial (still partly pagan), through the great masterpieces of manuscript ullumination, the marvels of jewellery and the poignant fragments of sculptured crosses, to the last flowering before the Conquest, including the Bayeux Tapestry, which Dr. Wilson accepts as English. The numerous illustrations provide the most complete record ever published of a period which is arguably the golden age of English art.