ANNE WANNER'S Textiles in History   /  book reviews, articles

  William Morris og islenskir forngripir
by Elsa E. Gudjonsson
in: Arbok hins islenzka forngripafelags 1999. Reykjavik 2001. Bls.169-184.
in icelandic, with english summary

William Morris and Icelandic Antiquities
p. 169-184, 10 colour illustrations

The same article was published in: Hugur og hönd 2000; without notes and English summary, and with somewhat different illustrations.

William Morris and Iselandic Antiquities

William Morris visited Iceland twice, in 1871 and 1873, when he travelled to the northern and western parts of the country. Sigurdur Vigfusson, who between 1878 and 1892 was the keeper of the Icelandic Museum of Antiquities - now the National Museum of Iceland - wrote when registering a silver cup bought by the museum in 1872 that the seller of the cup had owned another similar cup which "the Englishman Morris or his companions had acquired in 1871" together with a silver spoon. He also wrote that they had acquired "ten other silver spoons and many fine old belt clasps, buttons, belts, etc," and he added that this, among others, was a small example of the antiquities which were leaving the country in those days.

  The present author went through the diaries kept by Morris on his travels in Iceland for evidence of objects acquired by him and his companions during their stay, noting as well the various antiquities observed by them at the time. According to the diaries the Englishman bought one silver cup, four silver spoons and an unspecified number of horn spoons, while also observing and making notes on various pieces of antiquites.

In the church Skalholt, for instance, Morris saw two altar cloths "edged with Icelandic silver" and a chasuble "with beautiful English fourteenth century embroidery". This chasuble is now in the National Museum of Iceland, acquired in 1935 (Inv.Nr. 11923), and there are also two altar frontlets decorated with metal disks, silver disks on one of them (Inv.Nr. 1145, and Inv.Nr. 21.1.1991). At a farm in southern Iceland Morris observed a large carved chest, which he identified correctly as fourteenth century German work; four panels from this chest, which had belonged to the bishop's seat at Skalholt in earlier days, are now also, since 1883, in the National Museum of Iceland (Inv.Nr. 2437).

chasuble National Museum of Iceland,
(Inv.Nr. 11923),

  The only belt mentioned in the diaries was one with gilt silver ornaments which they were shown by the owner, and which in 1892 was acquired by the National Museum of Iceland (Inv.Nr. 3729); this was also correctly dated by Morris to the sixteenth century.
In one instance the diaries mention that during a visit to a country silversmith's in western Iceland, the foreigners watched the production of traditional snuff horns.

And at a farm in northwestern Iceland they were shown a fine embroidered coverlet from about or shortly after 1700 - estimated by Morris at the time to date from the eighteenth century, which in 1884 was offered for sale to and bought by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London upon Morris' recommendation (Inv.Nr. 8-1884).

coverlet, Victoria and Albert Museum,
Inv.Nr. 8-1884


details of coverlet,
Victoria and Albert Museum,
Inv.Nr. 8-1884


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