Above Sutton Hoo Series. Hawthorn, River Deben. Oil on 23.4 x 16.5 inches. Rose Strang 2021
Today’s paintings of the landscape surrounding Sutton Hoo in Suffolk. This series will be available from Limetree Gallery, Long Melford from August.
The bush above was slightly reminiscent of a dragon in shape I thought – quite appropriate for this series!
Painting Suffolk has a lot to do with skies. Since the land is quite flat the sky seems bigger. I wanted to capture movement and rythm of hawthorn and clouds in the painting at the top of the post, so this was painted very loosely and quickly today. I took a couple of days over the painting directly above, attempting to capture the muddy estuary and softness of light.
In the last post I’d given a quick run-through of Anglo Saxon history regarding the Sutton Hoo area. I was most interested in what it was about this landscape that made it special, or sacred to the Anglo Saxons. As explained, for these people landscape itself was sacred. Trees, rivers, springs or hills might be experienced as magical.
We can only guess why a particular site might have been sacred. I’m only just beginning to explore what’s been written about Sutton Hoo and Anglo Saxon culture (I welcome any comments and insights in the comments section below for any experts out there!)
Yesterday’s research uncovered the somewhat darker subject matter of Sutton Hoo’s ‘sand people’. As explained in Current Archaeology’s website. Martin Carver (Emeritus Professor at the University of York) led investigations on the site between 1984 and 1993:
‘It was not further princely burials that this project uncovered, but evidence of judicial executions, carried out not as part of pagan ceremonies, but, more likely, by Christian kings’.
The remains of these executed people were discernable by the shapes left in sand and earth since bones were destroyed in the highly acidic soil. At first, the possibility that these were human sacrifices as part of Anglo Saxon ritual was considered, but the dating was wrong – i.e. later. Grim possibilities raise themselves; maybe this mass execution was a message to those who refused to adopt Christianity.
Yet King Raedvald’s burial mound (if the mound was in fact his burial mound) at Sutton Hoo contained both pagan and christian objects, suggesting a culture that accepted these varying beliefs, or perhaps accepted that worshiping the Christian god (monotheism) didn’t rule out worship of lesser gods related to the landscape.
It’s a subject that interests me a lot, given my recent project around historical pagan worship around Edinburgh’s Arthur’s Seat, also my Planets Series from 2018. As a lifelong appreciator of the works of C.S. Lewis I always enjoyed the pagan and Christian elements combined in the Narnia Chronicles and the Planets Trilogy. I’m now awaiting a new book; After Humanity, written by author Michael Ward, to accompany and, in part, interpret C.S. Lewis’s Abolition of Man which is a complicated philosophy on the nature of morality. Lewis decides to use a Chinese term ‘Tao’ to descibe what he understands as humanity’s inherent sense of ehtics, or right and wrong. He does this presumably to suggest that Christians don’t have the monopoly on morality – despite being a dedicated believer and Christian himself, and that this sense of a moral code is the same across all humanity.
Sounds like a book for our intolerant times! Though, reading about Sutton Hoo and its aftermath, our contemporary society’s issues with tolerance are far more subtle and insidious.
I’ll be posting more paintings next week, with more musings on Sutton Hoo.