Tag Archives: Sutton Hoo paintings

Complete Sutton Hoo Series

Above; Sutton Hoo Series. Trace. Oil on 27×27 inch canvas. Rose Strang 2021.

This series takes inspiration from the landscape surrounding Sutton Hoo in Suffolk. More about the inspiration and story behind the paintings can be explored below (after the paintings).

If you’re interested in these paintings, or would like to reserve or buy one, please contact the Limetree Gallery. The series will be on exhibition at the Limetree Gallery, Long Melfrod, Suffolk, from August 2021

The Sutton Hoo Series

In my last posts (1, 2, and 3,) I explored a bit more about Anglo Saxon cultures and beliefs – in particular their ritual burying of treasure in mounds. I was intrigued by the poem of Beowulf with its mention of dragons guarding wealth.

It seems that dragons, whatever else they might have been, were always associated in myth with wealth and greed. Dragons in literature appear to represent an aspect of our own capacity to hoard – to hold on to the material things of life for our own pleasure, rather than sharing wealth with others.

Tim Flight (a historian and literary critic specialising in Anglo-Saxon England) speculates that because Christian religious leaders of the 6th century refered often to the concept of the coming apocalypse, this may have been one reason why Anglo Saxons of the time equated the stone-built Roman ruins which littered the landscape of Britain, with a sense of approaching doom.

For Anglo Saxons these crumbling grandiose, monumental ruins suggested the inevitable fall following pride. They prefered to work with natural materials such as wood, on a smaller scale – structures that rotted back into the earth and left little trace.

Their philosophy also embraced the idea of ephemerality of life; we’re here for a short time so we must seek meaning and act wisely – hoarding wealth might lead to our downfall.

Stories of dragons guarding wealth abound in Anglo Saxon poetry. The dragon is roused to anger and vengeance when anyone dares to steal from its hoard. Maybe this is why Anglo Saxon riches were buried in the earth – to return to earth what was made or taken from it, just as our bodies return to earth. I’m speculating now of course, since we can’t know what these cultures thought – we just have clues from the poetry and stories they wrote and the few traces they left.

I wanted to reflect on some of the ideas I’ve explored during this series in my largest and final painting. I was most interested in the sacred places they worshiped – not in buildings but in the landscape; trees, rivers, sea and springs – spaces thought of as liminal. Places where it was believed there was a thin veil between heaven and earth where a person might connect with gods (or later, the Christian God once Christianity took hold).

What could symbolise ephemerality more than water? It reflects a reality that isn’t real. It’s ever changing and, at least to our naked eye, it leaves no trace of passage other than fading ripples or sediment in the wake of humans moving through it.

I called my final painting ‘Trace, River Deben’. for that reason. The ripple on the surface might be left by anything – boat, bird, fish or rain yet – leave not a rack behind to quote the Bard!

We know now through scientific explorations that varying different energy forms change the structure of water, and there is the concept of water holding memories.

If you’re interested in this series and would like to see the paintings in person, they’ll be on exhibition at Limetree Gallery, Long Melford, Suffolk, from August this year. Or if you’d like to reserve or buy one of the paintings, you can contact The Limetree Gallery on their webpage – Limetree Gallery.

SUTTON HOO 7TH JULY

Above – Sutton Hoo Series. River Bank, River Deben. Oil on 23.4 x 16.5 inches. Rose Strang 2021 – one of today’s paintings of the Sutton Hoo Series inspired by the landscape surrounding Sutton Hoo in Suffolk.

Below are paintings in progress in which I’m trying to capture something of the atmosphere of the mounds at Sutton Hoo. Although the Sutton Hoo side of the River Deben is actually fairly quiet and uninhabited, the other side is busy with boats, houses and cafes. I’ve chosen views with almost no signs of human habitation to hopefully suggest how the landscape might have felt to people living in East Anglia in the 6th century.

Interestingly, many historians and archaeologists suggest that the story of Beowulf could describe the cultural interests or beliefs of Anglo Saxons in the 6th century. The surviving manuscript of Beowulf was written some time between the 10th and 11th centuries. It’s an ancient tale of that time, referring to a legend set in the 6th century. There was no known title to the manuscrip,t but scholars called it Beowulf since the story revolves around his adventures.

Though the characters themselves are not English, it’s suggested that the manuscript may have been written in Rendlesham, Suffolk – near to Woodbridge which is directly opposite Sutton Hoo across the River Deben.

The story revolves around heroes, kings, queens and characters in or from Scandinavia, but although many of these characters are mentioned in Scandinavian ancient literature, Beowulf himself isn’t mentioned anywhere but in the actual story of Beowulf. Perhaps he was a maverick member of these great Scandinavian dynasties who broke away, or was exiled.

Names,a mong other references, suggest possible connections; there was a Scandinavian dynasty called the Ylfings, written as Wulfings in Beowulf, also an Anglo Saxon dynasty was based in East Anglia called the Wuffingas. All is speculation as so much has been lost to time and subsequent ruling dynasties.

Have a read of this partial summary (from Wikipedia) below the paintings, of the plot of Beowulf, in light of the burial mounds at Sutton Hoo and their contents …

Sutton Hoo Series, Hawthorn. River Deben. Oil on 23.4 x 16.5 inches. Rose Strang 2021

The protagonist Beowulf, a hero of the Geats, comes to the aid of Hrothgar, king of the Danes, whose great hall, Heorot, is plagued by the monster Grendel. Beowulf kills Grendel with his bare hands, then kills Grendel’s mother with a giant’s sword that he found in her lair.

Later in his life, Beowulf becomes king of the Geats, and finds his realm terrorized by a dragon, some of whose treasure had been stolen from his hoard in a burial mound. He attacks the dragon with the help of his thegns or servants, but they do not succeed. Beowulf decides to follow the dragon to its lair at Earnanæs, but only his young Swedish relative Wiglaf, whose name means “remnant of valour”, dares to join him. Beowulf finally slays the dragon, but is mortally wounded in the struggle. He is cremated and a burial mound by the sea is erected in his honour.

This suggests the origin of the Anglo Saxon practice of burial mounds full of treasure. It also introduces dragons – always a mysterious aspect of ancient stories and apparently central to the art and culture of the Anglo Saxons.

I might explore the theme of dragons further in the next few days. I now have just one painting to complete, which I’ll post here this Friday.