We have a lovely new series of paintings by Rose Strang in our Long Melford gallery which 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. Rose has chosen views with almost no signs of human habitation to suggest how the landscape might have felt to people living in East Anglia in the 6th century.
I was inspired first of all by the film, The Dig which tells the story of the excavation of Saxon burial mounds in Suffolk called Sutton Hoo. I thought the film was a wonder of cinematography, capturing the dreamlike landscape of Suffolk in all its subtlety. It was also a poetic and moving meditation on what makes life meaningful. 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.