Anglo-Saxon art enjoyed a golden age in the century before the Norman Conquest of 1066. Its roots lay at the end of the ninth century, when King Alfred established a programme for the revival of religion and learning to make amends for what he perceived as the loss of religious spirit in his people. The Viking invasions were seen as God's punishment for the sins of the English people and their neglect of learning. With the encouragement of Alfred and his successors a climate was created in which those with power and wealth were prepared to act as patrons of the arts, enabling craftspeople and artists to flourish.
The Anglo-Saxon kingdom of England that grew out of Alfred's Wessex was centred on Winchester. Reflecting this, the elaborate and accomplished manuscript illumination executed in England in the period 966-1066 is known as belonging to the Winchester School, or in the Winchester art style. Old Minster, New Minster and Nunnaminster, the three great religious houses in Winchester, provided a home for its practitioners.
A number of features characterise the Winchester style of art, the use of acanthus leaves and tendrils, curling flutters of drapery, and foliage twined around birds and animals. As well as manuscripts, the influence of the Winchester art style can be seen in decoration on objects of other materials, ivory, bone, stone and metal. Many of these objects have been discovered during excavations in and around Winchester. Acanthus motifs and birds, somewhat crudely incised on simple bone spoons excavated in the city, show how the high art style of this period also percolated down to appear on everyday domestic objects.