and repeated in a vertical row, we get the pattern shown below.

and repeated in a vertical row, we get the pattern shown below.

By making pointed ends to the loops forming the knots and "sweetening" the curves of the bands between each knot the appearance of the whole is changed, and its development from the pla't disguised. Almost all geometrical ornament is capable of conveying several different impressions to the mind according to the way it is observed by the eye for the time being, and the intellectual pleasure which a pattern gives i^ most probably dependent on the infinite variety of

Sections of pattern shown on p. 273

Sections of pattern shown on p. 273

these kaleidoscopic changes. Taking this pattern for example, if the attention is concentrated upon the portions of the pattern between each of the points where the bands cross n the centre, it will seem as if

Knot work from Ramsbury, Wilts, and Nigg-, Ross-shire

the whole was formed of repetitions of knot No. 4 ; but if the attention be now directed towards the portions lying between the middle points of each of the

Erections Pagan Art


Photograph supplied by the Rev. J, M. Joass, LL.D., Honorary Curator

knots, the pattern will appear to consist entirely of circular curves with two diameters crossing each other diagonally.

When the circular knot thus obtained is repeated in a double row we get a comparative!» simple pattern, in which the circular curves assume much greater prominence.

More complicated forms of circular knots can be derived from the elementary circular knot by combining it with a circular ring, either a larger one enclosing the four loops in the middle ent:rely, or a smaller one interlaced through the loops thus :—

Further variations can again be produced from these by severing the hands in places, and joining parts of the loops to the ri.igs on the same principle that breaks can be made n a plait.

The connection between the d'fferent knots will at once become clear if they are drawn on separate pieces of tracing paper and placed one over the other.

Another kind of circular knotwork is formed by enclosing the simpler sort of knots derived directly from plaitwork within a circular band, which crosses over in one or two places and turns inwards to form the enclosed knots.

Circular knotwork from Tarbet, Ross-shire

The illustrations of the different kinds of circular knotwork from actual examples show the process of development.

Circular knotwork from Monasterboicc, Co. Louth


By the term triangular knotwork is meant interlaced patterns, the setting-out lines of which form triangles only or triangles and lozenges. The patterns are made by distorting the simple knots derived from plaitwork, so as to adapt ihem to the triangular shape. This species of knotwork is very seldom seen except in a few of the Hiberno-Saxon MSS. and on some of the sculptured stones of Ireland and Scotland. The best

Triangular knotwork from Ulbstcr, Caithness

examples are at Kilfenora, Co. Clare ; Ulbster (now at Thurso Castle), Sutlierlandshire; and Dunfallandy, Perthshire.

Under the head of ringwork and chain work are included all patterns composed of circular, oval, and looped rings interlaced symmetrically round a centre, or arranged so as to form a long chain. Patterns of this kind are not found the best Celtic work, and when they occur it is generally an indication either of Scandinavian influence or of the style being debased.

A certain number of modifications of the interlaced-work already described are produced by adapting the patterns so that they will fit into circular or annular spaces. Instances of this may be seen on the erect

Triangular knotwork from Dunfallanriy, Perthshire

cross-slabs at Hilton of Cadboll (now at Invergordon Castle) and Nigg, Ross-shire; Glamis, Forfarshire; arid Rossie Priory, Perthshire; and on the Lough Erne and Monymusk Reliquaries.


A step-pattern is one which is formed of straight lines bent backwards and forwards at right angles so as to resemble a flight of steps. The lines are often arranged symmetrically rourd a centre, so as to make cruciform and swastika designs, and the different parts are also generally shaded alternately black and white on the principle of chequerwork. Step-patterns hardly ever occur in Christian Celtic art except on the enamelled bosses of metalwork and in a few of the illuminated MSS., such as the Tindisfarne Gospels, the St. Gall Gospels (Codex No. 51), the Gospels of MacRegol, the Book of Kells, and the Book of Durrow. The step-patterns n the MSS. so nearly resemble those on the enamelled bosses on the Ardagh Ch.alice, the Tara Brooch, and the Cross of Cong, that there can he but little doubt the illuminators copied tneir designs from the enamels. In the Pagan Celtic enamels the ornament is nearly always curvilinear ; but in the Christian Celtij enamels it is rectilinear, the arrangement of the Motions being very similar to that on the Anglo -Saxon disc brooches incrusted with small slabs of garnet, glass, etc. Instances have already been given in a previous chapter of the use of step-patterns by the Pagan Celts on the engraved woodwork from the Glastonbury Marsh Village (p. 161). The only nstances I have met with of step-patterns on the sculptured stones of the early Christian period in this country are at Bradford-on-Avon, Wilts; and Dysert O'Dea^ Co. Clare.


The term key-pattern is used to describe a particular k nd of rectilinear ornament which bears a certain amount of resemblance to the perforations in a key to allow _t to pass the wards of a lock. The best-known key-pattern is the. Greek fret. This is composed of what may be appropriately called straight-line spirals ;


(i) Aberlady, Haddingtonshire (2) Abercorn, Linlithgowshire (3) St. Andrews, Fifeshire (4) Collitbin'n, Sutherlandsliire that is to say, straight lines (or, to speak more accurately, narrow straight bars) bent round into a series of right angles in the same direction. 1'he space between the lines (or narrow bars; is generally about the same width as that of the line itself.

The key-patterns used in Christian Celtic art may be classified as follows :—

(1) Square key-patterns, :n which the lines run horizontally ar.d vertically parallel to the margins.

(2) Diagonal key-patterns, in which the lines run vertically parallel to the right and left margins, and diagonally in two directions at an angle of 45° to the margins.

(3) Diaper key-patterns, in which the lines run horizontally and vertically parallel to the margins, and diagonally in two directions at an angle of 45° to the margins.

The essential diiference between the key-patterns used by the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans and those used by the Christian Celts consists 'n the ntroduction of diagonal lines by the latter. Square key-patterns (i.e. those of the Greek fret type) were very seldom used in Christian Celtic art. There !s, however, a very good example on one of the crosses at Penmon, Anglesey. The first step in the evolution of the Celtic key-pattern was to turn the Greek fret round through an angle of 45" so as to make the lines rur. diagonaiiy with regard to the margins instead of parallel to thern. Key-patterns in this stage of development are to be seen in the Lindisfarne Gospels, the St. Gall Gospels (Codex No. 51), and an Anglian cross-shaft from Aberlady, Haddingtonshire, now at Carlowrie Castle, near Kirkliston, Midlothian. It will be observed, however, that the result of changing a square key-pattern itito a diagonal one is to leave a series of unornamented

Key patterns

(i) Rosemarkie, Koss-sliire (2) Farr, Sutherlandshire

(3) Gattunside, Roxburghshire (4) Nigg, Rosa-snire

•haft of Cross of Kiudon, at Go'den Grove, Carmarthenshire triangles all round the edge (p. 2H0). When these triangles are filled in hv bending the ends of the diagonal li ï.es round through an angle of 45% so as to run parallel to the margins, we get such a characteristically Celtic key-pattern as the one. on the great cross-shaft at St. Andrews, Fifeshire. Lastly, when the opposite ends of the diagonal lines in the middle of the panel are bent round in a similar manner, the most typical of all the Celtic key - patterns is arrived at, of which there is a very good example on the erect cross-slab at Farr, SutherlandsHre.

The filling in of the sharp corners made by the li les inclined to each other at an angle of 45"*, with small black triangles (if in a MS.) or with sunk triangles (if on a sculptured stone) gives a decorative finish to the pattern, and still further adds to its distinctively Celtic character.

Next to interiaced-work_ the key - pattern is the

•haft of Cross of Kiudon, at Go'den Grove, Carmarthenshire most common motive made use of in the decorative art of the Christian Celtic period. It occurs in nearly all the Iliberno-Saxon illum-nated MSS. and on a large proportion of the sculptured monuments in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Key-patterns and interlaced-

Detail of ornament on erect rro*s-slab at Rosemarkie, Ross-shire work in combination, but without any other decorative motive, may be seen on the Welsh crosses at Carew and Nevern, Pembrokeshire; Golden Grove, Carmarthenshire ; and Llantwit Major and Margam, Glamorganshire. On the metalwork of the period key-patterns seldom occur, except on the bronze bells, on a strap-buckle from Islandbridge, near Dublin, and on the Crucifixion plaque of repousse bronze from Athlone, now in the Dublin Museum.


The spiral is the only decorative motive used in Christian Celtic art that can be proved to have been borrowed from the Pagan Celtic art of the preceding period. Altnough spiral ornament appears to be so complicated when it is completed, the geometrical process of setting it out is simplicity itself. All that it is necessary to do is to fill in the surface to be decorated

Aina Mbali Mbali Madirisha

with circles of any size, leaving about the same distance between each ; then connect the circle with S- or C-shaped curves; and, lastly, fill in the circles with spirals working from the tangent points, where the S or C curves touch the circles, inwards to the centre. As the size of the circles is a matter of no importance, a surface of irregular shape may be covered with spiral ornament ;ust as easily as one of symmetrical shape. In the flamboyant ornament of the Pagan Celtic period we have the same S- and C-shaped curves, but the circles were occupied either by a disc of enamel (as on the bronze shield from the Thames), or by raised conchoids (as on the gold necklet from Limavady, Co. Londonderry). In the spiral ornament of the Christian Celtic period closely coiled spirals like those of the Bronze Age were substituted for the discs of enamel or raised conchoids. The background of the spirals, however, retained several of the prom'nent features of the repousse metalwork, the effect of the light shining

Tree key-pattern, Meigle, Perthshire

on the raised trumpet-shaped expansions of the S and C curves being imitated in black and white or coloured by a!mond-like dots. In the later and less refined spiral ornament of the Christian period this background disappears aitogether, anu the spirals are made ali the same size and placed close together.

As the spiral was the earliest decorative motive in Christian Celtic art, so it was also the first to disappear, and its disappearance marks the decadence of the style. We have in a previous chapter traced the spiral motive from the Pagan metalwork through the enamelled di.sc ornaments of the bronze bowls of the Transition period to the illuminated MSS. of Christian times.

Spiral Ornament Anglosaxon
Spiral ornament, with key-pattern border, from the Book of Kells

Spiral ornament in i s best form is to be found in the following MSS.:—

The Lindisfarne Gospels The Book of Kells . The Gospels of St. Chad The; Book of Durrow The Book of Armagh The Gospels of Willibrod The Gospels of St. Gall The Gospels of MacRegol Tht! Gospels of Stockholm The Vespasian A. i Psalter

8th or yth century. a.d. 820. a.d. 87t. 8th century.

In metalwork spiral ornament is less common than in the MSS., there being good examples on the Ardagh

Chalice, the Tara Brooch, the Ilunterston Brooch, the Monyrnusk Reliquary, and the Athlone Crucifixion Plaque.

Spiral ornament of the best kind is found on the sculptured stone monuments only in Ireland and Scotland.1 In Wales, Cornwall, and the Isle of Man spiral ornament is extremely rare, and when it does occur it is of debased character. Typical examples of spiral ornament may be seen on the sculptured

Spiral Ornament Anglosaxon

monuments in Ireland at Kells, Co. Meath ; Monaster-boice, Co. Louth; Clonmacnois, King's Co. ; and Ivilklispeen, Co. Kilkenny; and in Scotland at Nigg, Shandwick, Hilton of Cadboll (now at Invergordon Castle), all in Ross-shire; the Maiden Stone, Aberdeenshire; St. Vigeans, Forfarshire; Meigle and I)un-fallandy, Perthshire; and Ardchattan, Argyllshire.

Judging from the evidence afforded by the dated specimens, the best kind of spiral ornament seems to have disappeared entirely from Christian Celtic art after the first quarter of the tenth century.

ZOOMORPIIIC DESIGN'S An:mal forms are used in Celtic art of the Christian period in tnree different ways, namely, (i) pictorially,

1 Chiefly in the Pictish districts of the north-east of Scotland

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