[HNW] Re: design motifs (sorry, mine's long, too)

Ipsley1@aol.com Ipsley1 at aol.com
Sat Apr 5 10:31:00 PST 2003

[ Picked text/plain from multipart/alternative ]
Gerald to Eowyn and the list, greeting,
You're fun.

What you're doing is challenging the accepted wisdom regarding Celtic art,
and I strongly encourage any scholar to question accepted wisdom.  Any
reasonable answer to you will involve much more than pulling down a book or
two, and then challenging myself to come up with a reasonable reply.  That's
not going to be immediate, but you might watch this space for a formal
discussion of Germanic interlace.

But I can't resist a few stray observations.  Sutton Hoo is not a Bible.  It
is an emphatically pagan grave, as witnessed by the elaborate grave goods
that include hanging bowls, artifacts believed (it's accepted wisdom,
sorry--I will have to check that out) to be related to pagan ritual.  The
helmet has figures on it in jackets that have crossed lapels, a style of
clothing related to Woden worship (see, for instance, Owens Crocker, Dress in
Anglo-Saxon England, P 114 and 115, who makes that connection.  She does cite
a couple of German and Swedish finds in support of that at Sutton Hoo.)
While we're doing time lines, we might just remember that the Saxons in
Germany were converted as a result of the invasions under Charlemagne, and so
they would not be regarded as a major Christian influence in the 600s.
Indeed, it's Irish or Scots missionaries who are evangelizing in the
Germanies (see How the Irish Saved Civilization).

J. Romilly Allen is perhaps unfamiliar with Insular art. Leafing through my
copy of Anglo Saxon Art, by Sir David Wilson, I found spiral designs
associated with interlace in Durham's manuscript A.II.10 (Plates 10 and 11);
Book of Durrow, Folio 85 verso and 86 recto (Plates 12 and 13); Lindesfarne
Gospels, (Wilson's plate 30, it's a carpet page, he doesn't give the folio
number); the pins from the River Witham near Fiskerton (plate 33); the nose
guard of the Coppergate Helmet, fig 64; the Litchfield Gospels, figs 98 (a
Chi-Rho) and 99 (opening of St. Luke's Gospels); the canon table from the
Canterbury Bible, fig 103; the tables from the Codex Aureus now in the
Stockholm Royal Library, A.135m ff 8v, Wilson's figure 101; Hilton of
Cadboll, a Class II Pictish stone from the north of Scotland, fig. 139, among
others--I'm trying to do a variety of media (manuscript, silver, stone).
Surprisingly, he doesn't illustrate the Chi-Rho page from the Book of Kells,
but I can tell you that Kells is also replete with many instances of spiral
and interlace patterns displayed together.  In fact, that is a point I
advance in my book--Insular style is a compound of many different influences,
and they would use keywork, interlace (linear, animal and anthropomorphic),
spirals and dots all together, creating an extremely varied style, or styles.
 I will have to check out that reference to the Coppergate Helmet--I
associate the excavations at York with the Norse, not the Saxons.  Sir David
was the director of the British Museum for 17 years, and the book has lots of
lovely pictures, but I sometimes question him, too--he has the Book of Kells
being made in Northumbria, and the style and text are very different from
known Northumbrian texts of the time.

I have a problem with the Copts being a significant influence in Insular art,
and that problem is distance.  They're south of Egypt.  If we were seeing a
lot of Coptic artifacts in Britain, that might change my predisposition.
Would we, as the SCA College of Heralds, register a Coptic-British name?
That is, can we adduce evidence that there is a sufficient regular contact
that a person might have had a name with elements of both cultures?  No,
we're not doing naming practice, but the point analogous--is there a reason
why the missionaries from Rome would have carried Coptic and not Roman works?
 And a reason to have Irish missionaries carrying them? One of the ways to
distinguish between Irish and Roman provenance in gospel books is whether the
text is the Irish variant, as with the Book of Durrow (Irish variant) and
Lindesfarne Gospels (pure Vulgate)., We do know that a Vulgate text arrives
in England  with Coelfrith, who goes to Rome after the synod of Whitby, but
it would amaze me if Augustine didn't have a Vulgate copy as well.  I might
note that we have early southern English texts (Augustine Gospels, Wilson's
plate 15; Commentaries of Cassiodorus, Wilson's plate 31) which display
specifically Roman traits.  For example, they show human figures with heads
nearly the same proportion as in life, and with swathes of cloth wrapped
around them in the Roman style, that is, just one shoulder, like a toga.  In
Kells, Durrow, Deere, Litchfield and others, the Brat (cloak) is over both
shoulders, and the heads are sometimes as much as a third of the total
figure.  Litchfield, for all its Insular ornament, has many or most figures
with the single-shoulder wraps, and a Vulgate text.  Now, I'm not good on
Coptic literature--do they use the Vulgate text?

I might also note that finding similar elements in Coptic art and elsewhere
does not necessarily prove that there is a Coptic connection.  Dr J. Michael
Fuller, of St Louis University, is heading a dig in Syria at Tell Tunenir (or
he is when the situation permits).  He has discovered six-spoked circular
designs, where the arcs that compose the spokes of a wheel hit the outer
circle at equidistant points and pass through the center.  Identical designs
are found in Coptic art.  They're also familiar as Amish hex designs.  In
fact, if you use a compass to describe a circle, pick any point on that
circle as the center of a new arc and then, maintaining the same radius as
the circle, draw an arc that intersects that circle twice, move the compass
point to one of those intersections, draw another arc, and so on, you will
get the identical design.  I am not prepared to defend a Syrian-Coptic-Amish
connection.  I'd be much more comfortable with parallel development, as there
is no regular contact between these cultures.  All these designs mean is that
each of the three cultures has discovered the compass, and is using it to do
basic geometry.

And no, that's not a formal response--just some thoughts on a Saturday
morning.  We might want to get together and do a TI article as a formal
disputation in the scholastic manner, you defending a Coptic influence as a
dominant influence, and me defending a Germanic one, and we would agree at
the beginning that we don't have to come to a common conclusion.  Could be
fun, and more to the point, remind all and sundry to challenge any source, as
different interpretations can certainly be supported with lots of evidence.

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