[HNW] Celtic design motifs [ was vines, etc.](it's long, be forewarned)

Eowyn Amberdrake eowyna at sca-caid.org
Tue Mar 25 15:54:44 PST 2003

Master Gerald,

Thank you for elucidating, and thank you also for your
kind words.  I shall be reviewing some of the sources you
pointed to for the Etruscan origins of La Tene design
stuff, but I have a feeling what we have here is a
difference of interpretation. Yes, the palmette motif seen
in continental La Tene art, for instance, is strongly
Mediterranean, and may well be Etruscan.

But I am unconvinced (since I haven't had a chance to read
your references yet) that the ultimate La Tene designs,
the spirals and swirls so much a part of Insular "Celtic
design" are based on Etruscan motifs. If they were, I
would have expected them to show up more in the Roman art.
But let me hold off from further comment until I've read
the items you pointed me to.

>Eowyn offers the possibility that the influence may
>actually have been Coptic.  I invite her to offer the evidence for La Tene.

I never meant to imply a Coptic connection with La Tene
design. I agree that makes little or no sense.

I was referring to the _interlace design_ as having Coptic
origins, rather than Saxon. More on that, anon, as well.
I had hoped you'd meant that you had evidence of some
Continental Saxon or Germanic connection for interlacing
designs, since I have not been able to find any.

I see the use of interlacing as a design motif (especially
the dots method) following the spread of Roman
Christianity in Britain.  This was initially the Saxons in
southern Britain, following the founding of Canterbury by
St. Augustine in 5xx AD. <don't have my timeline with me>

I understand the style to have spread following the
religion (and quickly taken up by the Celtic Christians,
even if they did not take the other Roman teachings, like
the "proper" tonsure).  If I understand you correctly,
your emphasis is on the fact that the first practitioners
in Britain were the Saxons, and I don't necessarily have a
quarrel with that. But I think the Saxons learned it from
the Coptic illustrators. The Celtic monks may have also
learned it directly from the Coptic illuminated Bibles, or
they may have learned it from the Saxon monks.  In either
case, the knotwork motif certainly quickly escaped from
purely religious contexts.

The Saxons may have taught the Celtic Christians in
Britain and Ireland, and may well have influenced the
pagan Saxon artisans as well.  To me, the religion
connection is more convincing than the cultural one, when
speaking of the origins of the style.  But both are
reasonable ways of presenting the same facts.

Note that after Egypt was converted to Islam, many of the
Coptic Christians became Muslim.  And the same (well,
there are some distinguishing differences) dots method of
creating knotwork was used by the Arabic and Islamic
illuminators of the Koran.

All this has just been from memory, as I am typing this at
work. I will get back to this fascinating conversation

I hope that this conversation is not considered too far
off topic for a needlework group, since it touches on the
designs used in all media, including embroidery, in some
of the less documented times that we recreate.

Eowyn Amberdrake

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