[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
mail:
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]
Italiano

[Link to a series of help pages]
Help
[Link to the next level up]
Up
[Link to my homepage]
Home

[image ALT: link to previous section]
Chapter VI
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Celtic Britain

by Nora K. Chadwick

published by Frederick A. Praeger
New York
1963

The text and engravings are in the public domain.


[image ALT: link to next section]
Chapter VIII

p117 Chapter VII

Art

The early Christian inscribed stone monuments are among the principal material remains in Britain from the period between the close of the Roman Occupation and the establishment of the Saxon kingdoms. Their chief exception is along the western seaboard, especially on the peninsulas, the greatest concentrations being those of the Devon-Cornish peninsula, Cornwall especially; Dyfed, or the wider Pembrokeshire; Lleyn, or the Caernarvonshire peninsula; the Isle of Man; and the British area of south-western Scotland, especially the groups at Whithorn and Kirkmadrine.

These inscriptions are the earliest messages left to us in direct speech from our ancestors, and Britain is the only province of the Roman Empire in which inscriptions on the early Christian monuments appear in the native as well as in the Latin language.1 A number are bilingual, being cut both in the Latin alphabet and in the old Celtic alphabet known as 'ogam' (cf. p99 above). The ogam inscriptions of southern Britain are in the Irish form of Celtic, and are found in Devon and Cornwall, Wales, and the Isle of Man. In the western peninsulas of Wales, the population in the fifth and sixth centuries was largely bilingual, i.e. both Welsh- and Irish-speaking. The individual inscriptions are difficult to date with precision, but the ogam alphabet, even if invented in the fourth century, is not likely to have come into general use so early. All are Christian memorial monuments, but they tell us little beyond the name and patronymic of the individual commemorated. The inscriptions in Wales are mostly in the Latin alphabet, but 40 are in ogam, and occasionally both are found on the same stone (cf. p41 above). The ogam alphabet on a number of Pictish inscriptions (cf. p56 above) resembles a p118type current in Ireland in the eighth century, and they are generally known as 'scholastic ogams'. They are probably not earlier in Pictavia than the eighth or even the ninth century (cf. p56 above).

In contrast to her rich literary tradition and many inscriptions on stone, Wales is relatively poor in material of high artistic merit in our period. No early illuminated manuscripts have come down to us. The manuscript of St Augustine's De Trinitate, now in Cambridge, which is known to have been transcribed by Ieuan ap Sulien of Llanbadarn Fawr at the request of his father, Bishop Sulien of St David's, in the second half of the eleventh century, contains several beautiful Celtic initials in vermilion, green, black and yellow. These illuminations are almost certainly the work of Ieuan himself, who supplied the fine Celtic illuminations of the Psalter of his brother Rhygyfarch (Ricemarch).


[image ALT: A highly stylized drawing of a fish, made up mostly of small dots. It is an illumination in an 11c Welsh manuscript.]
Fig. 19. Welsh fish. Illumination at the top of folio 76 of the Psalter composed c. 1079 by Rhygyfarch (Ricemarch), son of Sulien, Bishop of St David's, Pembrokeshire. The illuminations are the work of his brother Ieuan (John), the colours used being red, yellow and green (after Lawlor)

Though the quality of the art of stone sculpture in Wales is poor by comparison with the best Irish and Northumbrian examples, Wales possesses a wealth of stone crosses, sculptured both in relief and also free-standing. Both forms are believed to have developed in Britain and in southern Scotland under influences from Ireland and the Continent. Indeed, in both stone inscriptions and stone sculpture, as in other cultural matters, Scotland south of the Forth-Clyde line may be looked upon as a unity with southern and western Britain, while the artistic affinities of Argyll are with Ireland, as we should expect. In the British area the sculptor's art has developed chiefly in relief on cross-slabs and on free-standing crosses. The art of Cornwall, a poor country, though numerically rich in stone crosses, is not of high quality. The Isle of Man developed a great wealth and originality of motifs at a later date, partly under Viking inspiration. The Pictish sculptures, which belong to a different artistic world, are the supreme achievement, in sculpture in Britain in our period.

p119 The memorial stones from Wales and western Britain afford a valuable standard of the culture of our period among these western peoples, who, after the departure of the Romans, retained a conservative and, it would seem, relatively high grade of civilisation as compared with eastern Britain.2 Moreover, the western inscriptions reflect new influences from Gaul operating on our western seaboard. This is seen, not only in the new range of proper names, such as Martin and Paulinus, which became popular in Gaul in the fourth and fifth centuries, but also in the use of formulae current in Gaul at this time, which had superseded the Roman, and even in the introduction of the wider Continental (e.g. Byzantine) formulae and fashions of epigraphy.3 Occasionally in western Wales the official status of the deceased is specified (cf. p38 above). A stone in Llangian churchyard in the Lleyn peninsula, Caernarvonshire, commemorates a doctor: 'Meli medici fili Martini j(a)cet' — 'The stone of Melus the doctor, son of Martin'.4 But such references to the profession of the deceased are rare in the Christian inscriptions of Britain, though not uncommon on the Continent.

One interesting family group of local Pembrokeshire magnates can be reconstructed from four stones in a relatively small area. A pillar-stone in Llandeilo churchyard (no. 313) commemorates a certain Andagellus, son of Cavetus, in both Latin and ogam letters; another pillar-stone (no. 314) in the p120same churchyard commemorates in Latin Coimagnus, son of Cavetus; a pillar-stone (no. 345), also in Latin, at Maenchlochog commemorates Curcagnus, son of Andagellus. Here we have commemorated three generations from one family. One stone (no. 183) from Pentrefoelas in Denbighshire of the fifth or sixth century was probably erected in association with a Christian cemetery, and for this we shall indicate parallels in southern Scotland. A few bear the formula hic jacitº before the name of the deceased, and occasionally Christian symbols are inscribed. The majority take the form of rough pillar-stones and slabs.

Most of the Welsh stones decorated with crosses, whether in the round as free-standing monuments or in relief on a shaped slab, date from the seventh to ninth centuries. The more elaborate are decorated over the entire surface with typical Celtic designs in interlace, knot-work, and various geometrical designs, both curvilinear and rectilinear, frequently arranged in panels. The technique and the planning and execution of the design are of a high order, and the intricate geometrical designs are adapted to their panels with masterly competence, and generally executed with flawless precision. Human figures and animals are relatively rare, but occur occasionally on the lowest panels, as is frequently the case with the little realistic genre scenes on the Irish high crosses. Most of the Welsh crosses are flat, but pillar-crosses are not unknown, the most famous being the so‑called Eliseg's Pillar5 with its long but much defaced inscription (cf. p44 above).

Cornwall has preserved nine inscriptions on stone, written in Roman capitals and dating from the fifth and sixth centuries, as well as a few which bear ogam inscriptions.6 The most interesting of the sixth-century inscriptions is the so‑called 'Castle Dore stone',7 near Fowey. The inscription appears to read 'Drustaus [or Cirusius] hic jacitº Cunomori filius' — 'Here lies Drusta(n) [or Cirusius] the son of Cunomorus', and p121Cunomorus was identified with King Mark at an early date. It possibly commemorates the legend of Tristan (Drustan), the lover of Iseult, King Mark's wife. The earliest datable examples of the wheel-headed cross sculptured in the round are thought to be Irish work of the tenth century; and from the tenth century we have a number of crosses with Hiberno-Saxon ornament closely resembling those of South Wales, from which, indeed, they are believed to be derived.8 The most elaborate is the Cardynham Cross9 near Bodmin, with a beautifully carved and designed head, while the Sancreed Cross, probably contemporary, bears on its head a rude crucifixion.10


[image ALT: zzz.]
Fig. 20. Early Manx cross from Maughold, Isle of Man (after Kinvig). Probably early eighth century. Note the early 'marigold' design inside the circle, and the two archaic and rare types of crosses below
The Isle of Man has more than 90 carved stones, mostly upright slabs with incised crosses, of which very few are decorated. Three bear inscriptions in Latin, one of them of the Welsh type, and four are in ogam characters. Among the most interesting is an incised slab from Maughold, probably of the eighth century. It bears a circle enclosing the conventional 'marigold' design, Mediterranean in origin, surrounded by a difficult Latin inscription; and below the circle are two little crosses of rare early type.11 The most elaborate and the most delicate and accomplished early Manx sculpture is an incised slab,12 assigned to the early ninth century,13 found on the site of an early Celtic chapel on the Calf of Man. It represents a Crucifixion, and is of unique design. Christ hangs on the Cross, elaborately dressed, with long hair parted in the middle and forked beard. His feet are uncrossed and hang straight down, and the feet and right hand — the left is broken away — are pierced by large nails. The head is upright, the eyes are wide open.

Of special historical interest is a cross slab bearing the inscription: Crux Guriat14 (cf. p72 above), now standing in Maughold churchyard. Except for a shallow beading and heavily protruding bosses, the groundwork is quite plain; but a great deal of skilled cutting away of the original stone was p122necessary to leave these bosses free. We shall find a similar highly skilled technique on some of the best Pictish sculpture. Whether this was the tombstone of Guriat, related to Merfyn Frych (p72 above), remains uncertain, but the quality of the workmanship and the original position of the stone in relation to Maughold suggest that the Guriat commemorated here was at least a person of importance, and except in Merfyn's family the name is rare.

The earliest series of Christian inscribed stones which we have been following up the west coast of southern Britain continues into the part of southern Scotland which was racially, linguistically, and culturally akin to the Britons who extended from the Clyde to Land's End. The surviving early Christian memorials in southern Scotland are not numerous, but at least two of these seem to indicate Christian cemeteries which have disappeared. The famous Catstone at Kirkliston,15 about six miles west of Edinburgh (cf. p40 above), is a large unhewn boulder, about four and a half feet above ground, bearing in debased Roman capitals the inscription: In hoc tumulo jacitº Vetta f Victi (In this tumulus lies Vetta, son of Victus) — a typical formula of British Christian inscriptions. The stone stands in an ancient cemetery which was enclosed by a rough-hewn stone wall encompassing 51 stone-lined graves arranged in rows in Christian fashion. The monument is unique in that it still stands in situ in the midst of its graves;a but the comparable inscribed slab at Yarrowkirk in Selkirkshire, already described (p40 above), was also associated with a Christian cemetery.


[image ALT: An engraving of a standing stone, maybe two meters tall, with a rough incised carving of a cross in a disc, and a rude 2‑line inscription below it. It is the 'St Peter's stone' at Whithorn.]

Fig. 21. The 'St Peter's stone', Whithorn. It formerly stood beside the road to the south. Probably seventh century (after Radford)

The chief concentration of early sculptured and inscribed stones, however, is in Scotland's remote south-west peninsula, and ranges from the fifth to the seventh century. Three at Kirkmadrine in the Rinns of Galloway, and two at Whithorn are clearly memorials to Christians, and must have stood in the cemeteries of ancient church sites. All of these except the earliest bear Christian symbols in imitation of Continental p123usage. The oldest stone at Whithorn, the famous 'Latinus stone', a roughly squared pillar dating from about the middle of the fifth century, is the earliest Christian memorial in Scotland, and is interpreted: 'We praise thee, Lord, Latinus aged thirty-five and his daughter aged four. The grandson of Barrovius set up this memorial here.' The famous St Peter stone, a squared stone pillar with an incised cross in a double incised circle, bears the inscription: Loci Petri Apustoli. A locus is the place dedicated in honour of a saint, and the cross was originally found by the roadside not far from the monastic site of Whithorn, and is probably of seventh-century date. Three of the Kirkmadrine stones belong to the sixth century, but the most interesting, a memorial to three priests, is ascribed to the fifth century.


[image ALT: zzz.]
Fig. 22. Roughly squared tombstone, found in the old burial ground of Kirkmadrine, Wigtown, commemorating three 'chief priests'. Fifth century (after Radford)

p124 The art of the early Christian monuments of Argyll is wholly Irish in character. There survive on Iona two wheel-headed crosses, dedicated, one to St John, the other to St Martin a relatively rare dedication in early Britain after the one in p125Canterbury referred to by Bede (H. E. I.26). A number of fragments of some five other crosses are also to be found on Iona. The two surviving crosses stand on a high base, and like most of the Irish high crosses are free-standing, the arms pierced by a ring — a type confined in Scotland to Argyll and the Hebrides, and assigned to the ninth and tenth centuries.

As though in compensation for the total absence of written literature dating back to the period of the independent Pictish kingdom, we have in Scotland north of the Forth a vast picture gallery of Pictish art, now surviving chiefly in stone sculpture of superb and mature quality. These sculptured monuments, of which there are over 100 in existence, stretch from the Firth of Forth to the Shetlands, and from the east coast to the Hebrides; but their chief concentration is in the east, along the coast and the river valleys, and they constitute the distinctive art of the Picts. As Mr Stevenson has admirably expressed it: 'To stand in front of one of these sculptured stones is to come as close as is now possible to the Picts. For not only are they vivid works of art, but they are what chiefly survives of Pictish sculpture.'16 They are indeed the national monuments of the Picts.

The sculptures occur both incised and in relief, but never free-standing. The classification originally formulated by Joseph Anderson in 189217 has been accepted in principle by all succeeding scholars, and with some additional details by R. B. K. Stevenson may be expressed as follows:

Class I. Rude, unshaped boulders bearing incised symbols, chiefly of geometrical but partly of animal form, dating approximately from the sixth to the eighth centuries A.D.

Class II. Dressed slabs bearing sculpture in relief — the figure of the cross, symbols and other figures, and Celtic ornament — generally on a carefully shaped monument. Although Christian iconography occurs, the Crucifixion is never presented, but naturalistic animals and scenes of human life are common. They range from the seventh to the ninth centuries.

p126 Class III. Similar sculptured slabs, overlapping with Class II designs, but without symbols, later in date than those of Class II and continuing to the twelfth century. Here the variety is much greater, and the upright slab is now of great size. With Class III, in so far as the monuments show close p127relationship with Northumbria and Ireland and are not distinctively Pictish in design, we shall not in general be concerned here.


[image ALT: zzz.]
Fig. 26. Inscribed Pictish symbol stone with goose and fish (note the slight misplacement of the dorsal fin). Easterton of Roseisle, Elgin (after Cruden)
Class I is unique, the symbols being unknown in the art of any other country. Their origin and the purpose of the carvings are totally unknown. This is illustrated in a striking way by the most abstract of the 'symbols', which, together with the so‑called 'swimming elephants', are also the commonest. They take the form of a crescent, with or without elaborate internal p128curvilinear decoration, intersected by a hinged rod with equivalent arms, commonly ending in a floreated terminal; two circles joined like spectacles, intersected by a doubly hinged rod with leaf-like terminals; a serpent intersected by a similar rod; and various modifications of these, especially the rod, often alone. Many of the incised objects, not necessarily symbols, are easily recognisable — mirror and comb, fish, goose, eagle, sea-horse, mermaid, and a large number of various animals, such as the bull, the boar, the stag, the wolf, all depicted in a completely stereotyped form, but with stylised anatomical details indicating their salient physical features, and the characteristics of their natures. The Brandsbutt boulder and the Golspie slab have both symbols and an ogam inscription.


[image ALT: zzz.]
Fig. 23. Inscribed Pictish symbol stone, Kinblethmont, Angus (after Wainwright)

[image ALT: zzz.]

[image ALT: zzz.]
Fig. 24. Incised slab with Pictish symbols, Dunnichen, Angus (after Cruden)
Fig. 25. Incised Pictish symbol stone with bird, Strathpeffer (after Allen and Anderson)

p129 The originality and beauty of the work is matched by an impressive mastery of execution. While sandstone is most commonly used, many of these curvilinear designs are incised in granite, that most intractable form of stone. Yet they are for the most part executed with unhesitating assurance and perfection. Only a people with a high standard of material culture could have produced the tools, supported the highly trained and skilled class of artists and technical experts, and financed so great a number of surviving examples — the immortal memorial of a great nation.

p130

[image ALT: zzz.]
Fig. 29. Silver leaf-shaped plate with Pictish symbols inscribed, Large, Fife (after Anderson)
We cannot even guess at their origin. A few examples of these designs have survived on ivory, silver and bronze objects. We have a record of a bronze disc from the Laws, Monifieth, Angus, as well as of a number of silver chains with symbols on their terminal links, and a silver leaf-shaped plate. Apart from the technique of the carvings, the mastery of line-drawing suggests strongly that what is before us is the fine flower of the teaching of many an artist's studio; but the period for development is extremely restricted. Several caves have numerous inscribed p131symbols and other pictures on their walls. The dating is complicated through some caves having also large numbers of crosses and graffiti incised on their walls, and these, with the traditions of their occupation by early Celtic saints, such as St Serf at Dysart and St. Constantine at Fifeness, suggest a long, continuous history of habitation. Apart from the crosses, the art of the caves is for the most part that of the symbol stones. Its purpose is as unknown here as is that of the boulders and the slabs. The drawing, moreover, is very uneven in quality. Some suggest an artist's 'trial pieces'; but a fair proportion of the figures are of fine quality, both in their grace and naturalism. The cave art in general deserves more careful study than it has received hitherto. The Wemyss caves (cf. p93) make good homes.


[image ALT: zzz.]
Fig. 28. Inscribed Pictish symbols on obverse of bronze plate found at the Laws, Monifieth, Angus (after Anderson)


[image ALT: zzz.]
Fig. 32. Centaur with axes or hammers. Pictish inscribed sculptured cross-slab, Glamis, Angus (after Diack)
The number and variety of symbol forms, a dozen or more different types, on monuments of Class I and Class II, used over and over again, suggest that they were probably in use for a considerable time, and they cannot have had their origin in Christian iconography, for stones of Class I never appear with p132Christian symbols except in the caves, though they are frequently associated with them on stones of Class II. The pagan motifs, such as the mermaid and the centaur, belong, not to local paganism, but to the late Classical designs of the Mediterranean world, and we may seek some of the strange animal motifs in the same menagerie of unnatural natural history as we find in the later bestiaries.


[image ALT: zzz.]
Fig. 30. Incised Pictish symbol from the wall of Doo Cave, East Wemyss, Fife (after Stuart)

[image ALT: zzz.]
Fig. 31. Incised drawings and symbols on the wall of Jonathan's Cave, East Wemyss,º Fife (after Stuart)

The symbols are very stereotyped in character, and the margin within which variation is permissible is very narrow, as Stevenson has shown in his diagram of the development of the p134crescent.18 This is particularly noticeable in the Type I animals, of which the special home is around Inverness. There was evidently a 'type' of each animal which all sculptors had to observe. This is particularly marked in the 'elephant', and in the series of completely conventional Burghead bulls; a 'correct' iconography seems to have prevailed also in regard to the duck and eagle. These Class I animal 'symbols' are quite distinct from those of Class II, which are not only a different range of animals, but seem largely to lack the element of symbolism and to favour naturalism. This stereotyped character of Class I is not, however, divorced from naturalism but based on it; the lobes and internal lines of the best animal and bird sculptures articulate the muscles of the animals, and the lie of the feathers and wing pinions of the birds. In fact a sculptor's animal 'alphabet' developed, accompanied by a system of short-hand. The spirited little horse of the Inverurie boulder of Class I springs to life — the Platonic idea of a young horse in full career, its speed emphasised by the three rigid upright hairs, suggesting a flying mane or crest, identical with one on the horse incised on the wall of King's Cove, Arran. The same symbolic 'short-hand alphabet' of three or four upright hairs like wire is used to denote hair on the Burghead bulls.


[image ALT: zzz.]
		
[image ALT: zzz.]
Fig. 27. Slab of hard slate with inscribed Pictish symbol and boar, Knocknagael, Inverness-shire. The stone stands on the edge of a field by the roadside about 3 miles south of Inverness railway station (after Allen and Anderson)
Fig. 33. Horse, Inverurie, Aberdeenshire. Incised slab of red granite. The muscles emphasise the forward movement of the horse in action.

The great majority of incised symbol stones are found north of the Mounth, but the original centre of distribution is disputed. Mrs Curle points out that the stones of the best quality p135are in Orkney. Anderson and Allen favoured Aberdeenshire, and Mr Stevenson also favours Aberdeenshire, where most of the 'swimming elephants' occur. Mrs Henderson19 has recently brought forward evidence in favour of the head of the Great Glen in Inverness-shire, and the shores of the Moray and Dornoch Firths. While in the extreme north the symbol stones are almost all coastal, there are hardly any Class I stones along p136the coasts from Aberdeen to Inverness. Their spread, which is from north to south, is by the main river valleys, of the Spey, the Don, and the Urie, and over the Mounth passes to the kingdoms of the Southern Picts; and one can follow the symbols on their route. Only the prestige and power of a great ruler could account for the high quality and wide distribution of these Class I symbol stones from Shetland to the Forth, from the North Sea to the outer Hebrides, with an outlier at Anworth in Kirkcudbrightshire. It is natural, with Mrs Henderson, to connect this development of the symbol stones on the Morayshire coast and the Voray and Dornoch Firths with the centre of power of the Northern Picts under Brude mac Maelchon in the sixth century, at the head of the Great Glen, giving easy access as it does to the both the northern and the Western Isles. The penetration of the symbols through the passes of the Mounth to Angus, and their combination with a fresh and living art and a quite new technique in Class II, may well be connected with the passing of the supreme Pictish power from the Northern to the Southern Picts.

The curious paradox about Pictish animal art is that the most stereotyped forms appear to precede the splendid world of naturalistic animals characteristic of Pictish art of Class II, the art of the Southern Picts in their chief area around the Tay Valley during the middle of the eighth century. During this period and in this area the technique has changed from incised art on undressed stone to relief sculpture on a carefully dressed and shaped slab. The slab very frequently, but by no means always, takes the form of an upright memorial stone bearing a cross on one side, and secular scenes, designs or symbols on the reverse, the scenes being in a purely naturalistic style.

Some of the slabs are filled in with interlace and scroll- and knot-work comparable with contemporary Irish art, and ultimately reminiscent of metal work, as at Aberlemno and Nigg. p137Some have large protruding bosses covered with interlace, again as at Nigg. Human beings, except horsemen, are comparatively rare on the cross slabs. The lady riding her horse side-saddle on the slab at Hilton of Cadboll is the only female figure represented in Pictish sculpture. But the most remarkable feature of these Class II stones is the large-scale 'narrative scenes', often on the reverse face of the slab from that bearing the cross, as at Aberlemno. The artist is at his most brilliant with horses and horsemen, hunting scenes and battle pieces, or the pageantry of battle. The rapid movement and exuberance, coupled with the unerring drawing of the figures, well proportioned and to scale, the masterly composition of the picture and the illusion of a living scene are in striking contrast to the austere, even hieratic designs and execution of the symbol stones, and resemble a great manuscript page or sheet of tapestry. Yet we are still in the world of symbol stones, for these are found on the same 'page' of the slabs as those living scenes, for example on the slab of Dunfallandy. On the back of the Aberlemno cross and on the slab of Hilton of Cadboll symbols occupy the upper half of the register. The latter cross is believed to date from c. 800.

Among the rarer but highly interesting groups of Pictish figure sculpture are some rectangular slabs found in Perthshire at Murthly, Meigle, and Dull20 — all in the valley of the Tay. They are thin slabs, covered with sculpture on one side only, and were probably designed to form a frieze of a building, whether internal, or external. Meigle indeed stands out as pre-eminent in both range and technique. In the little slab figured by Cruden,21 mastery in relief art creates the illusion, and indeed almost achieves the reality, of free-standing sculpture in the round. This is not easy to illustrate in a picture, but is very marked when one is in front of the sculpture and can insert one's finger-tips behind the outline which is deeply undercut. At Meigle too the sculptor has achieved the sculptor's ideal, transforming the natural and immediate into the permanent in the p138two fighting bulls, terrifying in their restrained power, forever in static preparation for battle.


[image ALT: zzz.]

Fig. 34. Fighting bulls. Pictish sculptured slab, Meigle (after Cruden)

A still more remarkable feature of the technique of these little Meigle slabs is the relationship of the figures to their background and also to the frame which borders the panel. The whole sculpture is in some examples executed in three receding planes. This form of technique is especially developed in the simpler themes, such as the small panels which contain pairs of heraldically facing animals. The method adopted by the sculptor was as follows: first he outlined the figures and the frame on his flat panel. Next he cut out the groundwork as far as the frame, which was reserved to outline his picture, leaving the figures standing out in relief beyond it. He then cut back all the rest of the groundwork except the frame. The figures thus stand forward of the frame, which merely, but very skilfully, now serves so define the field, and the whole creates the illusion of free-standing sculpture — or, if we prefer, of two animals confronting one another in a fenced field.

I may perhaps interpolate here that among the many excellent studies of the art of the Picts relatively little attention has been devoted to the technique of this sculpture. Yet much is to be learnt from the varying methods by which the sculptor approaches his surface and his field, and the way he handles his tools, perhaps also from the range of tools at his disposal. It may be suggested, therefore, that a special study might profitably be made of the sculptures from the point of view of the stonemasons's technique.

p139 Some later outstanding monuments of the Class III phase, which are free from symbol designs yet of wholly Pictish provenance and artistic milieu, deserve a fuller study than is possible here. The most important is the St Andrews sarcophagus shrine — probably the shrine of St Regulus, the founder of the early Church — in the cathedral burial ground at St Andrews, where the shrine now stands. This sarcophagus is ascribed to the first half of the tenth century.22 It is incomplete, but must originally have been a little less than 6 feet long, 3 feet wide, and 4 feet high. One of the longer panels contains a representation of David as shepherd, hunter, and lion slayer. The scene is naturalistic and in high relief, the principal figures standing out beyond the frame in the manner described above. The cross slabs at both Nigg and Crosston at Aberlemno23 also represent David as shepherd and hunter. Pictish art is hunters' art, and the affinities with Sassanian and Assyrian art are evident in the Assyrian type of lion and lion hunt, the monkeys and gryphon, and the generous use of vegetation, unfamiliar in Scottish art.24 These Eastern influences are important, despite the purely Celtic character of the decoration in the smaller panels, where the raised bosses recall the Iona crosses. Although most of the 'Oriental themes' are found also in Ireland, the art of Pictavia is never Irish art. The tall cross slabs, unknown in Northumbria, and little used latterly in Ireland, remain universally in Pictavia, while the free-standing cross of Ireland and Northumbria and Argyll is virtually unknown in Pictavia. Even the cross itself tends to be treated decoratively. In a Christian country, open to strong Christian influences from west, south and east, which have left their record on the history, the literature, the intellectual life and the architecture of Cruithentuach, the art of the Cruithne or Picts had its birth and continued to live its own national life in a world apart.

The high achievement of Pictish art has been more widely recognised and appreciated since the discovery of the St p140Ninian's treasure, referred to above (p96). These objects are among the most beautiful found in Scotland. They were deposited in circumstances quite unknown, probably during the eighth century, perhaps under Viking pressure (as suggested above). There are 27 items, and their quality and variety is dazzling. All the objects are of silver, some gilded, and all of a high level of excellence in art and execution: richly chased brooches inset with semi-precious stones, silver cones and chapes of equally fine workmanship, conventionally decorated, and most important of all, seven bowls of rare shapes ornamented with geometrical and interlacing designs finely executed by means of a variety of tools. One bowl has a special interest as being apparently of east Mediterranean origin. Most interesting of all is a hanging bowl, the latest and most northerly example in the British Isles of this much debated class.

One of the bowls, perforated at the base, may have been a strainer for Communion wine, and a single-pronged instrument and a spoon may also have been part of the Communion plate. The most striking piece in the collection is a dog's head attaching the handle to the bowl of the spoon. It is startling in its realism. The staring eyes are of blue glass, the protruding tongue greedily licks the bowl of the spoon, the ears are laid back flat to the skull, as is the habit with a hungry dog. This intimate little object is the only example of naturalism in the art of this collection, but the stylised and unhesitating treatment of the muscles indicates a tradition of animal modelling already stereotyped, and so the St Ninian's dog is first cousin to the animals of the Pictish symbol stones. Its naturalism is of a different order from that of the animals in a hunting frieze on the silver bowl in the Traprain Law treasure, where between the legs of a hyena chasing a ram while a second hyena leaps on another ram's back, we watch a little hare crouching on the ground, its ears laid back, as it quietly washes its paw.


[image ALT: zzz.]

Fig. 35. Part of the design on the Traprain Law silver dish (cf. Plate 55)

p141 The fullest collection of the early inscribed and sculptured stones of southern Scotland is the one in the Museum of Whithorn Priory, Wigtownshire. The Kirkmadrine stones are collected in the open west porch of the ancient parish church of Kirkmadrine. Of Pictish sculptures the best local collection is in a small but admirably arranged museum at Meigle, Perthshire. Others are at St Vigean's near Arbroath, Angus. The St Andrews sarcophagus and other early Christian and medieval sculptures are in the small museum in the Cathedral grounds at St Andrews. An extensive collection of original sculptures, and a large series of casts of others not in the collection, are in the National Museum of Antiquities, Edinburgh. A great many of these Pictish stones, however, are still in or near their original position. With Perth as a centre, in a few days almost all the incised and sculptured monuments of the southern Picts can easily be visited by train, bus, and by short walks.


p164 The Author's Notes:

1 J. Anderson, R. A., iv.

2 See Jackson, L. H. E. B., 120.

3 Nash-Williams, E. C. M. W., 4. The number s in the text below refer throughout to this book.

4 Ibid., fig. 75; 2, 88.

5 Ibid., no. 182; Pl. XXXV‑XXXVI; 123.

6 Hencken, A. C. S., 226.

7 Radford, J. R. I. C., n.s. I, 117; Macalister, C. I. I. C.I, no. 487.

8 Hencken, 272.

9 Langdon, 356.

10 Ibid., 359.

11 Kinvig, 42.

12 Kermode, M. C., Pl. XV: Allen, Christian Symbolism, p144. Megaw, J. M. M. VI (1958).

13 Talbot Rice, E. A., 104.

14 J. Anderson, S. E. C. T. I, 247; Macalister, C. I. I. C. I, no. 510; Kermode, Z. C. P. I, 48 (and Plate).

15 J. Anderson, S. E. C. T. I, 251.

16 P. A., 97.

17 R. A., xi.

18 Stevenson, P. A., 102, 103.

19 Henderson, P. S. A. S. XCI (1957‑58).

p165 20 C. Curle, P. S. A. S. LXXIV (1939‑40).

21 Cruden, E. C. P. M. S., Pl. 41.

22 Radford, Antiquity XVI (1942), 10.

23 Allen, E. C. M. S., Aberlemno 3, no. XXXVI; fig. 228; 215.

24 As C. Mowbray (née Curle) emphasises, Antiquity X (1936).


Thayer's Note:

a According to an article in Scottish Notes & Queries, Oct. 1892, p72, the stone was "in a grass park, about a mile and a half from the village of Kirkliston". That same article goes on to say it was threatened with a move to accommodate the Kirkliston railway station; but if Chadwick is correct, it was allowed to remain undisturbed — and in fact the railway station would eventually be located immediately in town, nowhere near the stone. This turned out well, since the railway line that had served Kirkliston is already defunct and naturally the station is a thing of the past as well, replaced by the Auldgate subdivision. But Kirkliston is part of the exurbia of Edinburgh, airports are more demanding, and not long after Chadwick wrote, the expansion of the metropolitan airport in the mid-sixties resulted in a first move; a second move threatened in 2006, but I don't know whether it actually took place.

The stone's former site, and very likely its present location, are somewhere on the map below, which shows: Kirkliston at the top (North); the old railroad bridge over the Almond River marked [a map marker]; the sharp straight line of the old railroad embankment, heading S from that point; a point roughly 1.5 miles S of town, marked [a map marker]; and the creeping asphalt of Edinburgh's airport, the western part of which probably overlies the stone's original site.

[and here's help in using the map, if you need it.]

As for its appearance, the best online collection of images of it, drawings, engravings and photographs from various periods, is at the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, s.v. The Cat Stane.


[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 15 Dec 10