I made this little knife in 1995 or 6, when I was experimenting with blacksmithing techniques. It has a pattern-welded blade, formed from twisted bars of iron with seperate steel edges, all forge-welded together. This was the only finished blade I made using pattern-welding.
Following on from the interlace on the caskets I posted yesterday, here is a whalebone gaming piece found in a cave on the isle of Rum. The Museum suggests it is 15th or early 16th century.
Again the style of the interlace carving is reminiscent of the pillar carving on the Trinity and Queen Mary harps – the interlace in low relief over and under against a recessed ground, tightly knotted, with parallel incised stripes emphasising the turn of the ribbons. Compare especially this panel on the Trinity harp forepillar:
The gaming pieces is a bit wobbly in its execution, but then so too is the interlace on the Trinity harp. However the thing about the gaming piece that really got me is the weird asymmetry. I have rotated my photo to show it with the axis of symmetry vertical, however it does not have a horizontal symmetry. The pattern of the top half is quite elegant and interesting, but if mirrored in the bottom half it would not give a single endless line. Perhaps the artist saw this and made one fewer edge loops, so crossing over two of the ribbons. However this also has the effect of creating two closed circles in the lower half. We see similar closed circles on the Trinity pillar. Look at how the end circles on the trinity pillar do not close but loop back on each other. This is similar to how the two circles in the upper half of the gaming piece are not closed.
I have to say that no matter how I turn and manipulate the gaming piece in my mind, it is not as elegant a composition as the panel on the Trinity harp pillar!
In the National Museum today I looked at the two whalebone caskets. They are about 15th century in date, from the West Highlands – similar caskets appear on the stone slabs such as the one from Keills, and it has been suggested that the caskets were used to store documents such as charters and land-grants.
I was interested to look at the interlace panels; they seem similar to the interlace on the Trinity College harp forepillar. There is also some similarity with the small sections of interlace on the Queen Mary harp forepillar.
On the way back from Edinburgh this afternoon we enjoyed a large detour which included a stop at the old church in Dunning. Inside this preserved medieval building in the care of Historic Scotland, is the early medieval Dupplin Cross.
The cross is very well presented in the base of the tower, and is extremely well lit with raking light from above, allowing a good appreciation of the relief carving. Of course I really wanted to see the harpist, King David I suppose, but all of the carved panels were really lovely. The inscription was on the back side and was the least well illuminated so there was no possibility of reading any of it.
Once everything is tidy and I am feeling less tired I will have a better look at my photographs and maybe will have somthing more to say about the David panel on the cross!
Until 1999, the cross stood on the nearby hillside, and although obviously the 1200-year-old carving and inscription is much better preserved now the cross is inside, it seems a shame that it no longer stands in situ, looking down over the ancient Pictish royal site at Forteviot. I don’t believe the original site is signposted or marked in any way – wouldn’t it be wonderful if a cast or replica could be installed there?
I was in the NMS yesterday and amongst other things I looked at the shrine of the Guthrie bell. This is a medieval silver confection which encases an early medieval iron bell – no-one seems to know which early saint the bell belonged to, but the silver decoration was made and applied in the West Highlands in mid-late medieval times.
My photo shows a late 15th or early 16th century figure of a West Highland bishop, and beside him some embossed silver panels of decoration which are a good match of the forepillar vines on the Queen Mary harp. The inscription is upside down and says “Iohannes Alexan/dri me fieri fecit”. I am not sure who John mac Alex was, though these are common manes amongst the Lords of the Isles who are likely patrons for the remodelling of the shrine in the late 15th century.
This drawing is from Alexander Brook’s 1892 article in PSAS, on the maces of the Scottish Universities. It is a drawing of two of the six heraldic shields on St Andrews Arts faculty mace.
The one on the right, no. IV, shows the arms of Alexander Stewart, Earl of Mar (c.1375-1435). I don’t know what his connection is with the University of St Andrews, though he witnessed a royal confirmation of the University’s charter in 1432. The University started in 1411; the shield was presumably made and affixed to the mace on its completion in about 1416.
The Earl of Mar led the Royalist army at the Battle of Harlaw in 1411. It is fascinating to me to trace these connections. I will point out this coincidence in my concert on Sunday, when I will play the ceòl mór variation set of Cath Gairbheach (the Battle of Harlaw). Unfortunately the side of the Arts Faculty mace that has Mar’s shield is facing away from the centre of the exhibition room, but you can see it OK if you go round the other side of the case.
A sneak preview for readers of my blog!
I have made a drawing of the forepillar decoration on the Trinity College harp. This has never been done before; when R.B. Armstrong studied the harp for his 1904 book, he did not draw the pillar decoration, saying it was probably later work. And no-one has done a good published study of the harp since then.
I have been admiring the pillar decoration on my vists to Dublin for a few years now, and I managed to get enough closeup photos to be able to work out almost all of the decoration. I have drawn it all out schematically, following the general principle of Armstrong’s superb diagram of the decoration of the Queen Mary harp forepillar.
I very much enjoyed doing this work; the decoration is really complex and busy and it was a real challenge to trace the twists and turns of each vine stalk and interlace strap.
I’m publishing the drawing officially on 1st October, both as a free PDF download that you can get from the Trinity pillar decoration webpage and also as a 2-colour A3 sized digital print on good art paper that you can order from the Emporium prints page.
Be sure to read the rest of the Trinity pages as I have added some other interesting information and illustrations.
Lovers of the West Highland photography of the late Ian MacKenzie will be pleased to know that the 2013 calendar is now available. Details from www.sonasmultimedia.com or phone 0131 446 0723 to order a copy.
Iain worked as photographer for the School of Scottish Studies in Edinburgh. If you haven’t already seen the student campaign to “save the School” then check out the campaign website http://scottishstudiescampaign.wordpress.com/ and read some background info at http://www.traditionalmusicforum.org/category/blog/