Knotwork in copper

The embossed knotwork on this very thin sheet of copper is set within two concentric circles. Looking at other items in the collection we think we know what it relates to. George Bain made a leather handbag for his wife, Jessie, in 1937. One side has this knotwork design embossed into it, the other side has a key pattern.

Copper is a soft metal and wouldn’t usually be used as a former for embossing. Nevertheless, this is the right size and has the same design as that on Jessie’s handbag. Perhaps it was used for transferring the pattern? Maybe the four small holes at the side were used to hold the former and leather in position. If so, the leather must have been quite damp for a successful transfer.

Alternatively this copper sheet is a completely separate piece, crafted in its own right. The pattern is created from the back, a technique known as repoussé work. It is based on knotwork designs set in panels, such as those in gospel books like the Book of Durrow.

Refined triskeles

This circular spiral design is one that is used a lot by George Bain and his students. A disc of seven three-in-one spirals (triskeles) is on the Pictish cross-slab by the church in Aberlemno. Bain used it as his source for the ways of drawing spiral designs in Methods of Construction. Today the sculptured stone is covered in winter to protect it from rain, snow and frost. But between April and October it’s open for view.

A more complex form of this triskele design is used on a page of the early medieval illuminated gospels known as the Book of Durrow. Both this and the cross-slab are fantastic examples of artwork of the later 600s or early 700s AD.

George Bain may have created this linocut as a former for the spiral embossed footstool in the collection. Or, as there are two small holes at opposite sides, perhaps it was a piece for display.

See Book of Durrow IE TCD MS 57 (digital collections MS57_014_HI.jpeg) Trinity College Dublin