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Bossy nests of snakes

Object number: ROMGH.1998.10

Type: Poster

Material: Ballpoint pen, Paper, Pencil

Width: 53.5cm | Height: 83.5cm

Production date: 1948 - 1968

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Use the same Celtic patterns in your art and craft work Yes
Use this design for commercial purposes without the permission of the Copyright holder No
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This teaching aid by Bain is an impressive life-size drawing of part of the Nigg cross-slab in Ross-shire. The panel on the stone is only 30cm wide. Nevertheless, it manages to contain the lively writhing of the 20 snakes. Set to one side of a Christian cross, the serpents symbolise eternity. The shedding of their skins is seen as a metaphor for the resurrection.

When compared to the actual stone Bain’s drawing is not entirely accurate or complete. But he gleefully comments in the margin that it is more accurate than that in a contemporary publication.  The Nigg cross-slab is one of the few objects that we know he visited and studied directly. A photograph of Bain sketching the other side of stone is included in his Methods of Construction.

It seems that Bain’s intention was to draw attention to the bold, overall design of the panel rather than the detail. He demonstrates the designer’s skilful melding of zoomorphic ornament with other Pictish decorative elements: raised bosses, interlace, spirals and knotwork. 

See FC Diack’s contribution in the Third Spalding Club’s 13th publication, 1944

See Bain's Celtic Art, Methods of Construction page 152 Plate 25

Author: Alastair Morton

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