Lots of interlacing

Bain has drawn six different interlace designs of varying complexity on this poster. He is illustrating a few of the ways that single strands can be laid out. He then complicates matters by adding extra lines of interlace.

The note refers to how Bain thought interlace was drawn, as shown on a poster that we’ve named Single Strand Interlace. There, he uses the interlace on a mosaic from Verulamium (St Albans) as his source. He notes that if the number of loops along each edge of a square or rectangle are the same, then single strand interlace is not possible. But Bain then complicates things by drawing the red single strand interlace pattern that contradicts this.

George Bain’s published work on knotwork borders includes interlace designs from a wide range of sources. They’re not just from Roman Britain. They appear in the illuminated pages of the Lindisfarne Gospels, Book of Kells and other early medieval manuscripts. They are also found as ancient embroidered designs from Africa, Persia and Turkey.

Creating interlace

The use of a single, continuous line or strand in Pictish interlace and knotwork was of great interest to George Bain. He saw it as symbolic of Eternity. Bain was keen to stress this by showing the main methods used to achieve it.

In this poster he shows how interlace can be drawn with equal or unequal numbers of edge ‘turns’. Equal numbers produce a specific size of panel or border. Bain shows this in his drawing of part of a mosaic at Chedworth Roman villa, in England. It has 5 turns along both short edges. An unequal number of turns makes an infinite length of panel or border interlace. Bain draws this next to the Chedworth panel. The top edge has 6 turns but the bottom only has 5.

Bain used reference books to study interlaced panels and borders on Roman mosaics in England and abroad. Roman mosaics were designed long before Pictish use of the design. It is not clear from this drawing if the example of a mistake at Itchen Abbas refers to the original pavement. Perhaps the error is in the drawing of it in the Quennell book that he references. In any event in his own re-drawing Bain resolves the mistake.

Two panels of interlaced men

George Bain drew large posters like this to illustrate his Celtic art classes and lectures after he retired. He’d made simpler posters for his art students in Kirkcaldy. They remember his classroom being decorated with numerous large-scale designs.

Bain has increased the size of both illustrations around 20 times. He carefully records this alongside his drawings. Magnifying the size of the design allowed him to understand their complexity. It also meant he could see the scribe’s inconsistencies. At the bottom right corner Bain notes that one of the four figures has a white, rather than a blue thigh in the original. He corrects this in his version, interpreting the blue as trousers.

These two small panels are from different pages in the Book of Kells. We don’t know if Bain ever travelled to Dublin to see the original. But we do know that he worked from Sullivan’s Book of Kells publication. The 2nd edition, published in 1920, had 24 colour plates from various parts of the manuscript.

See Book of Kells TCD MS58 folio 130r Trinity College Dublin (detail top left) and
TCD MS58 folio 27v Trinity College Dublin (detail bottom right)