Cover image for The methods of construction of Celtic art.
The methods of construction of Celtic art.
Bain, George, active 1951.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Dover Publications [1973]
Physical Description:
159 pages : illustrations ; 31 cm
General Note:
Half title: Celtic art.

Reprint of the 1951 ed. published by W. MacLellan, Glasgow.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
NK1264 .B3 1973 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area-Oversize

On Order



The construction principles of Celtic art were re-discovered in the middle of the 20th century by George Bain. Until his writing, the intricate knots, interlacings, and spirals used in illuminating The Book of Kells and in decorating craftwork and jewelry seemed almost impossible, "the work of angels." In this pioneering work, George Bain shows how simple principles, no more difficult than those used in needlecraft, were used to create some of the finest artistic works ever seen. He also explains how you can use these principles in re-creating artifacts and in creating your own Celtic designs for art and craft work or even for recreational use.
Step-by-step procedures carefully introduce the simple rules and methods of Celtic knot work and the well-known designs from the great manuscripts and stone work. Later chapters build up to complex knot work, spiral work, and key pattern designs, with special coverage of alphabets and the stylized use of animals, humans, and plants. Altogether over 225 different patterns are presented for your use, with hundreds of modification suggestions, 110 historical and modern artifacts showing designs in use, a great number of letters including six complete alphabets and 25 decorative initials, and a number of animal and human figures used in the original Celtic works.
Artists, students, craftspeople, even children can work with these patterns and instructions for creating dynamic designs for use in leather work, in embroidery and other needle work, in metalwork, jewelry making, card design, borders, panels, illuminations, and in countless other ways. Mathematicians will find a great deal of pleasure in the geometric principles on which the patterns are based. Art historians and others interested in studying Celtic art will find a great number of outstanding art works and the best presentation in English for understanding Celtic design.

Table of Contents

The Tara Brooch
The Cruciform Page From The Lindisfarne Gospels
Knotwork Borders
A Precursors of Celtic Interlacings
B The methods of construction
1 General principles for designing Celtic Knotwork
2 General principles of methods of construction
3 Simple Celtic interlacing borders
4 Celtic Knotwork borders
5 Applications to craftwork for simple interlacings
6 Border designs and their application to circles
7 Knotwork borders
8 Interlacing borders
9 Interlacing borders
10 Interlacing borders
11 Further border designs
12 Method of doubling interlacings
13 Method of mitring
14 Method of mitring
C Construction of ornaments, Monymusk Reliquary
D Construction of Viking ornament, Lewis: Knowwork Panels
E Examples from Gospels of Lindisfarne and Book of Kells
F Comparison of similar designs at Salisbury and in Perthshire, Angus and Caithness
G Design on cross-slab at Ulbster, Caithness
H Panel from Book of Kells
1 Simple Knotwork Panels
2 Knotwork Panel in Pictish proportions
3 Variations from Plates 1 and 2 from Book of Kells
4 Example of continuity - St. Madoes Stone
5 Further methods of constructing Knotwork Panels
6 Examples from Ulbster and Strathmartin Stones
7 Reptile Knotwork Panels, Shandwick Stone also panel from Lindisfarne, St. Vigeans, Dunfallandy, Eassie and McDurnan
8 Panels common to Lindisfarne, Ulbster, Collieburn and Glammis
9 Construction of Nigg Stone Panel
10 Example from a Book of Durrow border
11 Irish and Pictish Knotwork - Durrow
12 Unit from Book of Durrow
13 Knotwork in circular panels. Shandwick Stone and Book of Kells
14 Circular panels - Boko of Kells and Hilton of Cadbol Stone
I Construction orders - Plate II, Book of Durrow
J Completed design - Plate II, Book of Durrow
K Design from Page of Eight Circled Cross, Kells
L Interlacing in Rossie Priory Stone
M. Aberlemno Stone - use of Triskele in all-over repeats. Examples of travesties of this design made in the past
1 Methods of constructing spirals
2 Construction of spiral centres
3 Spirals and breaking into trumpets
4 Joining spirals - Kells and Aberlemno examples
5 Spiral centers from ancient British and Pictish enamel work
6 Examples of spiral centres from M.S.S. and enamel work
7 Spiral groups - Book of Durrow
8 Spirals - Kells and Lindisfarne
9 Spiral Borders
10 Borders and Terminals from M.S.S. and Ornamented Stones
11 Spiral panel and Hilton of Cadboll Stone
12 Panel on Shandwick Stone
13 All-over spiral patterns - M.S.S. and stones
14 Examples from Kells and Lindisfarne
Key Patterns
N. Key pattern on arm of Aberlemno Cross showing earlier travesties
1 The construction of Key patterns
2 Key pattern borders and mitring
3 Patterns from Rosemarkie Stone and Lindisfarne
4 Key pattern borders and panels
5 Treatment of Nigg Stone and comparison with Maya Keys
6 Nigg Stone Key panel and variations
7 Key patterns - Nigg, Kells and Lindisfarne
8 Comparison of methods by Welsh and Pictish designers in Pembrokeshire and Ross-shire
9 Reconstruction of panel - Collieburn Stone Kells border and terminal
10 Comparison of Aberlemno, Aberlady and Lindisfarne keys
11 Examples of the minute accuracy of Kells scribes. Comparison of Kells and Farr Stone Keys
12 Further work of Kells scribes. Comparison of Rosemarkie, St. Chads and Kells keys
13 Application of key patterns to panels
14 Comparison of designs from Mezin, Russia (b.c. 20,000-b.c. 15,000), Kells Lindisfarne and Farr
1 Kells script, quill formation
2 Celtic small and capital "A" from Books of Durrow, Kells and Lindisfarne
3 Letters B, C, and D
4 Letters E, F, G
5 Letters H, I, J, L
6 Letters M, N, O
7 Letters P, Q, R, 4th-6th century
8 Letters S, T
9 Letters U, V, W, X, Y, Z
10 Celtic alphabets of late 7th century and 4th-6th century
11 Ornamented Celtic capital letters
12 Ornamented capitals from Kells and Durrow
13 Ornamented capitals from Book of Kells
14 Symbols and contractions from Celtic M.S.S. and language problems from inscribed stones
15 Celtic type from an Irish book of 1711
O Detail from Plate XIX - Kells Studio edition
P Designs with human figures
Q All-over drop repeat from Lindisfarne Gospels
R Construction of design on "Initium Evangeli" page of Kells
S Panel from Kells page of Eight circled Cross
1 Bird Motifs in Lindisfarne Interlacing Ornaments
2 Treatments of Birds, heads, top-knots, necks, bodies, wings, tails, legs and toes in Book of Kells
3 Birds as ornament motifs. Kells
4 Bird ornaments, Kells and Tara Brooch
5 Birds as interlacing ornaments - Kells, MacRegol and Meigle Stone
6 Reptiles as Interlacing ornaments - Kells
7 Reptiles as Interlacing ornaments - Kells
8 Dog-like Animals - Kells
9 Animals as Interlacing Ornaments - Kells
10 Semi-realistical and mythical Animals - Scottish Stones and Kells
11 "Living Things of the Earth" - Kells Christ Monogram Page
12 Interlacing Human Figures - Clonmacnoise and Meigle Stones and Kells XPI Monogram Page
13 Figures in Ornament - Clonmacnoise and Kells
14 Interlaced Human male figures - Kells
T Knotwork adapted to irregular shapes - Plate XI Letter T - Kells
U Kells designs - Plates I, III, XII, and XIV
Plant Forms
Introduction - The Celtic Tree of Life
V Designs from Kells Plates II, IV, XIV, and XVII also Meigle and Monifieth Stones
A1 "Tree of Life" designs - Kells
A2 "Tree of Life" symbol - Kells, Cadboll, Nigg, Tarbet - Compared with Buddhist, Byzantine and Greek sources
A3 Comparison of "Potted Tree of Life" examples - Kells, Cottonian M.S., Eassie and Farnell Stones and Maya Art
A4 "Tree of Life" - Kells and North of England
A5 Examples from Book of Kells and South Scotland
W Plant Forms - Kells Plates III, XIV and XIX
Human Figures
Introduction - Semi-realistic Human Figures and probable Portraits from Books of Kells and Lindisfarne
B1 Kells Portraits - Infant Christ, The Virgin, St. Matthew, St. Luke, Angels
B2 Types of Celtic Peoples of Britain and Ireland - Kells, Lindisfarne and MacDurnan
B3 Hands and Feet - Kells, Lindisfarne and MacDurnan
B4 Attitudes of Horses from Pictish Stones of East Scotland - Edderton, Meigle, Migvie also Book of Kells
Applications of Celtic Art
1 Design by Leonardo da Vinci, "Concatenation"
2 Design by Albrecht Durer, "Sechs Knoten"
3 Design by Michelangelo for Capitol quadrangle, Rome
4 Bronze champfrein from Torrs, Kirkcudbright
5 Irish Bone Carvings
6 The Trelan Bahow Mirror
7 Doorway, Flaa Church, Hallingdal
8 Wire work from Tara Brooch, Ardagh Chalice and Buckle from Sutton Hoo
9 Magazine Cover Design "Alba"
10 Design for Menu Card
11 Greeting Card, Lindisfarne Birds of Friendship
12 Celtic Greeting Card
13 Gaelic New Year Cards - Kells initial "B"
14 "Horse-shoe" Greeting Card, Inverurie Stone
15 Reproduction of Celtic Hunting Carpet
16 Early British Enamel, Somerset
17 Early British Enamel, Canterbury
18 "Doorway" Design for New Year Greeting Card
19 Design for Greeting Card
20 Greeting Card adapted from Groudle Stone, Isle of Man
21 Greeting Card adapted from the Rossie Priory Stone
22 The Rossie Priory Stone
23 The Aberlemno Stone
24 The Hilton of Cadboll Stone
25 The Author sketching the Hunt at the Nigg Stone
26 The Rosemarkie Stone
27 The Battersea Shiels
28 Detail of design in King Henry VIII, portrait
29 King Henry VIII by School of Holbein the Younger
30 Zoomorphic Carpet design
31 Fireplace Panel
32 Contemporary design by girl aged 16 years
33 Embroidery designed and worked by schoolgirls
34 All over carpet design by the author
35 Group of articles made by the author and pupils
36 Further group of articles
37 Bronze Plaque
38 Bronze Plaque
39 Celtic Art in Knitwear, etc