Volume III | Chapter 6 | Anglian-Period OrnamentNext Back to catalogue index
by James Lang


The earliest monuments of the region, chiefly from York Minster, are minimal in their ornament. A plain corner moulding and, sometimes, thinly incised saltires in rectangular panels, are all that adorn some stelae: for example, York Minster, nos. 11–12 (Ills. 44–51). The possibility of lost painted designs remains despite the slightest remains of pigment traces. Other grave-markers or stelae, (for example, nos. 20–1), adopted inscriptions and, like the Hackness grave-cover (no. 2), incised crosses (see below).

PLANT-SCROLLS (G.I., pp. xxiv, xxviii, and figs. 10–13)

Uninhabited scrolls

Compared with the Bernician region of Northumbria, plant-scroll patterns are less common and certainly outnumbered by the Anglo-Scandinavian zoomorphic and interlace designs. The uninhabited scrolls are thinly spread but are not confined exclusively to the early Anglian monastic centres which are documented, such as Lastingham or Hackness. There is some evidence of continuity, or revivalism, of the motifs, though there is a tendency for the later scrolls to become more formal, abstract, and less foliate than the early examples.

Some of the earlier forms of plant-scroll would be at home in a Bernician context and are fairly close reflections of the ultimate Mediterranean sources for the motif. The lost shaft from Patrington has on its broad face what may have been a medallion scroll with a pair of nodding berry bunches (Ill. 749). The close parallels with Hexham 2C in Northumberland, and Bewcastle 1B in Cumberland (Cramp 1984, ii , pl. 173, 916; Bailey and Cramp 1988, ill. 92) underlie the Bernician connection. The scroll of its narrow side (Ill. 750) stems from an organic, undulating stalk in the corner with a pendant leaf-flower and a hanging leaflet. The treatment suggests natural growth responding to gravity, although the layout is based upon symmetry or balance of elements, again reminiscent of Hexham 2B (Cramp 1984, ii , pl. 173, 915). A similar scroll appears at the base of an early shaft at Otley, West Riding (Collingwood 1927, 41, fig. 52), demonstrating the presence of such organic medallion scrolls with symmetrically disposed berry bunches elsewhere in Deira in the eighth century. The fragment, Gilling East 1 (Ill. 440) reaches north for its analogues, its paired, rope-like stems forming a leafless version of a medallion in the manner of Acca's cross at Hexham (Cramp 1984, ii , pl. 168). York Minster 25 (Ill. 104) carries a fragmentary incised plant-scroll with a large leaf flower and prominent node. This monument is in many ways a transition from the austere incised styles to the lusher relief carvings.

A more flamboyant, mannered scroll, with leaves which are scooped and thick, and plastic stems with ridged nodes, appears on Hackness 1, face D (Ills. 459–60). At one point a spray almost resembles acanthus, which might reflect the interest in Carolingian art that was generated in Yorkshire sculpture in the period of Alcuin. The scroll is organized in a strictly geometrical way, despite the florid excrescences. The confinement of the scrolls to short panels is in the same tradition as Bewcastle 1, Cumberland, but in this respect and in the details of their disposition, the scrolls are most closely paralleled by the uninhabited scrolls of the narrow faces of the cross from Easby, North Riding (Longhurst 1931, pl. XXIV, 2, pl. XXVIII). The Hackness plants are slightly simpler than Easby's, and are restricted to an S-shaped pair of scrolls. On the cross-slab at Kirkdale (no. 7) the spiral scrolls have grown much tighter, with the triple berry bunches simply forming terminals at the centre of the coils. Small leaflets, much reduced, fill the spandrels. Indeed, at the top of the slab, the scrolls almost lose any foliate character (Ill. 558). The same treatment is found on Hunmanby 1 (Ill. 500) and, on a smaller scale, Hovingham 3 (Ill. 491), where the cutting is as shallow as that of York Minster 1 (Ill. 1).

This lack of leaf is found too on the great cross-head at Lastingham 3 (Ill. 587), though in a looser exposition, and a comparison with the smaller cross-arm at Masham (Collingwood 1907, 360, figs. a-b on 361) reveals the Lastingham tendency to step back from organic growth into geometric forms. That can also been seen on the fragment of a door-jamb, Lastingham 8, whose scroll consists of very open spirals each containing a naturalistic triangular grape-bunch, the stem joined with a node; yet the spandrels are filled by groups of pellets and the stems bear no leaves (Ill. 608). A more organic version of this, also from an architectural context, may be compared in Cumbria: two large pieces from Dalston and Falstead may be Anglian or sub-Roman (Cramp 1983, 291, pl. 1; Bailey and Cramp 1988, 93 and 97–8).

By contrast, one face of the cross-arm from the Minster Library in York (Minster, no. 10; Ill. 38) is filled by broad pointed leaves on a flat stem. Here, however, the design seems controlled by the law of minimum effort, since no background has been cut away. York also produced the more open type of medallion scroll on the ninth-century shaft from St Mary Bishophill Junior (no. 1; Ill. 217) with only rudimentary leaf-forms. Whilst this shaft breaks new ground in its secular portraiture, the plant-scroll speaks of a conservatism. The shaft St Leonard's Place 2 (Ill. 371) shows a contemporary sculptor resorting to a paired spiral scroll each resolving in a rosette; nodes and leaflets give a naturalistic touch but the organization, whilst loose, relies on a series of S-formations. Its close parallel in Bernicia, Jarrow 1A, co. Durham (Cramp 1984, ii , pl. 90, 474) matches the layout of the berried scrolls, but it lacks the botanical features which give the York piece its less formalized air.

Minor plant forms are very rare in the region. The marigold motif of the Middleton plaque (no. 9), and the cross-heads Lastingham 4 and St Mary Bishophill Junior 5 in York, as well as the half marigold of the stele York Minster 19, though restricted to these four examples (Ills. 694, 582, 235, 82), enjoys a widely spread distribution. The analogues at Hexham, (for example, nos. 9 and 22), may well be inspired by continental usage if they are not sometimes culled directly from a Roman site (Cramp 1974, nos. 10, 16, 23; idem 1984, i , 186, no. 22). Its occurrence on the seventh-century sculptures from the baptistery of St Jean in Poitiers (Hubert, Porcher and Volbach 1969, pls. 48, 53) shows the marigold to be common in Gaulish and Northumbrian sites in the Wilfridian period. On the other hand, it is a simply constructed geometrical pattern, the radial elements of which often accommodate an **appliqué set at its centre.

The only use of acanthus is found on Nunburnholme 1, where the First Sculptor used it as a corner motif beneath the angels' wings (Ill. 724). It was misunderstood by the Second Sculptor as an element of the wing itself.

Inhabited scrolls

There are only three examples of the inhabited scroll in the region. Two of them, Hovingham 5 and York Minster 1, are in the Deiran tradition of miniature scrolls and are of a very high standard of carving. Like the Bernician examples (Cramp 1984, i , 16), the inhabited scrolls of these late eighth- to early ninth-century pieces is a mark of a particularly prestigious monument.

The Hovingham slab (no. 5; Ills. 494–9) has an arcade with figures, beneath which is a slender border carrying the inhabited scroll. The scrolls alternate regularly, one containing a pendant leaf-flower or berry bunch, the other a feeding bird. The birds adopt a variety of postures, but all of them are naturalistic in form and behaviour. If every scroll were inhabited the border would have been overcrowded at this small scale; the restraint and the quietness of the birds allow the emphasis to remain with the iconography of the arcade with the minimum of fussiness. There is none of the extravagance and embellishment of the Breedon frieze (Cramp 1977, 198–201, figs. 51, 52). The cutting is deep, however, with much modelling.

York Minster 1 (Ill. 1) is cut in very subtle, low relief. It is a symmetrical tree-scroll with paired birds and paired quadrupeds. From the nodes delicate sprays emerge, and the spandrels are occupied by gently curling leaves. The creatures tend to be entangled in the scroll, whose shoots almost bind them in places. The wings and tails of the birds protrude and interact with the scroll in the manner of interlace, with regular under and over crossings. This habit can been seen on the shaft from Croft, North Riding (Cramp and Lang 1977, no. 3), but in a more formalized way. The York piece succeeds in preserving an apparent naturalness over the underlying geometry. Compared with Croft, its nearest analogue, it is more fluid in design; its fine detail and slender stems make it lighter than earlier inhabited scrolls in Yorkshire, like that at Otley, West Riding (Collingwood 1915, figs. b and g on 225). Its treatment is hardly sculptural; though the plant-scroll is a rarity in manuscript art, there is a calligraphic quality about the Minster piece. Whilst the cutting is more shallow than the Easby shaft (Longhurst 1931, pls. XXV–XXVIII), some of the animal heads are identical, for example, the 'bull terrier' head (ibid., pl. XXVI, 3; Kitzinger 1936, pl. VIb). The trumpet-shaped nodes that erupt into forms of shoots and seed pods are also common to both monuments; as is the layout of the volutes formed by loose circular tendrils.

The third example, the shaft from St Leonard's Place, York (no. 2; Ill. 369), is ninth century in date. The scale of the inhabited scroll is considerable, the animals (both quadrupeds) having outgrown their vegetation. They leap diagonally across the scrolls, their necks and legs attenuated to interlace with the coils of the plant. They dominate the pattern so much that the scroll, apart from a residual berry bunch and a node, has become a mere context for the animals. This does seem to prepare the ground for the later fettered profile beasts of the Anglo-Scandinavian period and suggests that the latter may have evolved naturally from the current Anglian fashion in York (Cramp and Lang 1977, no. 9).

INTERLACE (G.I., pp. xxviii ff., figs. 14–26)

The interlace patterns of the region are unadventurous. Little remains from the early Anglian period, when interlace does not appear to have been popular in Deiran carving. It is only at the end of the eighth century that interlace is used, and then only as isolated panels or in the inferior position of the narrow side face. York Minster 1 has a tightly woven plain plait accompanying its inhabited scroll. It may be unfinished, since the horizontal construction grid still survives incised across the flat strands (Ill. 3; see Chap. 13). Hackness 1, on the other hand, has spacious hole points and well-modelled median-incised strands (Ills. 457, 462), a style found on a shaft fragment at Whitby, North Riding (Peers and Radford 1943, pl. XXV, no. 21). Since these two monuments are nearly contemporary, it would be rash to use interlace patterns and their types of strand as an indication of date. Kirkdale 8 has an open interlace with long diagonals (Ill. 563), which is usually an early Anglian feature, and the skeuomorph of a fringe on its edge points to a textile source for the interlace pattern also.

A widely dispersed group adopts broad, flat strands for its interlace. It appears on Filey 1, Kirby Misperton 1–3, Kirkbymoorside 6, and Lastingham 4 (Ills. 450, 508–10 and 512–13, 536, 583). It allows for shallow cutting and easy coverage. The Kirkbymoorside piece has a loose terminal ending in a volute. All these examples show evidence of rigid grid-work in the layout. Gwenda Adcock, in her study of Northumbrian sculptural interlace (Adcock 1974), considered Filey 1 and Kirkbymoorside 6 to be by the same hand. She also recognized Bernician features, not only in the taste for pattern C and double strands, but in the technique, which occurs at Monkwearmouth (Adcock 1974, i , 120–5). Kirby Misperton 1, she noted, has forms of encircled pattern C and E which are unique in Northumbrian carving; parallels can be found, however, in the Lindisfarne Gospels, fols. 2v and 94v. The interlace of the Anglian period at Lastingham, on the other hand, Adcock saw as being linked with the Ripon area of Yorkshire; in terms of technique and the unit of measure, the door-frame fragment (no. 7) relates to pieces at Masham and West Witton, North Riding (ibid., 129–30), and the flat strand of the interlace of Lastingham 4 to Ripon, West Riding (ibid., 130–1).

There are a few examples of incised interlace, such as Wharram Percy 1 (Ill. 872), which can be compared with Lindisfarne 10A, Northumberland (Cramp 1984, ii , pl. 194, 1088), and a shaft at Ilkley, West Riding (Collingwood 1915, fig. l on 195). Rather than initial guidelines, the patterns are likely to have been median incisions to painted interlace.

Two ninth-century shafts, York, St Leonard's Place 2, and Leven 1, have a rare 'knitting stitch' pattern (Ills. 370, 628). This is a looping design rather than a logically arranged, geometric interlace: knitting rather than weaving. There are even echoes of it in the treatment of the inhabited scroll.


Animal ornament is very widely represented in the region and this distinguishes it from the Bernician area of Northumbria. Nearly all the zoomorphic patterns are from the Anglo-Scandinavian era, and most consist of profile beasts, usually fettered, but a handful of Anglian creatures survives.

The earliest animal ornament in the region's sculpture is at Hackness (no. 3; Ill. 471) (see also Chap. 3). Ribbon beasts turn back to bite their torsos with long beaks, and squat like those on the Franks Casket. A late seventh- or early eighth- century date would be appropriate at this attested monastic site. The linear, flat style has much in common with metalwork or manuscript art of the period.

Symmetry prevails in what remains of the confronting canine beasts on the cross-shaft at Hackness (no. 1; Ill. 454). They are conventionalized, unlike the animals and birds of the inhabited scroll of York Minster 1 (Ill. 1), and their disposition is formal. The hatched zones of their limbs, contained by double outlines, can be compared with Mercian examples at Gloucester, and at Crofton in the West Riding (Cramp 1978, 21, fig. 1.2, g, u). The dynamic animals of St Leonard's Place 2, from York, leaping diagonally through an open scroll (Ill. 369), contrast strongly with the static postures of the birds in the inhabited scrolls of Hovingham 5 (Ills. 494–9) and York Minster 1. Their long neck, broad chests, and attenuated legs, interlaced into the scroll in the 'Anglian lock', are characteristic of ninth-century quadrupeds in the sculpture of Mercia and Yorkshire (Cramp 1978, 18–21, figs. 1.1, 1.2). Their posture, however, and the way in which they are barely contained within the scroll, point to a new taste for large beasts which, in a more formalized mode, was to flourish in the next century.

By the mid ninth century, the animal carved by the First Sculptor at Nunburnholme (Ill. 724) is reflecting Trewhiddle-style metalwork features, such as the incisions on the chest and the crouching stance (Wilson 1961, 77, fig. 1), but there are no local sculptural parallels. The head of the animal is distinctive in having a nose-fold, a mannerism which was to become the hall-mark of York animals in the Anglo-Scandinavian period.


The earliest portrait carving in the region is on Hackness 1 (Ill. 454), which probably dates from the end of the eighth century. Little remains but it seems to have been in quite high relief and on a large scale. The head has no halo and need not therefore have been a saint. The hair falls naturalistically and the nearest parallels must be the busts at Easby, North Riding, and Otley, West Riding (Longhurst 1931, pls. XXVI–VII; Collingwood 1915, figs. c on 225, o on 227). It remains unusual, however, and nothing comparable survives at Whitby, the mother-house of Hackness. It is unfortunate that the figures of Hovingham 5 are so badly weathered that few drapery folds survive (Ills. 494–9). The elegant, almost casual, postures of some echo the antique models copied by Carolingian ivory carvers.

There is little surviving Anglian figure sculpture from the ninth century which was influential enough to affect the Viking-period sculptors. St Mary Bishophill Junior 1, from York, seems to have introduced secular figures before the Viking tradition took root (Ill. 216). The seated person on Holme upon Spalding Moor 1 (Ill. 483) derives from an ecclesiastical model in that he sits on the conventional 'Byzantine cushion', seen so often in manuscript portraits, but nothing else suggests that he is necessarily to be identified as a cleric.


The incised crosses, with the exception of Hackness, are confined to the York Minster early grave-markers. Nos. 22–3 (Ills. 91, 95, 97) have a central roundel and semicircular terminals in the manner of the name-stones from Hartlepool, co. Durham, and Lindisfarne, Northumberland (Cramp 1984, ii , pl. 84, 430, 436; pl. 85, 437, 444, 446; pl. 200, 1119, 1126, 1127), and are of the same genus as the Hartlepool group. Their connections with the Irish group, for example, at Clonmacnoise, co. Offaly, are clear, except that the Northumbrian monuments pre-date them (ibid., i , 8). The York incised crosses are more varied than the Bernician range: nos. 20–1 from the Minster have elegant Classical crosses with neat serifs, of a form which points to the continental rather than to the Hiberno-Saxon world. York Minster 25 (Ill. 103) unites the two traditions in giving the simpler cross concave-sided terminals; no. 19 attempts the same in filling its half-moon terminal with a marigold (Ill. 82).

One or two incised crosses are supported by stems: for example, Minster 23 (Ill. 95), reflecting the carpet page crosses of some Hiberno-Saxon manuscripts, like the Lindisfarne Gospels (fol. 22v), though no. 27's is a stepped Calvary, an early instance of that convention (Ill. 111). Nos. 27 and 29 have broadly splayed arms with, in the latter case, V-shaped arm-pits (Ills. 111, 115, 117), a shape which tallies with early inscribed grave-markers at Wensley, North Riding (Collingwood 1927, 13, fig. 17, b-c), though the York stones are more primitive.

The stele, York Minster 19, has the most elaborate cross, its semicircular expanded terminal filled with a half-marigold radial design (Ill. 82). This motif does not appear in either Irish or Bernician sequences, though it is found on the plaques from Hexham, Northumberland (Cramp 1974, nos. 10, 16, 23; idem 1984, 186, no. 22). The mixture of Hiberno-Saxon and Mediterranean features, epitomized in York Minster 19 with its marigold ornament contained in the expanded terminals of a cross, is a fusion to be expected in York rather than in the Lindisfarne-inspired monasteries. The almost ascetic decoration, nonetheless, and the emphasis on plain borders and inscriptions have their parallels in some of the free-standing crosses at Whitby, North Riding (Peers and Radford 1943, pl. XXII). The crosses of Minster 20–1 (Ills. 80, 86) differ in having serifs in place of the expanded terminals, identical with the crosses on the apsidal bench of Sant' Apollinare in Classe in Ravenna (Lionard 1962, pl. 28, 3) and with several Early Christian sarcophagi (Grabar 1966, pl. 257). (The cross-slab from San Vincenzo al Volturno (Ill. 924) has arm terminals which are comparable in form.) These continental expressions, lying alongside the Hiberno-Saxon tradition within the group, are what might be expected from this area in the period immediately following the Synod of Whitby.

The broadly splayed terminal of the cross of Minster 25 has a close analogue in the painted altar stump in The Hypogeum at Poitiers (Hubert, Porcher and Volbach 1969, 60, pl. 73), another Gaulish connection, but the attempt at relief carving is new, and the plant-scroll on an adjacent face is also innovative (Ills. 597–8). The incised cross of Hackness 2 is of type B10 (Ill. 467) and has three-dimensional parallels at the mother-house, Whitby (Peers and Radford 1943, nos. 7, 10).

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