Volume III | Ch. 10 | Schools of Anglo-Scandinavian-Period CarvingNext Back to catalogue index
by James Lang


The shaft at Nunburnholme (no. 1; Ills. 709–28) in the East Riding has been shown to be the work of more than one sculptor (Lang 1977; Nunburnholme 1, Discussion), and has carving which belongs to both the Anglian and Anglo-Scandinavian periods. The First Sculptor planned a religious scheme of decoration and drew upon Anglo-Saxon and Carolingian sources for his ornament. An extremely skilled craftsman, he used techniques and motifs which are not, so far as we know, found in the preceding sculpture of Yorkshire. There is an echo of some Midland styles, but he broke new ground in the region's tradition of stone-carving. There is a formalizing of the elements, unlike the naturalism of Easby, North Riding, or Rothbury, Northumberland, yet there is an underlying Classicism which may have arrived through Carolingian influence. The acanthus fan of the angel frieze and the drapery folds of the frontally facing figures point to mannerisms common in some Carolingian ivories, and these features do not occur on earlier pieces like those at Otley in the West Riding. The small animal above the upper figure of face D (Ill. 724) reflects Trewhiddle-style ornament in its stance and details rather than any local fashions, so his work is unprecedented in the region and betrays an awareness of styles over a wide area. His work is 'overlaid' by Anglo-Scandinavian cutting, which gives the monument its own internal chronological sequence.

The Second Sculptor of Nunburnholme continued the First's plan to some extent, notably the angel frieze, but introduced a new kind of animal ornament: in place of the single Trewhiddle-derived animal he filled a long panel with a beast-chain of fettered quadrupeds with long necks (Ill. 726). These may be compared ultimately with the shaft from St Leonard's Place, York (no. 2; Ill. 369), though Mercian designs are the more immediate source (Lang 1977; idem 1978a; idem 1978b). They are a good example of the continuity of developing animal styles in the Midlands and Yorkshire during the ninth century within a late Anglian context (see Chap. 9, Animal Ornament). It would be wrong to see the Nunburnholme beast-chain as an intrusive Scandinavian feature or as part of a Viking impact on local taste.

The Second Sculptor also introduced secular portraiture, and the seated warrior or civilian (Ill. 721) is very characteristic of tenth-century work in Ryedale and the East Riding. The Holme upon Spalding Moor fragment (no. 1; Ill. 483) and the shaft from Old Malton (no. 1; Ill. 736), are evidence of the spread of this fashion, and the well-known Middleton warriors are probably a further extension, though responding to the Allertonshire atelier in the north of the county (Lang 1983, 182, pl. LXXVI). Continuity of portrait sculpture from the early ninth century through to the Anglo-Scandinavian floruit hangs on the dating of Holme upon Spalding Moor 1, which has no Viking art features to distinguish it from the Anglian tradition.

The completed Nunburnholme shaft clearly informed the carver of the Newgate piece in York (no. 1; Ills. 342–6) (Cramp and Lang 1977, no. 15; Lang 1984b), since it perpetuates the angel frieze and adapts the beast-chain. The Newgate shaft retains tool marks and construction lines which, in a most precise way, prove that the Clifford Street slab (no. 1; Ills. 328, 331–2) and the Coppergate reject (no. 2; Ills. 327, 329–30) are by the same hand (Lang 1983, 186; see Chap. 13). The Coppergate piece is dated by stratification in its excavated context to the early decades of the tenth century, 8 so we may attribute the same date to Clifford Street and Newgate.

The York Master constructed his designs on a system of grids and fix-points, a method inherited from earlier Anglian ateliers and visible on York Minster 1, discussed below (Chap. 13). This is an Insular habit and there is nothing Scandinavian in its methods of laying-out (Lang 1985, 130–5); nor about the well-modelled bust of Christ with a dished halo (Ill. 342), which also harks back to Anglian antecedents. I would now say that even the beast-chain lacks any real Scandinavian character: the shape of the bipeds with stubby heads is paralleled more closely in manuscript decorations, like those of the Book of Cerne (Kendrick 1949, 29, fig. 1; Wheeler 1977, 237–9, figs. 64–6); while southern English manuscripts, such as the Durham Ritual, MS A IV 19, and the Junius Psalter, Bodleian MS Junius 27 (see Nunburnholme 1, Discussion), provide a portable source for the York Master's animals. The nipped scrolls of his ribbon beasts can now also be seen to be English rather then Scandinavian, as they too occur in the Durham Ritual (Ill. 919). The Second Sculptor is not as 'Viking' as I have hitherto asserted.

The details of these profile beasts with fettering and body extensions are apparently similar to some Jellinge-style creatures, however. Moreover, significant details, such as the triangular chest, and the constructional relationship with Insular interlocked ribbon beasts, suggest that those traits need not be Scandinavian in inspiration. Other details, for example, the triple nose-fold, link the York Master with fellow craftsmen in the Metropolitan School.


The cemetery beneath the south transept of York Minster and the footings of archbishop Thomas I's Norman church, excavated by Derek Phillips, yielded Anglo-Scandinavian sculpture of high quality (Hope-Taylor 1971; see Chap. 7). The recumbent slabs and end-stones were in situ over eleventh-century graves (Ills. 416–17), confirming the sculpture's function as funerary monuments, though stylistically their decoration points to a century earlier. The latest pre-Conquest phase of their context was determined by the stratification; they were sealed by the early Norman footings, which were only centimetres above the graves. Some of the slabs had been sawn in two (see, for example, nos. 36, 38), the separate pieces used on different graves, so the monuments had clearly been reused in the early eleventh century (Lang 1978b, 151). The slabs are cut from Roman building blocks very similar to those belonging to the headquarters building beneath the Minster, and the regular sizes of the grave-covers were probably dictated by their earlier function as Roman ashlar.

Superimposed crosses with inward-facing animal heads effectively divide the slab into panels. These crosses may have derived from an earlier local Anglian slab type, such as Kirkdale 7 (Ill. 558), though the Minster crosses appear more like borders than Christian symbols. The panels are filled with Anglo-Scandinavian animal ornament, either single beasts or affronted pairs. The animals epitomize the mixed traditions of York styles of c. 900 (see Chap. 9, Animal Ornament). One is a profile beast, rather canine, with all the embellishments associated with the Jellinge style: extended ears; nose-folds; contoured ribbon bodies; scrolled joints. The York Master also produced it on the Coppergate fragment (no. 2; Ill. 327), and it is found in provincial Yorkshire without much modification, except for the triple nose-fold, which is confined to the city of York. In the East Midlands the animal occurs at Hickling, Nottinghamshire (Kendrick 1949, 80–1), but it does not appear very much in Cumbria, or north of the Tees. On the slabs the animal can be solitary or in beast-chains, but on the shafts it is only used in an interlocking chain, often with the neck elongated. It has been demonstrated that they are constructed on diagonal grids which determine the line and proportion of their bodies (Lang 1986, 254–8). Their form derives from a continuing Insular tradition, whilst the embellishing details are a response to the Jellinge style. This should suggest a date when York was open to Scandinavian fashions through Viking patronage, and this would give a date range of c. 870 (the period of Danish consolidation) to c. 954 (the year of the English take-over and new earldom).

The second animal is also presented in profile. This is a biped with pointed wings folded before its chest. The head is leonine, the tongue pendant, and the neck is adorned with a decorative collar. One of the fore legs is raised in salute, like many ninth-century beasts in the North Riding and Mercia, pointing to its late Anglian ancestry, and its tail similarly derives from earlier local models, for it turns quickly into interlace of a very formal kind. I would see the immediate model for the York winged biped at Ilkley, West Riding, and that in turn deriving from the foreign-looking dragon near by at Otley (Ills. 921–3; Collingwood 1915, fig. a on 186; idem, figs. o-r on 227). These Wharfedale crosses are close enough to York to have provided the model, the Metropolitan sculptor simply packing the design more densely into the panel and adding fashionable touches to the treatment of the nose and wing joint. The ultimate origin of the animal may lie in the hippocamps of textiles imported from the east (see for example, Volbach 1969, 130, pl. 161). The zoomorphic slabs are found at other churches in the city, for example, St Denys (Ills. 206–8), and St Mary Bishophill Junior 6 (Ills. 237–40), the best being at All Saints Pavement 1 (Ills. 200–2). There is so little variation in size and decoration among the York slabs that it is likely that they were mass-produced by the workshops, using the grid system and templates for laying out the design. They are nearly all cut from Roman building blocks, hence their sizes tend to be uniform. There is a single outlier, many miles from York, at Gainford on Tees (Cramp 1984, no. 20, pl. 69, 343), which conforms to the series in the city in every detail. It is evidence for the export of monuments from the Metropolitan workshop, and often long distances were involved.

A small group within the slab series can be identified as the work of a single hand: All Saints Pavement 1 (Ills. 200–2); and Minster 39–40 (Ills. 164–70). The carving is more modelled than the main series, there is greater diversity in the disposition of the animals, often with a disregard for perfect symmetry, and there is a trick of making the terminal head bite the border of the panel. The sculptor's repertoire is that of the school in general, but his technique makes him recognizable within the workshop.

The shafts from this school often carry beast-chains and also show a liking for bird-chains, the wings and tails allowing the interlocking principle to work neatly with a binding strand. The origins of these chains lie in ninth-century Mercian sculpture (Lang 1978b, 147; see above, Chap. 9, Animal Ornament) in which birds and long-necked quadrupeds placed in series stand more discretely within the panel. The York taste for close packing and interlocking of the beasts is distinctive and may be in some measure determined by carving techniques (see Chap. 13).

The shafts of the York Metropolitan group display the same fusion of Anglian and Scandinavian traditions as the slabs, though the continuing local feature here is the Classical figure portrait. Newgate 1 and Minster 4 have well-modelled busts, and frontally presented dished haloes (Ills. 342, 20). The cutting is very deep (there is even some undercutting) and the planes are inclined and curved, contrasting with the flatter style of adjacent animal ornament. This kind of portrait bust is seen at an early stage in the shafts from Otley, West Riding (Ill. 922; Cramp 1970, pls. 44–6) and continues in monuments such as the Easby cross, North Riding. The plastic treatment of the St Mary Castlegate Crucifix (no. 2) speaks of the same continuing Anglian taste for realism and Classical style within the Viking supremacy at York (Ill. 297). The style was not modified even though the purely decorative associated designs responded to new Scandinavian fashions.

The combination of portraiture and animal panels on the shafts could well have inspired more provincial ateliers in Ryedale, in particular the Middleton group (see below). The figures are, admittedly, more secular and the beasts more idiosyncratic, but the underlying notion of the design is the same. York, after all, must have been the market centre for Ryedale.


Half-a-dozen pieces from York are probably the products of a single workshop. They share the very restricted ornament of small panels, framed by lines of pellets, containing short runs of plain plait, or closed circuit motifs, using median-incised strands. They also share the same unit of measure. The group comprises St Mary Bishophill Senior 6–8 and 10, Parliament Street 1, and York Unknown Provenance 1 (Ills. 263–8, 273–5, 347–50, 377–80). They are distinguished by their unadventurous workmanship, and are unambitious reflexes of the Anglo-Scandinavian taste for closely packed interlace patterns. A tenth-century date is suggested by comparison not only with the local sculpture but also with other artefacts from a colonial Viking context (Graham-Campbell 1980, no. 477, for example).


A substantial number of crosses in the central section of Ryedale form a stylistic group in terms of their design, ornamental repertoire, and form, though there is enough diversity among them, especially from site to site, to preclude their origin in a single atelier. The term 'school', reflecting local idiosyncrasies in taste, seems appropriate.

The form of the crosses is distinctive. They are not tall, and have a flat, oblong section with a slight taper. The cross-head is invariably a ring, set between stumpy arms so that the arm-pits are large drilled circles (Fig. 6). The cross-head is sometimes small in relation to the shaft, its lateral arms contained within the lines of the shaft (e.g. Middleton 1; Ill. 671). The angular ring suggests that the cross-head was cut from a rectangle. The ring is recessed from the face of the cross and is surmounted by a slimmer crest (for example, Middleton 1–2; Ills. 671, 676). The ring-head has an immediate origin in the Celtic West, primarily in Ireland, whence the Norse-Irish settlers of this part of Yorkshire came soon after 920. Bailey has demonstrated that such ring-heads are useful chronological indications as well as pointing to western connections (Bailey 1978, 178). Nevertheless, the crest to the ring is locally distinctive among the wide-ranging distribution of ring-head crosses (Collingwood 1926). In Yorkshire, only a single example on an 'eared' disk-head at Gargrave, West Riding (Collingwood 1915, fig. b on 174) provides a remote analogue, though a comparable form can also be found in Cumbria, at Burton in Kendal (no. 4) (Bailey and Cramp 1988, 84–5). Ryedale ring-heads occur on Middleton (nos. 1–2, 4), Kirkbymoorside (nos. 4–5), and Levisham (no. 4). The crested form does not occur in Ireland or the Western Isles.

The broad faces of the shafts carry single long panels, distinguishing the layout from the Allertonshire atelier to the north, but linking with shafts from York Minster (nos. 2–4). The principal face often depicts a warrior with weapons, portrayed frontally and crudely cut, despite the use of templates identified by Bailey (1978, 181, fig. 9.3). Middleton 1 has a realistic stag hunt on this face, but nos. 2–4 and 5, and Kirkbymoorside 1, probably represent the local lord seated on his gifstol (Lang 1973, 19–20; see Chap. 9, Figural Ornament). The figures of Levisham 1 and Kirkbymoorside 2 are in the tradition of the Middleton portraits, though from a different workshop, and the three sites all produce the distinctive Ryedale ring-head (Fig 6). Seated secular figures are found on Holme upon Spalding Moor 1, Nunburnholme 1, and Old Malton 1, but they are uncommon in the northern and western parts of the county. The Ryedale portraits, therefore, are part of a finely localized fashion, which should be remembered when considering the debate concerning their apparently Scandinavian context (Binns 1956; Wilson and Klindt-Jensen 1966; Lang 1973; Wilson and Klindt-Jensen 1980).

Much of the critical appraisal of the Middleton carvings has centred on the animal ornament which fills the panel on the reverse face of the shaft (see Chap. 9). A single profile beast occupies the single panel, its rump at the base and the head hanging down on one side. At Middleton, the ribbon torsos are uneven, the unhappy result of rustic carving that was once regarded as the initial attempts at the Jellinge style (Wilson and Klindt-Jensen 1966, 103–4). The ornament is now generally accepted as local tenth-century work (idem 1980, 23), which may be a clumsy response to the more assured 'bound dragons' at Sinnington (Lang 1973, 21–3). There the animals are more tightly controlled and coherent. Sinnington (nos. 3–4; Ills. 804, 807) are fettered and crammed into the panel, but the ribbon torsos have parallel edges, and the hanging head and raised fore leg more in tune with the Mercian-derived animals present on Folkton 1 and Nunburnholme 1 (Fig. 7b, f), as well as the shafts of the York Metropolitan School. The Sinnington beasts have only one edge in double outline, a distinctive detail confined to the site. The scrolled joints and disposition of the body are akin to Jellinge-style mannerisms, but this may be the result of the underlying gridding technique, as in Minster 2 (see Chap. 13).

The head is depicted in profile, with the jaws split into loops which are threaded by the fetter. This trick occurs on Middleton 2 (Ill. 680) (but not on 1) and it is copied on all the animals at Levisham. It cannot have derived from the Jellinge nose-fold, which is ubiquitous in Anglo-Scandinavian animals elsewhere in the region, and there are no metalwork analogues from Britain or Scandinavia. This local trait extends to Ellerburn (no. 1; Ill. 427) and Pickering (no. 1; Ill. 751), where such jaws adorn smaller versions of the profile animal which adopt an S-shaped stance. There the ribbon body has double outlines on both edges and the legs are differently arranged.

Whilst the animals form a family and the cross-heads remain locally distinctive, the diversity of treatment in the details (such as the variation in body embellishments and the Levisham predilection for spirals) indicates a number of workshops all working within very restricted stylistic limits. They eschew the current beast-chains of York and the Isle of Man, as well as the naturalism of the Allertonshire, North Riding, atelier (except for Middleton 1). Only the ring-head can be regarded as an imported convention, yet even that is made their own.

At Middleton and Kirkbymoorside it is possible to distinguish two separate hands, each working at both sites. A comparison of the cross-heads, for example, reveals two kinds of cutting and a minor difference in the interlace patterns associated with them. Middleton (no. 1; Ill. 672) and Kirkbymoorside (no. 5; Ill. 531) have a bar across a bifurcating strand within the arms of the cross, and the corners of the relief carving are bevelled, most noticeably on the wheel. On the other hand, Middleton (nos. 2, 4–5; Ills. 676, 681, 686–9), with Kirkbymoorside (no. 4; Ills. 526–30) have the same bungled interlace and the cutting lies in a series of flat planes with right-angled corners to the relief. Levisham 4 (Ills. 639–43) is also by that hand. It appears, therefore, that two sculptors worked in the same tradition at the same sites. This differs from the Sinnington pattern, where the carver does not seem to have produced monuments for any neighbouring site.

The iconography of the warrior portraits has been too well discussed (Binns 1956; Lang 1973). It should be reiterated here that the form of these monuments asserts their Christian character. The secular portraiture and the distribution among villages sometimes only a couple of miles apart may suggest that the monuments reflect the structure of local land-holding.

STONEGRAVE (Ills. 833–67)

The sculpture at Stonegrave is different from the majority of Ryedale carvings (Firby and Lang 1981, 17–29). The ring-head of the complete cross indicates its tenth-century date; only one fragment at the site could be pre-Viking (no. 2). The repertoire of ornament includes plain plait and diagonal frets which have been shown to have more in common with late monastic sculpture in Galloway and Wales (ibid., 25). The free style of the animal carvings on the cross-base also differs in kind from the bound profile dragons of eastern Ryedale. More evidence of influence from the Irish Sea province resides in the human figures on no. 1, one of whom adopts the orans position in the manner of some Irish crosses (Roe 1970, 212–21) and another wears a book satchel.

Only the shape of the cross (no. 1) betrays any Anglian origin, the rest being associated with the west. It is possible that this group was produced for a refounded religious house at Stonegrave, associated with the short-lived Norse-Irish dominance and settlement of the area. A similar distinctive and isolated group might eventually emerge at Kirklevington, North Riding, north of the Moors. The Christianity of the colonial Vikings in Yorkshire would have been acquired, not from local Anglians, but most likely from Ireland. It is just possible that these settlers brought with them for a short period that country's mode of Christian worship, and that sculptural echoes of far western monuments are a mark of the Norse-Irish milieu of this kind of carving.


There are cases in the region of pairs of very closely related monuments, often separated from each other by many miles and, as pairs, they hardly constitute a group. It can be said with some certainty, however, that they are by the same hand. For example, York Minster 2 (Ills. 11–13), by virtue of its bird- and beast-chains, is demonstrably an example of the York Metropolitan School. Its principal face (Ill. 6) carries a large figure whose bare feet rest on a semicircular element. The painted fragment, Minster 5, carries an identical motif (Ill. 18), its pigment redeeming its fragmentary character. Another Minster stone, no. 28 (Ills. 115–20), is a late cross-slab, and is paralleled by Parliament Street 3 (Ills. 357–60).

Sculpture from the city of York occasionally finds a precise analogue in the hinterland. The two coped grave-covers, St Mary Castlegate 5 and Sinnington 15 are identical in form and ornament (Ills. 316, 819), the encircled interlace panels and the quality of the cutting being unlike any other monuments in the region. The humped section of the interlace strands is also common to both stones. Another link between York and eastern Yorkshire is found in the ring-headed crosses, St Mary Bishophill Junior 3 (Ills. 228–31) and North Frodingham 1 (Ills. 695–8). The latter's geology asserts that it is an importation to the Wolds site. Both have the rare bosses on the line of the ring and the animal ornament continuing uninterruptedly into the cross-head from the shaft.

Connections between sites on either side of the Marishes, several miles apart, occur between Hovingham 1 (Ills. 486–9) and Middleton 3 (Ills. 682–5), each with distinctive animal-head ornament, and between Lastingham 1 (Ills. 574–7) and Sherburn 4 (Ills. 772–5), whose rope-like swag and triquetra pendants are identical, as well as their proportions.

These examples may eventually provide a basis for future identification of workshops and their range of production.

I am grateful to R. Hall for this information.

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