Celtic knot

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One very basic form of Celtic or pseudo-Celtic linear knotwork. Celtic-knot-basic-linear.svg
One very basic form of Celtic or pseudo-Celtic linear knotwork.
Stone Celtic crosses, such as this, are a major source of knowledge regarding Celtic knot design. Bromptoncross.jpg
Stone Celtic crosses, such as this, are a major source of knowledge regarding Celtic knot design.
Carpet page from Lindisfarne Gospels, showing knotwork detail. Meister des Book of Lindisfarne 002.jpg
Carpet page from Lindisfarne Gospels, showing knotwork detail.
Almost all of the folios of the Book of Kells contain small illuminations like this decorated initial. KellsDecoratedInitial.jpg
Almost all of the folios of the Book of Kells contain small illuminations like this decorated initial.

Celtic knots (Irish : snaidhm Cheilteach, Welsh : cwlwm Celtaidd, Cornish : kolm Keltek) are a variety of knots and stylized graphical representations of knots used for decoration, used extensively in the Celtic style of Insular art. These knots are most known for their adaptation for use in the ornamentation of Christian monuments and manuscripts, such as the 8th-century St. Teilo Gospels, the Book of Kells and the Lindisfarne Gospels. Most are endless knots, and many are varieties of basket weave knots.



The use of interlace patterns had its origins in the late Roman Empire. [1] Knot patterns first appeared in the third and fourth centuries AD and can be seen in Roman floor mosaics of that time. Interesting developments in the artistic use of interlaced knot patterns are found in Byzantine architecture and book illumination, Coptic art, Celtic art, Islamic art, Kievan Rus'ian book illumination, Ethiopian art, and European architecture and book illumination.

Spirals, step patterns, and key patterns are dominant motifs in Celtic art before the Christian influence on the Celts, which began around 450. These designs found their way into early Christian manuscripts and artwork with the addition of depictions from life, such as animals, plants and even humans. In the beginning, the patterns were intricate interwoven cords, called plaits, which can also be found in other areas of Europe, such as Italy, in the 6th century. A fragment of a Gospel Book, now in the Durham Cathedral library and created in northern Britain in the 7th century, contains the earliest example of true knotted designs in the Celtic manner.

Examples of plait work (a woven, unbroken[ clarification needed ] cord design) predate knotwork designs in several cultures around the world, [2] but the broken and reconnected[ clarification needed ] plait work that is characteristic of true knotwork began in northern Italy and southern Gaul and spread to Ireland by the 7th century. [3] The style is most commonly associated with the Celtic lands, but it was also practiced extensively in England and was exported to Europe by Irish and Northumbrian monastic activities on the continent. J. Romilly Allen has identified "eight elementary knots which form the basis of nearly all the interlaced patterns in Celtic decorative art". [4] [5] In modern times, Celtic art is popularly thought of in terms of national identity and therefore specifically Irish, Scottish or Welsh.

The Celtic knot as a tattoo design became popular in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s. [6]


See also

Related Research Articles

Lindisfarne Gospels manuscript

The Lindisfarne Gospels is an illuminated manuscript gospel book probably produced around the years 715-720 in the monastery at Lindisfarne, off the coast of Northumberland, which is now in the British Library in London. The manuscript is one of the finest works in the unique style of Hiberno-Saxon or Insular art, combining Mediterranean, Anglo-Saxon and Celtic elements.

Book of Kells 8th-century illuminated manuscript Gospel book, held in Trinity College, Dublin

The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript Gospel book in Latin, containing the four Gospels of the New Testament together with various prefatory texts and tables. It was created in a Columban monastery in either Britain or Ireland and may have had contributions from various Columban institutions from both Britain and Ireland. It is believed to have been created c. 800 AD. The text of the Gospels is largely drawn from the Vulgate, although it also includes several passages drawn from the earlier versions of the Bible known as the Vetus Latina. It is a masterwork of Western calligraphy and represents the pinnacle of Insular illumination. It is also widely regarded as Ireland's finest national treasure.

Celtic cross form of Christian cross with a ring surrounding the intersection of the vertical and horizontal members

The Celtic cross is a form of Christian cross featuring a nimbus or ring that emerged in Ireland and Britain in the Early Middle Ages. A type of ringed cross, it became widespread through its use in the stone high crosses erected across the islands, especially in regions evangelized by Irish missionaries, from the 9th through the 12th centuries.

St Cuthbert Gospel Early 8th-century Anglo-Saxon pocket gospel book

The St Cuthbert Gospel, also known as the Stonyhurst Gospel or the St Cuthbert Gospel of St John, is an early 8th-century pocket gospel book, written in Latin. Its finely decorated leather binding is the earliest known Western bookbinding to survive, and both the 94 vellum folios and the binding are in outstanding condition for a book of this age. With a page size of only 138 by 92 millimetres, the St Cuthbert Gospel is one of the smallest surviving Anglo-Saxon manuscripts. The essentially undecorated text is the Gospel of John in Latin, written in a script that has been regarded as a model of elegant simplicity.

Book of Durrow medieval illuminated manuscript gospel book

The Book of Durrow is a medieval illuminated manuscript gospel book in the Insular script style. It was probably created between 650 and 700. The place of creation may perhaps have been Durrow Abbey in Ireland or a monastery in Northumbria in northeastern England or perhaps Iona Abbey in western Scotland—the place of origin has been debated by historians for decades without a consensus emerging. The Book of Durrow was probably at Durrow Abbey by 916. Today it is in the Library of Trinity College Dublin.

Gospel Book Fragment (Durham Cathedral Library, A. II. 10.)

Durham Cathedral Library, Manuscript A.II.10. is a fragmentary seventh century Insular Gospel Book, produced in Lindisfarne c. 650. Only seven leaves of the book survive, bound in three separate volumes in the Durham Cathedral Dean and Chapter Library. Although this book is fragmentary, it is the earliest surviving example in the series of lavish Insular Gospel Books which includes the Book of Durrow, the Lindisfarne Gospels, the St. Teilo Gospels and the Book of Kells.

Triquetra triangular motif formed of three interlaced arcs or loops

Triquetra denotes a particular complicated shape formed of three vesicae piscis, sometimes with an added circle in or around the three lobes. Also known as a "Trinity Knot" when parallel doubled-lines are in the graph, the design is used as a religious symbol adapted from ancient Pagan Celtic images by Christianity. It is similar to the valknut, a Norse symbol.

Celtic art Art associated with Celtic peoples

Celtic art is associated with the peoples known as Celts; those who spoke the Celtic languages in Europe from pre-history through to the modern period, as well as the art of ancient peoples whose language is uncertain, but have cultural and stylistic similarities with speakers of Celtic languages.

Migration Period art art movement

Migration Period art denotes the artwork of the Germanic peoples during the Migration period. It includes the Migration art of the Germanic tribes on the continent, as well the start of the Insular art or Hiberno-Saxon art of the Anglo-Saxon and Celtic fusion in the British Isles. It covers many different styles of art including the polychrome style and the animal style. After Christianization, Migration Period art developed into various schools of Early Medieval art in Western Europe which are normally classified by region, such as Anglo-Saxon art and Carolingian art, before the continent-wide styles of Romanesque art and finally Gothic art developed.

Carpet page page of mainly geometrical ornamentation in an illuminated manuscript

Carpet pages are a characteristic feature of Insular illuminated manuscripts. They are pages of mainly geometrical ornamentation, which may include repeated animal forms, typically placed at the beginning of each of the four Gospels in Gospel Books. The designation "carpet page" is used to describe those pages in Christian, Islamic, or Jewish illuminated manuscripts that contain little or no text and which are filled entirely with decorative motifs. They are distinct from pages devoted to highly decorated historiated initials, though the style of decoration may be very similar.

Insular art style of art produced in the post-Roman history of the British Isles

Insular art, also known as Hiberno-Saxon art, is the style of art produced in the post-Roman history of Ireland and Britain. The term derives from insula, the Latin term for "island"; in this period Britain and Ireland shared a largely common style different from that of the rest of Europe. Art historians usually group insular art as part of the Migration Period art movement as well as Early Medieval Western art, and it is the combination of these two traditions that gives the style its special character.

Celtic cross stitch is a style of cross-stitch embroidery which recreates Celtic art patterns typical of early medieval Insular art using contemporary cross-stitch techniques. Celtic cross stitch typically employs rich, deep colors, intricate geometrical patterns, spirals, interlacing patterns, knotwork, alphabets, animal forms and zoomorphic patterns, similar to the decorations found in the Book of Kells.

George Bain (1881–1968), born in Scrabster in Caithness, Scotland, was an artist and art teacher who made an important and influential contribution to the revival of interest in Celtic and Insular art which began in the 19th century

Islamic interlace patterns interlaced knotwork in Islamic art

Interlacing patterns are patterns of lines and shapes that have traditionally dominated Islamic art. They can be broadly divided into the arabesque, using curving plant-based elements, and the girih, using mostly geometrical forms with straight lines or regular curves. Both of these forms of Islamic art developed from the rich interlacing patterns of the Byzantine Empire and from Coptic art.

Lacertines, most commonly found in Celtic Art, are interlaces created by animal forms. Interlaces are a two-dimensional decoration formed by a number of ribbons or straps woven into a complex, usually symmetrical design. The art is intricate, often incorporating animals into the elaborate twisting knots, and maze-like weavings. Some of the most common animals used in lacertines are snakes, birds, lions, and dogs.

Interlace (art) Decorative element of bands or portions of other motifs looped, braided, and knotted in complex geometric patterns

In the visual arts, interlace is a decorative element found in medieval art. In interlace, bands or portions of other motifs are looped, braided, and knotted in complex geometric patterns, often to fill a space. Interlacing is common in the Migration period art of Northern Europe, especially in the Insular art of Ireland and the British Isles and Norse art of the Early Middle Ages and in Islamic art.

St Orlands Stone cross slab in Angus, Scotland, UK

St Orland's Stone is a Class II Pictish Cross-Slab at Cossans, near Kirriemuir and Forfar, Angus, Scotland

Aidan Meehan is an Irish artist and author of 18 books on Celtic art and design. including the eight-volume Celtic Design series and Celtic Alphabets, Celtic Borders, The Book of Kells Painting Book, The Lindisfarne Painting Book and Celtic Knots, all published by Thames & Hudson

Insular illumination

Insular illumination refers to the production of illuminated manuscripts in the monasteries of Ireland and Great Britain between the 6th and 9th centuries, as well as in monasteries under their influence on continental Europe. It is characterised by decoration strongly influenced by metalwork, the constant use of interlacing, and the importance assigned to calligraphy. The most celebrated books of this sort are largely gospel books. Around sixty manuscripts are known from this period.


  1. Trilling, James (2001). The Language of Ornament. World of Art. Thames and Hudson. ISBN   978-0500203439.
  2. George Bain (1951). Celtic art: The methods of construction. London: Constable Press.George Bain (1973). Celtic Art: The Methods of Construction. Dover Publications, Inc. ISBN   0-486-22923-8.
  3. Sullivan, Sir Edward (1920). The Book of Kells (Second ed.). "The Studio" Ltd. p. 39. ISBN   1-85170-035-8.
  4. Allen, J. Romilly (1904). Celtic Art in Pagan and Christian Times. Methuen & Co. p. 265. ISBN   1-85891-075-7.
  5. Ivan, Drew (10 August 2005). "Eight Basic Knotwork Patterns". Archived from the original on 30 January 2018. Retrieved 2007-01-10.
  6. Shapiro, Ari (25 November 2014). "The American Origins Of The Not-So-Traditional Celtic Knot Tattoo". NPR . Archived from the original on 23 January 2019.