Case Study: Canmore Early Medieval Sculpture Upgrade Project: example

Case Study 4

Canmore Early Medieval Sculpture Upgrade Project: example

Anna Ritchie

The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS, now part of Historic Environment Scotland: HES) began its Early Medieval Sculpture Upgrade Project at the beginning of 2015, line-managed by Iain Fraser and using a volunteer to compile an entry for each carved stone within a time-span of AD 500 to 1100. The entries are arranged alphabetically, county by county, in a database of Microsoft Word files, and they will then be loaded individually on to the appropriate Canmore sites. This is essentially a desk-based project, but many sites have been visited in the last few years for recording purposes either by Commission staff or by the volunteer, and of course once on Canmore there is the facility for external contributions. As of April 2016, Berwickshire, Caithness, the Lothians, Roxburgh, Selkirkshire and Sutherland are complete, and large chunks of other counties are also entered on the primary database. The process of loading the entries on to Canmore has also begun.

The decision was taken not to include any art-historical discussion of the carved stones. In many cases there are additional bibliographic references already in the site record on Canmore, as well as the primary sources in the entry, which will help to point readers in the right direction. This is therefore an expanded handlist rather than a corpus, but it could be used as the basis for a corpus. The arrangement of information in each entry has been designed to be compatible with the format of entries in both the Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Sculpture and the Corpus of Early Inscribed Stones and Stone Sculpture in Wales (e.g. Edwards 2013).

Format of entries:

name of site (most commonly used name plus that used on Canmore if different), number of stone if there are multiple finds from the site (using Early Christian Monuments of Scotland: ECMS number first, then chronological sequence of discovery or external corpus number); church dedication if applicable

object type (Pictish symbol stone, cross-slab with Pictish symbols, inscribed stone, cross-slab, cross, cross-base, architectural fragment, church furniture, recumbent cross-slab, hogback monument, recumbent grave-cover, cross-incised boulder, cross-incised rock face, carved rock face, cave with carvings, carved fragment)

measurements height/length, width, thickness

stone type (basic identification, no scientific input)

NGR for the original place of discovery

present location of the stone

evidence for its original discovery (particular attention has been paid to monument biography using the manuscripts and early books available in the RCAHMS archive; any close relationship to burns and rivers noted)

present condition

description of the stone

date range (consensus of modern opinion)

primary references (those relating to first discovery/record, ECMS, major handlist or corpus) N

Example of entry:

RCAHMS Archive: Canmore ID 79896; site number NO14SW 13.1

Lethendy, Tower of Lethendy, Perthshire, Pictish cross-slab

Measurements: H 1.35m, W 0.36m, D 0.13m

Stone type: sandstone

Place of discovery: NO 1405 4170

Present location: still at Tower of Lethendy but removed from the staircase and conserved in 2001. It is now freestanding and held upright on a base by metal clamps.

Evidence for discovery: first recorded by RCAHMS in 1969, when it was in use as a lintel on the stair in the late sixteenth-century tower house. It is thought to have been used for repairs in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries, by which time it had already been in reuse for some other purpose, possibly more than once.

Present condition: there is considerable damage arising from the reuse of the stone. The lower arm and shaft of the cross are missing, removed when a shallow trough was carved into face A. A deep rectangular slot has been carved into the base of face C. The edges of the slab are damaged, and there are smooth patches from use as a whetstone for sharpening knives. There are also knife marks on face C.

Description: This is an interesting stone with detailed carving, though the standard of carving is not high. The slab has a naturally tapering base and a dressed rounded top, and it is carved in relief on both broad faces and the narrow faces, where traces of ornament continue over the rounded top. Within a flatband moulding, face A bears the upper part of a cross-head with rectangular terminals, square centre panel and double-square armpits. The background either side of the upper arm appears to be plain, but there was clearly ornament on either side of the missing shaft. This included a panel of diagonal key pattern at the top of the shaft, separated from the lower panels by a roll moulding. On the left the lower panel contains the remains of a human figure in profile facing the shaft, with curled hair. On the right there is first a double knot of cord with a median line, and below there is an animal placed upright facing the shaft, with a corrugated snout, fangs, a pricked ear and a short curled tail, wearing a collar. Face C is almost intact and the layout of its design is clear. At the top is a frontal angel with half-open wings, apparently with a short feathered body and three-toed feet. Immediately beneath are two seated frontal figures, wearing elaborately draped robes to the ankle, where each has a decorative border of interlace, from beneath which protrude bare feet. The left-hand figure holds in the right hand a rectangular object, perhaps a book or a reliquary, while the right-hand figure appears to hold a chalice in the left hand and an oval object in the right. The right-hand end of the bench on which they are seated has a knobbed terminal (the left-hand end is damaged). Below these figures and separated from them by a roll moulding are two musicians shown in profile. They wear similarly draped and belted calf-length robes, and they have bearded faces with large oval eyes and prominent ears. The right-hand musician plays the triple pipes, while his partner plays a triangular harp. Between them in the background is a possible drum and in the foreground a small pig-like animal with curled tail.

Date: ninth or tenth century.

References: Fisher & Greenhill 1972; RCAHMS 1994, 97.


Figure 1: Detail of carved face C, taken when the stone was in use as a stair lintel. Crown Copyright: Historic Environment Scotland