Insular Art at the Crossroads: Ninth International Insular Art Conference, Durham University

Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in conference


Conference paper: 'The Transmutation of Patterns in Insular Art'
Presented research from postdoctoral project, 'The Transmutation of Patterns and the Role of Women in Insular Art', funded by Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship

Insular artists developed a virtuosic form of ornament almost unknown in other art-historical traditions: the ‘transmutation of patterns’ (previously ‘interpenetration’, Henry 1967, Henderson 1982). They created transmutation by physically manipulating different geometric patterns’ deep structures (e.g. interlace, key pattern, spirals, and vine-scroll), so that one pattern transformed seamlessly into another. This paper presents the first-ever structural analysis of transmutation, adapting a methodology developed by Michael Brennan for the study of interlace and expanded in the author’s doctoral thesis on key pattern. It outlines medieval artists’ methods for radically altering pattern structure to achieve transmutation, from the symmetrical rearrangement of individual units to myriad strategies for manipulating positive and negative space. Comparison of objects, including the Book of Kells, a silver chape from St Ninian’s Isle, and an Anglo-Saxon cross at Sandbach, reveal whether these structural approaches to transmutation were universal or varied in different regions and media, highlighting the diversity and interconnectedness of pattern-making across Ireland and Britain. The paper will conclude with a first look at transmutation’s structural properties in embroidered and woven textiles from Britain, which were most likely created by women and demonstrate how women makers participated, as sophisticated geometers, in the creative milieu alongside men.
Period5 Apr 20227 Apr 2022
Event typeConference
LocationDurham, United KingdomShow on map