Published online by Cambridge University Press: 26 September 2008
In the nineteenth century, John Romilly Allen confidently claimed that the iconography of the Crucifixion with the robed or ‘fully draped’ Christ was a phenomenon of Celtic art, found in Scotland, Ireland and Wales, distinguishable from the ‘Saxon’ type in which Christ wore a loin-cloth. Other features of the Saxon type were the presence of the sun and moon above the arms of the cross, instead of angels as in Ireland; and the figures of the Virgin and St John at the foot of the cross, without the spear- and sponge-bearers, the latter pair appearing only exceptionally at Alnmouth, Northumberland; Aycliffe, County Durham; and Bradbourne, Derbyshire. Clearly two different versions were identified in this analysis, but no attempt was made to clarify the chronological relationship between the examples cited, and only the geographical distribution of a small number of examples was considered. Romilly Allen's confidence in distinguishing ‘Celt’ from ‘Saxon’ on the basis of art styles, even for the pre-Viking period, is not always shared today, as the continuing discussion of the origins of several important manuscripts shows. The terms ‘Insular’ and ‘Hiberno-Saxon’ used to describe much of the art from the sixth century to the eighth underline die perceived difficulties.
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