Museums and galleries across the UK are subject to temporary closures. Those that remain open have safety measures in place, please remember to check venue guidelines before visiting.

This lecture will shed more light on insular makers’ innovative approach to abstract art and their virtuoso skill as geometers.

Key pattern is an abstract design formed by spiral shapes that turn at sharp angles, rather than in a curved fashion. Insular artists (i.e. artisans and makers in early medieval Britain and Ireland, c. AD 600-1100) used key pattern frequently and prominently in their art, including in manuscript illumination, carved stone, and metalwork.

However, key pattern itself was not unique to the Insular world. Makers have applied it to art and architecture around the world for thousands of years. The earliest surviving example of key pattern was carved into mammoth ivory dating to c. 22,000-20,000 BC, from what is now Ukraine.

Nonetheless, Insular varieties of key pattern stand out from their cousins from many other time periods and parts of the world because of their extreme geometric, mathematical complexity.

Today’s artists and scholars have offered various theories about how Insular key pattern was invented. In this lecture, Thickpenny will present evidence from her doctoral thesis that pinpoints Insular key pattern’s origins in contemporary woven textile patterns.

These woven key patterns themselves developed from wider textile and basket weaving traditions that stretched across Eurasia and date back to at least the Neolithic period. By analysing the physical structure of woven designs, Thickpenny first will show how these textile patterns are a form of key pattern, and then how Insular artists made deliberate and radically creative changes to the patterns’ structure when transferring them to other, non-textile materials.

LectureMuseums online

Groam House Museum

High Street, Rosemarkie, Highlands and Islands, IV10 8UF

01381 620961


Opening times

During May we will be open at weekends only, 1.30pm to 4.15pm

To protect our visitors and volunteers at the present time, we have introduced a system of timed entry. Only one group, from the same household, and maximum 5 people, are permitted at a time.

Walk-ups will be permitted only if there is an unbooked slot available, and they must provide contact details.

Inside, social distancing is in operation; visitors are required to sanitise their hands on arrival and before entering the shop area. Masks must be worn inside the museum by both visitors and volunteers.

Exhibitions and events nearby

Related exhibitions and events

Back to top