Celtic Art

Updated on February 24, 2017

Celtic Designs

4th Century BC Torque. Source: Rosiemania - wikicommons.
4th Century BC Torque. Source: Rosiemania - wikicommons.

Many people are aware of Celtic art. Beautiful scroll-work type designs, almost devoid of linear patterns and symmetry, with origins that can be traced back some several thousand years or more, to the ancient Celts. Though little is known of the Celtic clans, how or why they truly arrived in Europe, they certainly left their influence in more ways than one – their artwork being one of the more commonly known echoes from the shadows of a long distant past.

Modern reproduction of atorque in bronze. Source: Dominique Grassigli - wikicommons.
Modern reproduction of atorque in bronze. Source: Dominique Grassigli - wikicommons.

What modern historians know of Celtic art relates to what they know of the ancient people – some facts and a fair bit of conjecture. The Celts were not known for scribing about their lives and societal infrastructure in the way that the Romans, or even the Egyptians, did.

The Celts were a nomadic people, made up of tribal factions that roamed across Europe several thousand years ago. Though there are many fine examples of their intricate art, much in the form of jewelry and stonework’s, it is still difficult to pinpoint exactly where their designs originated from.

There are various Celtic ‘ages’ that appear to make up the whole – meaning that from around 800BC onwards, the Celts started appearing on the European map, along with their earliest artistic efforts.

Gundestrup Cauldron 150-0 BC. Source: Rosimani - wikicommons
Gundestrup Cauldron 150-0 BC. Source: Rosimani - wikicommons

Celtic Art History

Initially, Celtic art history appeared around 800BC, at the start of the Hallstatt Period. Geometric configurations began to appear, designs that were based on a central point and grew out in ever increasing spiral-type designs.

Whichever way they were viewed, generally the pattern didn’t change. This is known as axial symmetry. Jugs, stone art work, precious metal torques – a Celtic neck jewelry that symbolised authority and social prominence, have been attributed to this early period.

The same patterns and designs appeared on components for chariots, sword coverings, and other small metalwork pieces. Around three hundred years or so later, the Celts had roamed across Europe and had begun settling in the British Isles, Spain, and France.

As the 4th century BC arrived and began to slowly pass, the Celts continued with their artwork, by now showing evidence of a similar design to that which was birthed around the Hallstatt period – radial symmetry.

Often the two forms were used together and can be found today on vases, torques, scabbards and a variety of other metal-works. Red enamel was also used, and slowly, the Celts evolved not only as a semi-fragmented culture but as a people capable of creating some beautiful works of art.

Celtic Patterns

Spiral Stonework. Source: Nomadtales - wikicommons
Spiral Stonework. Source: Nomadtales - wikicommons
Celtic whorl in a triskele arrangement, pre-Christian. Source: GubPowderMa - wikicommons.
Celtic whorl in a triskele arrangement, pre-Christian. Source: GubPowderMa - wikicommons.

Celtic Designs

The Celtic designs continued to evolve, throughout the La Tène Iron Age period, which began around 300 BC. The Celts began to settle properly in Britain and over the next three or four hundred years, the Romans began to push out towards Western Europe, encroaching upon the Celts.

By 200 BC, the Celtic people had begun producing their artwork upon glass and other complex objects, due to the discovery of how to combine different materials as a means of enhancing the mediums upon which they could work.

They were no longer limited to metals and stone – they began to produce ornate, multifaceted designs upon beads, bracelets and colored glass. They continued to reproduce their artwork on metals but these were also more complex in their creation.

By the time of the first century AD, the Romans had truly conquered Britain, one of the last remaining European settlements of the Celts. Thus began the Romano-Celtic period.

Celtic Artwork

Shoulder Clasp. Source:  Robroyaus on en:wikipedia.org
Shoulder Clasp. Source: Robroyaus on en:wikipedia.org

Celtic Crosses

One of the more widely known designs, Celtic crosses, began to appear during this period. The Romans, although a nation that usurped country after country, began to fall into decline sometime around the 4th century AD and as a consequence, Christianity began to take a hold.

From the 4th century onward, the Romans withdrew from Britain and Germanic tribes – the Visigoths, Vandals and Ostrogoths – spread across the European continent. Two new forms of jewelry appeared on the Celtic timeline: annular and penannular brooches.

Annular means ‘ring’ and penannular means ‘almost a ring.' Both were created as a means of religious and spiritual status. They were often decorative items or used as fasteners – for cloaks and other forms of clothing.

While early geometric spiral type designs prevailed, the Celts introduced new designs: angular patterns appeared, as did stylised animals and interlacing on scroll-work. Upwards of the arrival of the Vikings, between the 8th and 9th century AD, ornamental jewelry became more elaborate, more ostentatious.

The Celtic crosses existed for many centuries and are still used in modern artwork to date. Based on circular design, with the four points of the cross all being covered in intricate geometric patterns and interwoven into the ring. The work below the upper ring would be carved with related designs.

Crosses would be created as stone monuments or decorative jewelry and contemporary culture fashions the designs in various art forms: paintings, jewelry, tattoos and more.

Muiredach's Cross, Ireland.  Source: Matteo Corti - wikicommons
Muiredach's Cross, Ireland. Source: Matteo Corti - wikicommons

Celtic Symbols and Modern Art

Celtic symbols, artwork, and the culture, fell into decline sometime after the Vikings arrived in Britain. They were a strong influence wherever they conquered, and the Celtic culture felt their authority much the same as any other had before them.

Still - Celtic art and culture survived in various parts of Scotland and Ireland into the 19th century. From that point, their art has experienced a form of revival, not least because the country of Ireland began to undergo a renewed sense of patriotism.

Upwards of the middle of the 19th century, there was also a growing interest in Celtic art, due to patronage from archaeologists and artists. Some of Ireland's most famous Celtic relics were discovered during this period - the Tara Brooch being one of them.

In Europe, two sizeable caches of Celtic artifacts were discovered, in Switzerland (La Tene) and Austria (Halstatt) respectively. This generated a wide European interest, and thus the beauty of the artwork of the Celts returned once again to the fore.

Currently, Celtic art is widely used and is often viewed as a mystical art form - and cherished by those that feel the closest connection - the modern day Celts of Ireland and Scotland.

Photographic reproduction of the Tara Brooch. Source: unknown wikicommons.
Photographic reproduction of the Tara Brooch. Source: unknown wikicommons.
Broighter Collar - a photograph of a gold torque type collar, thought to have been crafted around 100 AD. Possibly belonged to a warrior. Found by Thomas Nicholl in 1896, whilst ploughing a field.
Broighter Collar - a photograph of a gold torque type collar, thought to have been crafted around 100 AD. Possibly belonged to a warrior. Found by Thomas Nicholl in 1896, whilst ploughing a field.

Questions & Answers

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      • profile image

        Joanna 

        6 years ago

        i really like the imformation thnx

      • deedeelaw profile image

        Deborah S. Lawrence 

        7 years ago from Deborah's Musings

        Very interesting. I have always liked this type of jewelry.

      • frogdropping profile imageAUTHOR

        Andria 

        8 years ago

        Hey shaz :) Curious huh? I think there's a little apostasy stuff happened. You know, the Celts were nomadic and did range across vast spaces. Maybe they met other nations that borrowed their designs? Or maybe the Celts borrowed from them? However it all came about, ancient history and cultures is soooooo interesting!

      • shazwellyn profile image

        shazwellyn 

        8 years ago from Great Britain

        Hi Frog... I can see how the art has evolved from ancient egyptian times. I hadn't really thought about it before. Actually, you can see similarities to with tribes from Brazil, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand.. etc.. Thanks - it is linking up with a bit of research that I have been doing .

      • frogdropping profile imageAUTHOR

        Andria 

        8 years ago

        Hey there FP :):) It was interesting writing it. The Celts were mysterious and kinda romantic. Though I'd imagine a 6 foot Celtic warrior on the rampage to be anything but!

      • profile image

        Feline Prophet 

        8 years ago

        Hello FD, long time no see! :)

        What an interesting hub - that shoulder clasp looks almost eastern in origin!

      • frogdropping profile imageAUTHOR

        Andria 

        8 years ago

        The brooch is stunning. I'd love to see it for real. And he did indeed kick this Celtic theme off. Though I did open my mouth first, so it was my own fault :)

        Keira - heyyyyyy! I should think there's plenty of Celtic art in France - along with Britain, France was one of the last few remaining Celtic settlements. Good to see you've read this Keira - I hope you're keeping well!

      • profile image

        Keira  

        8 years ago

        Hello my lovely friend, its good to see you. How are you ? Brilliant hub, thanks for sharing my dear Frogdropping. I love celtic art, the design are amazing. I would love love to see all that in reel, the photos are beautiful. Thanks for the lovely journey. Bless you my dear good friend.:)

      • Haunty profile image

        Haunty 

        8 years ago from Hungary

        lol Here is some extra. :) I heard about the famous Tara site.

        You can count on Darkside with good ideas. There are so many amazing aspects of the Celtic culture. Their languages are beautiful for one thing. :)

      • frogdropping profile imageAUTHOR

        Andria 

        8 years ago

        Ahhhh thankyou Paradise 7! I believe you're the one to have seen the finished version - last night I left the last text box on the drawing board!

      • Paradise7 profile image

        Paradise7 

        8 years ago from Upstate New York

        Wonderful, wonderful hub and great pics, thank you, Froggie!

      • frogdropping profile imageAUTHOR

        Andria 

        8 years ago

        Missmaudie - seems you've been caught out lol!

        AARON - thankyou and I wish the pictures were mine. Next time I'm in the UK I may attempt to gather a few of my own. There's a lot of their artwork lying around in various museums - I may take the time to go take a look.

      • frogdropping profile imageAUTHOR

        Andria 

        8 years ago

        Haunty - isn't it just? So interesting. I keep meaning to write more about them - I have one half finished about Celtic Britain. Darkside prompted the Celtic hubs and indeed this one also, by way of a comment. I set to last night and managed to almost finish it. I say 'almost' because I left out the last text box. I'd a huge migraine and decided to call it a night. I clicked publish (mistakenly) and just though 'I'll sort it tomorrow' ;)

      • frogdropping profile imageAUTHOR

        Andria 

        8 years ago

        Cags - thankyou :) The Celts were a thoroughly interesting culture full stop. Very fragmented yet so valuable (historically) to the European continent as a whole. And I believe some are still alive and well among us!

      • profile image

        AARON99 

        8 years ago

        This is a great hub on celtic art. Though i was unheared about it earlier, but your hub open my eyes with this information. The photographs are just fantastic. Keep writing. Enjoy.

      • missmaudie profile image

        missmaudie 

        8 years ago from Brittany, France

        Haunty - I lied! Coming from a Celtic place I found I couldn't help myself, us Celts are used to tying oursleves up in knots!

      • Haunty profile image

        Haunty 

        8 years ago from Hungary

        Another top-notch hub on the Celts from under the frog's sleeve. Educational stuff.

        Celtic art is stunning, and unique. I mean, of course, it was influenced, but what is stunning is that whatever influences they had they always made their art uniquely Celtic. Just the way you described. And I heard that they didn't stop short of even bringing some fun into the picture when portraying humans. Thank you, frog. :)

        @missmaudie: Traitor! You said my hubs are the only ones you read. ;)

      • Cagsil profile image

        Cagsil 

        8 years ago from USA or America

        Hey Frogdropping, very nicely done. I've learned about Celtic Art, Lifestyle and a little of the history, when I did a background on humanity's beginning. Thank you for the reminder. Yes, a reminder, it reminded me that there were some really interesting designs that came from Celtic times and some presently still floating around now as it is today. Thank you for sharing. :) *Bump* - Thumbs up! :)

      • frogdropping profile imageAUTHOR

        Andria 

        8 years ago

        Sandy - you're welcome and it was/is :)

        Missmaudie - having spent time in Cornwall, I agree with you about the Celtic influence there. As with Ireland, Wales and Scotland, few places now retain traces of their culture.

        Justine - Celtic art is stunning, both aesthetically and due to the fact that it's still as common in modern designs as it was thousands of years ago :)

      • frogdropping profile imageAUTHOR

        Andria 

        8 years ago

        Hey drbj - good to see you :) I love Celtic art though I've stopped short of tattooing my body with it, like many do! I prefer the jewellry that's inspired by their art, rather than something more permanent.

        Candie - hello hello! I wish I'd had access to more pictures but had to resort to borrowing the ones shown here. It's certainly a beautiful form of art work.

        Dim - the introduction of Christianity inspired the Celtic crosses. The Christians brought their own crosses and the Celts being who they were simply stamped their own style upon them :)

      • profile image

        Justine76 

        8 years ago

        I love Celtic art work, adn its cool to learn some history about it.

      • missmaudie profile image

        missmaudie 

        8 years ago from Brittany, France

        Very interesting hub frogdropping. I come from Cornwall UK which is a Celtic area and live in Brittany France now which also has Celtic roots so I'm used to seeing the beautiful Celtic designs but the history is new to me so thanks for the information!

      • Sandyspider profile image

        Sandy Mertens 

        8 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

        Thanks for the history. Fantastic art.

      • Dim Flaxenwick profile image

        Dim Flaxenwick 

        8 years ago from Great Britain

        That was really interesting. Thank you. It was good to note that crosses were part of jewellry designs , long before christians began using the cross as their symbol.

        Love history and this was great. Take care.

      • Candie V profile image

        Candie V 

        8 years ago from Whereever there's wolves!! And Bikers!! Cummon Flash, We need an adventure!

        FD, Good hub on Celtic Designs and nice pictures of many of their styles!

      • drbj profile image

        drbj and sherry 

        8 years ago from south Florida

        Fascinating information, frogdropping. Kept my interest all the way. Can't say that about everything I read.

        Too bad the Celts weren't greater journal keepers - their jewelry designs are certainly examples of unusual artistry.

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