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Untangling the Knots of Celtic Art

Celtic art has been enjoying a revival in recent years. Familiar forms of Celtic art such as Celtic crosses and Celtic knotwork have long been popular. However, there have been many developments in Celtic art throughout its centuries-old history that are less better known but nevertheless artistically significant. Celtic art has been enjoying a revival in recent years. Familiar forms of Celtic art such as Celtic crosses and Celtic knotwork have long been popular. However, there have been many developments in Celtic art throughout its centuries-old history that are less better known but nevertheless artistically significant.

The Celts as a people began to exhibit a distinct culture across Europe around the year 800 BC. The art of this people developed through several centuries, culminating in a so-called “renaissance” in the Middle Ages. Art Historians have categorized Celtic art into four basic periods: Hallstatt, La Tene, Early Christian, and Late Christian or Insular. A Celtic Revival, experienced in the late 18th century and based on the rediscovery of Celtic Christian art, may yet be considered a fifth period of Celtic art.

The Hallstatt Period of Celtic Art was named for a site in Austria that contained a quantity of Celtic works of art created during the iron age in approximately 800 BC. Objects included decorated vessels, ornamental weaponry, jewelry, and horse accessories. The ornamentation in these objects was mostly that of geometric patterns based on Greek and Oriental motifs. Maze-like designs and repeating patterns were introduced. Examples of the artifacts found in Hallstatt are shown here.

La Tene art was named for an archaeological site in Switzerland that contained a trove of Celtic art objects. These works of art were created approximately between the 5th century BC and the 2nd century AD. In this era we see a development of inward and outward swirling spirals and triskeles, three-pronged whirligigs. The faces of humans and animals are often included in ornamental patterns and they are often disguised within them. Leaf patterns are also predominant. The patterns exhibited in La Tene art are often extremely complex and sometimes form optical illusions. The Celtic people at this time were particularly skilled in metalwork. Objects of artistic value produced during this time included weaponry, jewelry, and household objects. Examples of La Tene art are The Holcomb Mirror, The Wandsworth Shield, and The Battersea Shield.

Early Christian Celtic art was produced in Britain and Ireland from 400 AD until about 1200. The spiral began to take on a more consistent form and the animals and humans contained in the patterns became more realistic in nature. Near the end of this period, knotwork emerged, becoming a defining example of Celtic artwork. Examples of artwork created during this time period are The Book of Durrow, and the trove at Sutton Hoo.

The Late Christian or Insular period of Celtic art overlapped the Early Christian period and represents a period of time between 750AD and 1000AD when Christianity had taken a strong foothold in certain regions. Improvements in metalworking and artistic sophistication combined to produce complex designs with intricate interlacing of spirals and knotwork. The style of this period is evident in works of gold, silver and vellum. Examples of art objects created during this time period are Tara Brooch and the Book of Kells manuscript.


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 About
 the
 Author

Diana Blake is a professional artist and art history enthusiast. Her fascination with art history began when she encountered European art firsthand during several trips abroad as a young adult. As she began to compose a portfolio for her own art career, she called upon what she had seen in Europe and extended her knowledge to other styles of art through profuse reading and exhaustive research. As a result, Diana has written more than one hundred articles in which she delves into a variety of art history topics and she has compiled a list of links that she believes to be invaluable for art history enthusiasts. In addition, she also reviews books and movies on the topic of art history and has assembled an extensive list of online stores that sell books, movies and gift items related to art history.
   You can see Diana's own artwork by visiting her site at www.dianablake.net.