Celtic art

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Celtic art

(kĕl`tĭk, sĕl`–). The earliest clearly Celtic style in art was developed in S Germany and E France by tribal artisans of the mid- to late 5th cent. B.C. With the dispersal of Celtic tribes during the next five centuries, their characteristically sophisticated designs were spread throughout Europe and the British Isles. Although some classical influence was evident in Celtic work, most of the complex, linear, highly ornamented pieces that survive reveal an inspiration of great originality and power. Stylized and fantastic plant and animal forms, as well as strong, geometrical, intertwining patterns, decorated the surfaces of household and ritual vessels, weapons, and body ornaments. The principal materials used in the surviving pieces of metalwork, most numerous of the remains, are gold and bronze. Some painted ceramics and enamel work survive as well from the early period. Frequently, Greek-inspired arabesque motifs were modeled in low relief. Artisans of the British Isles adapted Celtic design in the 3d cent. B.C., producing distinctive, vigorous works that soon owed little to Continental originals. Asymmetrical line engraving gained ascendancy in the 1st cent. B.C. for decorated weaponry and utensils. Two hundred years later Roman influence had effectively overwhelmed Celtic styles, although typical motifs were retained well into the medieval period. Numerous first-rate examples of Celtic craftsmanship may be seen at the British Museum.


See E. M. Jope and P. Jacobsthal, Early Celtic Art (2 vol., 1989); R. and V. Megaw, Celtic Art: From Its Beginnings to the Book of Kells (1989); F. Muller, Art of the Celts, 700 B.C. to A.D. 700 (2009).

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