Celtic Art: Late European Style
The art of the end of the Iron Age, when Celtic Europe, under pressure from the south, the east and the north, was on the defensive, has not yet aroused the same keen interest which is shown by specialists in early Celtic culture. The absence of any overall study covering the last two centuries BCE and the aftermath of Celtic art at the beginning of our era is regrettable. It should be mentioned, however, that exceptional finds, such as that at Fellbach-Schmiden, open up avenues of research which did not exist previously.
OF THE CELTS
For the history & development
of the iconography, zoomorphic
patterns and decorative art motifs
employed by the ancient Celts,
in metalwork, ceramics and other
artworks please see:
THE ANCIENT CELTS
The main explanation is undoubtedly to be found in the radical change in the material evidence available, i.e. in the archeological sources. In the second and first centuries BCE a change in Celtic culture meant that burials became rare and left hardly any trace in a large part of the Celtic world - chiefly owing to the wide-spread practice of cremation. Domestic accoutrements, often of humble appearance, therefore take the place of the richly decorated metalwork and ornaments of the preceding two or three centuries. In addition to this change in funeral customs, there was a gradual but fundamental change in Celtic society, due in part to the influence of the Roman or Romanized world. Before the end of the third century BCE this transformation was to lead to the development of the oppida, the first fortified urban settlements north of the Alps, which flourished in the second and first centuries BCE.
ART IN IRELAND
|In contrast with the homogeneity of the artifacts earlier in use, a wide diversity took place in the artistic activity of the "oppidum" civilization. This variety is responsible undoubtedly for the apparent disintegration of a sophisticated art with a strictly regulated mode of expression, which is disconcerting for the researcher who is without comparable material, and for the impression this gives of a break with the past. Continuity in the way of thinking and in the ideology of the Celts was, however, to take other forms. Celtic coin art, in particular, enables us to follow the evolution of an imaginative and dynamic style, capable of adapting motifs and transforming them into themes consistent with the Celtic vision. The quality of this artistic expression never falls below the "level" attained by the earlier works.|
Above all, the Celtic view of the world was to be expressed in the most varied materials and in objects serving a multitude of purposes. This seems to be a new factor, although this may be an illusion, given the sources at our disposal.
A new category which might be described as "industrial art" - painted pottery, for instance - emerged and served as a means of expression for the development of Celtic crafts. However, some of this work is known only through objects that were used for long periods or discarded in the rubbish-pits of the dwellings, and no longer through "luxury" or "prestige" products such as those found in the burials of earlier times. The skill of the Celtic craftsmen - blacksmiths, bronze-smiths, coppersmiths, sculptors in wood or stone, glass-makers - is unquestionable nonetheless, and an ornamental tradition can be traced particularly in the metal remains, for example sword scabbards. Generally speaking, the style displayed on such objects tends towards a certain sobriety, where the decoration is flatter and the forms are defined by means of strict lines. Increasing use is made of techniques involving the use of gold or silver wire, bronze or iron wire is found in place of the lost wax process. Cloisonné enamelling becomes increasingly common. The compositions are much simpler, but the vivacity, power and originality of Celtic expression are preserved.
This evolution, which followed a dynamic
internal logic, underwent various influences - from the east that of the
Eastern Celts and from the south that of Cisalpine Gaul. Initially, motifs
were taken over and assimilated into the Celtic way but later the artists
were submerged, by Rome in particular, and lost their creative force.
With the new economic order and the gradual establishment of a new way
of life - especially as a result of imports - art underwent a transformation.
Examples of Late Celtic European Art
Object: Pottery Flask, c.100 BCE
Object: Glass Bracelets and Beads, 2nd
Object: Personal Ornaments, Late 2nd
Object: Bronze Openwork Plaque, 2nd
Object: Anthropomorphic Bronze Sword-Hilt,
1st century BCE
Although the face and the detail of the hair show a marked Mediterranean influence, the form of the hilt and consequently the posture of the figure, are Celtic.
Object: Cheek-Piece of an Enamelled
Bronze Helmet, 1st Century BCE
Object: Wooden Sculpture, 2nd century
Object: Gundestrup Cauldron, c.100 BCE
Object: Stone Sculpture, 2nd century
For more about the history of Irish
culture, see: Ireland Visual Arts.
ENCYCLOPEDIA OF IRISH AND CELTIC ART