When you hear the word ‘Celtic Art’ what usually comes to your mind first? Many people think of Irish and Pictish art. However, these artworks had almost nothing to do with Celtic art. Read on to learn more about celtic art information.
Celtic Art Information: Ancient Celtic Art vs. Medieval Celtic Art
Nowadays, it is relatively easy to find a wide variety of very affordable books offering to teach the reader the methods of construction of something called ‘Celtic art’. It is also an extremely easy exercise to find an extensive selection of beautiful ‘Celtic’ clip-art on the web. This art is not, however, as its name might imply, a universal and timeless tradition, the heritage of all Celts at all time periods. To such ancient Celts as Vercingetorix or Boudica, such art would appear as strange as Cairo’s Al-Azhar university would to Ramesses the Great. To understand why this is the case, it is necessary to look at the sharp divide between ancient and medieval Celtic art styles.
Medieval Celtic Art
During the early middle ages a beautiful, distinctive and sophisticated style of art developed in the British Isles. Today, this style is often referred to as ‘Celtic’ art, though scholars more correctly refer to it as ‘Insular’ art, since it was shared by the Anglo-Saxons as well as such Celtic-speaking peoples as the Irish and Picts (‘insular’ from Latin insula ‘island’, referring in this case to the British Isles).
This style has amongst its most distinguished representatives such masterpieces as the Book of Kells, the Irish high crosses, the Pictish stones and the Ardagh chalice, all of which may be seen illustrated below. Insular art is an abstract style, characterized by a horror vacui (a dislike for negative or empty space) and by brilliant patterns which are either wholly abstract or consist of stylized portrayals of animals (plants are rarer). Narrative figural art is also an important part of the Insular style, particularly on Irish Crosses of the 9th and 10th centuries CE (Harbison 1990: 18).
Celtic Art Information: Types of Patterns in Insular Art
There are four main types of patterns in Insular art, as first recognized by John Obadiah Westwood in the 19th century (Nordenfalk 1987: 1). First, there are interlace patterns, consisting of interweaving ribbons laid out in a balanced and often dazzlingly intricate design. Secondly there are the ‘zoomorphic’ patterns, which are comprised of artistically altered or stylized animals, such as birds and dogs, often intertwined with ribbons like those of the interlace patterns.
Thirdly, there are the spiral patterns, which are formed, as the name implies, with spirals. These spirals are made sometimes with a single but often with two, three or more coiling lines. They are surrounded by such motifs as ‘trumpet curves’ (i.e., a tapering curve) and lentoid bosses (an oval with pointed ends), and often interconnect with each other.
The Key Patterns
Fourthly, there are the so-called ‘key’ patterns, which consist of strait lines forming intricate, blockish designs and have been described as ‘square spirals’. They have also been compared (superficially) to certain Chinese designs, and indeed key patterns, like interlace and stylized animals, can be found in many artistic traditions around the world. The particular form that they take in Insular art, and the fact that they are a defining characteristic of this art, make key patterns, and all the patterns here mentioned, unique.