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A Journey through Aesthetic Realms

Understanding Celtic Art Past and Present, Part 1 of 2

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The Celts were members of an ethnic group that shared a similar language, art, culture, and religion. They roamed across Europe and lived in countries such as France, Italy, Germany, Poland, Spain, Britain, and Ireland, dwelling in windowless roundhouses built either on hill forts or clustered together on small farms, or in enclosed settlements.

Celtic art has its origins in the Celtic people and has appeared throughout the continent from the Bronze Age to the present day. Its source and development can be studied from the carvings, sculptures, metalwork, and woodwork of the ancient Celts. The artwork is generally ornamental and consists of beautiful geometric shapes with spirals, knots, interlaced animal-people, and key patterns avoiding straight lines. The ancient Celts believed in many gods and in an afterlife. Celtic priests, known as druids, taught the doctrine of transmigration of souls. Celtic art drew inspiration from religion and reflects an understanding of the spiritual world.

Let’s now take a closer look at the development of Celtic art throughout history. Celtic art spans many cultures across various regions of Europe and may even date back to the Neolithic or New Stone Age. The history of Celtic art styles and influences can be divided into the Hallstatt period, the La Tène period, the Medieval period, and the Celtic Revival movement.

The Hallstatt period, named after a town in Upper Austria in which many Hallstatt artifacts have been found, spans from around 800 to 450 BC, during the early Iron Age in Europe. Compared with the earlier Hallstatt era, the La Tène period was one of greater affluence and deeper knowledge of materials and technology used in metalwork, gold smithery, jewelry, and other decorative crafts, and it was also a period of wider cultural interchange. Celtic art in the medieval period was practiced by the peoples of the British Isles between the 5th and 12th centuries AD. During the Christian period, Irish art was influenced by both the Mediterranean and Germanic arts; the latter through the Irish association with the Anglo-Saxons, thus creating what became known as Insular or Hiberno-Saxon art.
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