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Celtic art - insular vs. continental

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allright, I´ll admit it you finally got me as well :lol:

Years of watching seaxes, spathae and celtic inspired jewellery right here on this forum haven´t gone without an impression on my feeble mind...


So I´ve spent some time on the net and thought I´d share the results. Maybe some of you have got more resources to add or find some inspiration in the following links:




Now searching the internet for celtic artwork leads to a clutter of modern tattoo motives mixed with simple drawn knotwork (nice vid!) and fantasy stuff :blink::lol:

Then, by accident, I came across the "Book of Kells":






and further the "Book of Durrow":




and the "Lindisfarne Gospels":




Really great stuff.



But this is all insular art of the christian ages, I´m living in Germany in the Neckar-region, closer to the Hallstatt/ La Tène area, so I wanted to learn more about that.


But info´s pretty scarce here...


I found the "Gundestrup cauldron":




which led me here:




and right on this board here I found this thread:




with Mr. Pringles wonderful recommendation of the site from the Historiska Museet:





I also have a catalogue at hands from the Landesdenkmalamt Baden-Württemberg that held an expo on early celtic finds in Hochdorf/ Neckar:




The finds:




In the catalogue ( ISBN 3-8062-0441-1 ) there are a lot of pics of ceramic pots and so, that already show hints of the ornamentic flow of the later designs featured in the first links and I´m curious how the celts got htere. Some ancient greek influences are mentioned but I´ll have to dig deeper...


Between "Hochdorf" and "Kells" lies a period of about 1000 years of constant development and I´m sure there are more documents out there to fill in the gaps.

I´d be really happy if you could add some to this little collection.






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Hello Geoff, thank you for that recommendation, I just bought the "celtic design book" - can´t wait for it to arrive.


@Dave: I think this Link is great, I love animation movies :lol: and this one seems to carry the spirit of the book very well!

edit: I just watched it and have to say this is one of the most beautiful movies I have seen for a long time, the stills and trailer don´t do it the tinyest justice at all.

I´m totally blown away - it´s a true masterpiece of animation and I have to thank you again for posting that link!




Another interesting link, while not 100% on topic as well:



Edited by Christoph Alpermann
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Hi Christoph. This area has been a passion of mine for years. The illuminated gospels are really Anglo Saxon ornamentation, some of the spiral work shows Celtic influence, but the great majority of the ornamentation in those books can be directly linked to Anglo Saxon ornamentation from earlier periods. the entire "knotwork" phenomenon is really Germanic and has only become associated with the Celts because of Pictish and Irish artisans being heavily influenced by Anglo Saxon motifs in religious objects. The spread of Anglo Saxon influenced motifs in ornamentation ( for example in pictish stones) can be related to the spread of Christianity through Anglo Saxon monks.

I think that the Migration Period Germanic ornamentation is like a child or grand child of continental La Tene period ornamentation, and then became associated with Celts again when it came to the british isles and was adopted by an artesan class that had allot of celtic workers.

If you are interested in Insular La Tene period ornamentation, I would highly recommend the book "Pagan Celtic Ireland" by Barry RafertyPagan Celtic Ireland: The Enigma of the Irish Iron Age. In my opinion the Curvilinear La Tene scabbard motifs reached their perfection in Ireland, The lisnacrogher scabbards are a really good example of true Celtic insular art.


The association of the word Celtic with the illuminated manuscripts stems back to the Victorian period and before when British antiquarians where obsessed with all things Celtic and everything from the British past from stone henge to the Lindisfarne gospels was described in terms of "Celt" and "Druid". contemporary use of knotworks and the genuine use of knotworks in highland Scotland on dirks, during the 16 and 1700s, wich where imitations of carved stones from a thousand years earlier, have led to the knotwork becoming a genuine modern celtic ornamentation style.

Another great book that is a study of pictish and gospel knotworks and spirals is George Baine's Celtic Art: The Methods of Construction.

Great Topic!

Edited by Jake Powning
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thanks for your replies!


Jake, your post has my head spinning with questions, I´ll have to take some time to research and sort them out. I´m kind of stuck on the differences/ similarities between celtic and germanic tribes, there are a lot of controversial sources on that topic... (should have paid more attention at school instead of drawing silly pics :rolleyes: )


In the meantime my desk got piled up with dozens of scribbles and sketches, where I tried to copy some of the simpler knots and ornaments.

I rented the "Book of Kells" CD from our City Library - which is not bad actually, allthough the pictures are not as "High-Res" as I hoped they´d be, a lot of the fine Detail is lost in binary oblivion :ph34r: , but it got me back to drawing again (I haven´t for years, hence the shaky lines).


I started a motif based on the poem "Pangur Bán", written in gaelic by an irish monk somewhere in the 8th century, that is about the similarities between chasing words and mice :lol:


Well, here´s the cat, with some light ornament sketched in the background:




it´s based on the cat depicted on page 293v in the Book of Kells.

I´m trying to keep as close as possible to the historic sources, without making actual copies.


If you like, I´ll post some progress pics...






Edited by Christoph Alpermann
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Another really good book that examines the development of insular art and it's various roots in detail as it relates to pictish picture stones and high crosses is The Art of the Picts: Sculpture and Metalwork in Early Medieval Scotland by George Henderson and Isabel Henderson. It's a bit pricey but it is one of the best books on the subject I have come across with lots of very good pictures as well as a very extensive text.

Edited by Jake Powning
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