History of the Celtic deSigns

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          The Celts dominated Mid and Western Europe for a thousand years. But it is only recently that the importance of Celtic influence on the cultural, linguistic and artistic development of Europe. The Celts as an identifiable race or ethnic group have long since disappeared, except in places such as Ireland and the Scottish Highlands. The Celts transmitted their culture orally, never writing down history or facts. This accounts for the extreme lack of knowledge about them prior to their contact with the classical civilizations of Greece and Rome. They were generally well educated, particularly on topics such as religion, philosophy, geography and astronomy. The Romans often employed Celtic tutors for their sons. The bravery of the Celts in battle is legendary. They often spurned body armour, going naked into battle. Celtic society was typically more equal in terms of gender roles. Women were on more or less equal footing as men, being accomplished warriors, merchants and rulers.
            Celtic knots or Celtic interlace are ornamental patterns primarily were used to decorate Bible manuscripts, monuments (notably Celtic crosses and cross slabs) and jewelry. They probably were used in other media such as wood carving and textiles but these have not survived. Knotwork tradition in manuscript painting possibly came to Ireland in the middle of the 7th century in manuscripts illuminated by Coptic monks from Egypt or Syria . This is not a settled issue as far as the art historians are concerned but the best evidence of style, coloring and methods of construction I have seen points to Middle Eastern prototypes. From Ireland the style spread to Scotland (in those days Pictland and Dalriada), Wales and Northumbria and with missionaries of the Celtic Church to Europe. Viking raiders later appropriated some of the design concepts into a more chaotic style of animal interlace.
          Celtic knots are complete loops with no end or beginning. Celtic animal interlace is similar in construction but the cords terminate in feet, heads, tails ect. The animal designs are very much influenced by older Saxon and Pictish traditions of abstract beast forms that when combined with the new more sophisticated knotwork of the Celtic designers became known as 'Hiberno-Saxon'. A good Celtic artist will never leave a loose end on a strand unless it is stylized into a zoomorphic element or spiral. Pure knots should always be unending. On this point of ornamental grammar you can distinguish much that is made to look like Celtic design by designers who do not really know the tradition. The Coptic examples of knotwork that pre-date the early Irish work are.
 Our Sources: Gryphon's Moon,Celtic Animal Meanings,Celtic Motifs by J.Frayne, Walker Metalsmiths, Duncan McLeod's website, and other celtic history related websites

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Last Update: 09/21/2006