Tag Archive: Celtic art


 

A search on the online encyclopedia Wikipedia will reveal to the curious that, “The modern, western image of a dragon developed in western Europe during the Middle Ages through the combination of the snakelike dragons of classical Graeco-Roman literature, references to Near Eastern European dragons preserved in the Bible, and western European folk traditions”. We are also reliably informed by anonymous ‘experts’ that, “The oldest recognizable image of a fully modern, western dragon appears in a hand-painted illustration from the bestiary MS Harley 3244, which was produced in around 1260 AD”.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dragon#Western_Europe

(Accessed 24/3/2018)

 

MS Harley 3244 –  “The First European Depiction of a Dragon”

 

 

What is understood by a ‘fully modern dragon’ is debatable, but as with many historical and archaeological “facts” pertaining to European culture. presented on a medium from which the vast majority of today’s generation form their perception of the past, the conclusions presented on the tradition and origin of dragonesque creatures in Europe are hopelessly inaccurate and misleading.

In fact, even a quick overview of the actual archaeological evidence reveals that depictions of dragonesque creatures are common in Europe from the Iron Age onwards, appearing on jewelry, coinage, weapons and other artifacts throughout the La Tène period in particular.

 

Double-headed dragonesque / serpentine creature depicted on a decorative bronze element discovered in a Celtic chariot burial at Cuperly (Marne), France

(5th c. BC)

 

Bronze Celtic fibula from Pilsen in the Czech Republic (5th c. BC)

 

Dragonesque fibula (bronze) from a Celtic burial at Arbedo (Ticino), Switzerland (4 c. BC)

 

 

As with all aspects of Celtic art, the stylistic execution of such dragonesque creatures varies greatly, from relatively naturalistic to quite schematic images such as the iconic “dragon-pair” images  found across Europe on Celtic scabbards and other artifacts of the middle La Tène period.

 

 

Detail of decoration on a “dragon-pair” scabbard from a Celtic warrior burial at Chens-Sur-Léman (Haute-Savoie), France (late 4th/early 3rd c. BC)

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2014/08/27/brotherhood-of-the-dragon-celtic-dragon-pair-scabbards/

 

“The Dragonmaster” – Exterior plate B of the Gundestrup cauldron

See also: https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2016/09/06/the-gundestrup-ghosts-hidden-images-in-the-gundestrup-cauldron/

 

Potin (billon) coin minted by the Bituriges Tribe in central France (1 c. BC)

 

 

Thus, despite what some would have us believe, the dragonesque beasts which populate Medieval European literature / art and survive in the consciousness and popular culture of the modern world, derive not from “Graeco-Roman literature and Biblical sources”, but are the offspring of fantastic creatures born in the dark and shining fantasy of Celtic Europe…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Congail

 

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Some of the most exquisite European Iron Age jewelry pieces were produced by the “barbarian” tribes on the Balkan peninsula between the 4th and 1st century BC. During this period Celtic craftsmen, working in a variety of mediums, drew heavily on both Scythian and Hellenistic art; a process which culminated in a distinctive Balkan Celtic style.

Although multiple mediums were used, the genius of Celtic craftsmen of this period is to be most clearly observed in silver treasures produced by the Scordisci tribes, such as those from Hrtkovci, Židovar, Čurug etc...

 

FULL ARTICLE:

https://www.academia.edu/35771383/BALKAN_CELTIC_HINGED_SERPENT-HEAD_BROOCHES

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Celtic chariot burial from the Mal Tepe tomb at Mezek in the Haskovo region of southern Bulgaria is one of the most significant Celtic finds from the Balkans, in terms of the artifacts themselves, and the nature and chronology of the burial. However, from the outset the site has also been a prime example of the ugliest aspects of archaeology on the Balkans…

 

FULL ARTICLE:

https://www.academia.edu/33277322/THE_MEZEK_SYNDROME_Bogdan_Filov_and_the_Celtic_Chariot_Burial_from_Mezek_in_Southern_Bulgaria

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One of the most sensational discoveries of the Viking Age, the ship burial uncovered in a tumulus or haugr at Oseberg farm, Norway at the beginning of the 20th century consisted of an astonishingly well-preserved Viking ship containing the remains of two women along with a wide variety of associated burial goods….

 

 

Full Article:

https://www.academia.edu/30935667/A_GOD_BY_ANY_OTHER_NAME_Cernunnos_Christ_Buddha_and_the_Oseberg_Bucket

 

 

 

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The enigmatic bronze objects known as ‘Horn Caps’ were produced exclusively by the Celtic tribes in England and Wales during the mid-late Iron Age (ca. 300 – 43 BC). Despite various theories defining them as ceremonial staff-heads, a finial for ceremonial seats or chariot elements (although no examples have ever been discovered in chariot burials), the exact purpose of such objects remains unclear…

 

FULL ARTICLE:

https://www.academia.edu/29157809/OF_SWANS_AND_SWASTIKAS_A_Celtic_Horn_Cap_with_Zoomorphic_Swastika_Decoration_from_Essex_England

 

 

 

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Some of the finest examples of Iron Age European art are to be found on Celtic scabbards of the middle/late La Têne period – fantastic compositions born of anthropomorphic, zoomorphic and geometric motifs, or a combination thereof.

 

 

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Detail of scabbard with Triskele decoration, from a Celtic burial at Novajidrány-Sárvár, Hungary. The triskele is a particularly common motif on Celtic scabbards and other protective military equipment.

(3rd c. BC)

https://www.academia.edu/11899946/An_Tr%C3%ADbh%C3%ADs_Mh%C3%B2r_-_On_The_Triskelion_in_Iron_Age_Celtic_Culture

 

 

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Scabbard with Triskele decoration from a Celtic warrior burial at Srednica (Ptuj), Slovenia

(Late 4th / early 3rd c. BC)

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2015/03/08/a-celtic-warrior-burial-from-srednica-northeastern-slovenia/

 

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Geometric and Anthropomorphic decoration on scabbards from a Celtic hoard discovered at Förker Laas Riegel (Carinthia), Austria.

(3rd c. BC)

 

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Bronze front plate of a Celtic scabbard with incised symmetrical curvilinear decoration, discovered in Lisnacroghera Bog (Antrim), Ireland

(ca. 250 BC)

 

 

 

Celtic art draws its inspiration from all aspects of the natural world, and the artistic compositions on middle-late La Têne scabbards are no exception, with creatures of all kinds, both real and imaginary, appearing in the decoration of such scabbards.

 

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Fantastic aquatic/serpentine creatures depicted in the decorative composition of a Celtic scabbard from Cernon-sur-Coole (Marne), France

(ca. 280 BC)

 

 

 

Beasts portrayed on Celtic scabbards range from highly stylized examples, such as those which appear on Dragon-Pair scabbards, to comparatively naturalistic portrayals.

 

 

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Celtic scabbard with dragon-pair motif from a Celtic warrior burial at Chens-sur-Léman in eastern France

(Late 4th/early 3rd c. BC)

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2014/08/27/brotherhood-of-the-dragon-celtic-dragon-pair-scabbards/

 

 

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Geometric/zoomorphic composition on a Celtic scabbard from the Förker Laas Riegel hoard

 

 

 

 

 

A particularly interesting example of the diversity of creatures used to decorate Celtic scabbards of this period is a bronze sword scabbard mount discovered in Lincolnshire, England, the zoomorphic decoration on which bears a striking resemblance to a horse-fly complete with large protruding eyes and proboscis…

 

 

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The Lincolnshire bronze scabbard mount (3 c. BC)

(Illustrations thanks to Adam and Lisa Grace)

 

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Head of a Horse-Fly (Tabanus Atratus)

 

 

 

 

Postcards From The Past…

 

Celtic art functions on a number of levels (often simultaneously), merging reality, the subconscious and the absurd. While the modern mind may never fully comprehend the exact messages being conveyed, the artistic symphonies portrayed on Celtic scabbards provide a unique glimpse into the framework of religious and cultural values which motivated the Iron Age European population.

 

 

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Trio of dancing deer in the artistic composition on a Celtic scabbard from La Tène, Switzerland

(2 c. BC)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Congail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Discovered in a peat bog near the village of Gundestrup in Denmark in 1891, the Gundestrup Cauldron is the largest and finest example of Iron Age European silverwork (diameter: 69 cm (27 in); height: 42 cm (17 in.). Despite being discovered in Denmark, the workmanship and iconography on the cauldron indicate that it originated on the Balkans, either among the Thraco-Celtic (Scordisci) or possibly Celto-Scythian (Bastarnae) tribes, although the exact date and location of production is still uncertain.

 

 

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The Gundestrup Cauldron

 

 

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Antlered deity on Plate A of the Gundestrup cauldron, identified with the Celtic God Cernunnos, holding a ram-horned serpent and torc.

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2015/07/04/cernunnos-and-the-ram-headed-serpent/

 

 

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Celtic carnyx players depicted on Plate E of the Cauldron           

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2014/03/20/the-boar-headed-carnyx/

 

 

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X-radiograph of inner plate C 6575 showing details of traces from working tools.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ‘Gundestrup Ghosts’

 

While extensive academic attention has been paid to the cauldron’s iconography and origin over the past century, one fascinating element has been completely overlooked until recently. Scientific research on the back of the cauldron’s silver plate, using a fibre illumination unit, as well as silicone rubber moulds, epoxy resin replicas and macro photography, have revealed ‘Ghost Images’ unseen to the human eye for over 2,000 years.

 

The images, drawn lightly into the backs of the silver plates with a scriber and which are almost invisible to the naked eye, include a male figure 4.4 cm. discovered in the lower right corner on the back of inner plate C6572. The man is depicted in profile and blowing a horn instrument. It is worth noting that this instrument looks quite different from the relatively much longer instruments played by the three carnyx players depicted on the front of inner plate C6574.

 

 

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The Trumpet Player on Plate C6572

See:

https://www.academia.edu/1631111/THE_GUNDESTRUP_CAULDRON_New_Scientific_and_Technical_Investigations

 

 

 

On the back of inner plate  C6573 three drawings have been recorded, including a male head in profile near the right side at the middle, much like the horn player mentioned and believed to be the work of the same artist. Further images include the heads of two cats, likewise in profile, one of which was found over the male head near the upper corner. Corrections in the drawings of the latter creatures suggest that they may have been the theme of a discussion on the anatomy of cats. Also noteworthy is the fact that the cats are depicted in a way which could be characterized as ‘naturalistic’, i.e. not executed in the style generally associated with the imagery of the Gundestrup cauldron.

 

 

 

 

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Images of a male head and cat discovered on Plate C6573

 

 

 

 

While the exact purpose of the hidden images on the cauldron may forever remain unknown, the ‘ghosts’ may not be as mysterious as one may imagine. At present the most likely theory is that the back of the silver sheet served as a sort of artists ‘sketchpad two thousand years ago, before subsequently being used to produce the magnificent work of art as we know it today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Congail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Breadalbane Brooch 1 full - Silver-gilt pseudo-penannular D-shaped brooch

 

Discovered in Perthshire, Scotland in the 19th century the magnificent Breadalbane Brooch is an intricately designed, silver-gilt dress fastener that is closely related to a select group of brooches that were produced during the ‘golden age’ of late Celtic art…

 

 

Full Article:

https://www.academia.edu/22841807/THE_CROSS_AND_THE_SPIRAL_On_the_Triskele_in_Early_Christian_Art

 

Breadalbane - 4 -  Disc with spiral ornament on the reverse of the brooch, left-hand terminal - 8th century -

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

aa  -  Celtiz

 

From the beginning of the 3rd century BC the territory of modern Ukraine, previously defined by the Scythians of the North Pontic steppes and Hellenistic influences from the Black Sea zone, was supplemented by the Celtic culture from the west. The influence of the latter in western Ukraine is testified to by extensive archaeological evidence which indicates the classic pattern of Celtic migration/settlement….

 

 

 

FULL ARTICLE :

https://www.academia.edu/21918619/INTO_THE_EAST_The_Celticization_of_Western_Ukraine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bucket Combo

 

Feasting played a central role in Iron Age European society, as attested to in numerous classical sources, and by extensive archaeological evidence. Such tribal feasts appear to have had a socio-religious significance but, in true Celtic fashion, often developed into quite ‘energetic ’ affairs:

“And it is their custom, even during the course of the meal, to seize upon any trivial matter as an occasion for keen disputation and then to challenge one another to single combat, without any regard for their lives; for the belief of Pythagoras prevails among them, that the souls of men are immortal and that after a prescribed number of years they commence upon a new life, the soul entering into another body”.

 

Probably the most iconic objects associated with these feasts are lavishly decorated ceremonial ‘buckets’, which were used to serve alcoholic beverages in large quantities. Many of these vessels are exquisite works of art in themselves…

 

 

FULL ARTICLE:

https://www.academia.edu/23291021/CELTIC_CEREMONIAL_BUCKETS_AND_BELGIC_EXPANSION

 

 

https://balkancelts.files.wordpress.com/2015/11/lavishly-decorated-bucket-from-goeblange-nospelt-luxembourg-1-c-bc-ceremonial-function-and-were-used-to-serve-beer-and-wine-at-celtic-feasts.jpg?w=640

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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