Posted on October 03 2019
The Celtic Nations
It's generally accepted that there are six Celtic nations:
- Brittany (Breizh)
- Cornwall (Kernow)
- Wales (Cymru)
- Scotland (Alba)
- Ireland (Éire)
- The Isle of Man (Ellan Vannin).
Brittany, Cornwall and Wales spoke what are now known as Brittonic or Brythonic languages, and the others various forms of Gaelic; these are all still spoken to a greater or lesser extent.
In terms of numbers, about 30% of the Irish population speak Gaelic, 22% of the Welsh, 5% of Bretons, 2% of Manx and just over 1% of Scots. Sadly only 0.1% of Cornish people spoke their native language at the last count but this is growing fast - possibly helped by people buying our Cornish language t-shirts?! Maybe.
It's quite hard to define exactly what celtic art is, so let's go with a super broad brush and say it's art, inspired by or originating from the celtic nations. To be more specific (or actually not at all) it probably started between about 1000BC until when the Romans invaded. Alternatively art historians apparently consider it anything from a couple of centuries BC to the Romans. Either way, it's pretty well known what the style of celtic art looks like.
The style can be summed up by describing geometric patterns and spirals often overlayed onto figurative subjects e.g. crosses. It's a very ornamental style and mostly avoids straight lines, often being very positive / negative, or with filled areas and spaces in between rather than shading and gradients. This is probably due to the fact that it was often carved, either into wood or stone. The very complex patterns also work well in filling every part of the available space.
Spirals seem to be one of the oldest elements in Celtic art and some believe they represent the life-force. Most common would be the three faceted spiral or triskele and this seems to form the basis of a lot of the more complex designs. The number three had a lot of significance in Pagan Celtic religion and this tied in conveniently for the early monks and their teachings about the Holy Trinity.
A couple of well known sources of inspiration for celtic art would be the Book of Durrow or the Book of Kells.
The Book of Durrow is a medieval illuminated manuscript, probably created around the year 650 to 700. Nobody knows exactly where it originates from but some suggestions have been Durrow Abbey in Ireland (seems a bit obvious?!), Lindisfarne monastery in Northumbria, or maybe Iona Abbey in the Hebrides, Scotland.
The Book of Kells was created about a hundred or so years later in a Columban Monastery in either Britain or Ireland, and contains the four books of the Gospel, but beautifully illuminated and illustrated.