Karen and Jean's Celtic Art Page

I am an avid lover of ancient art and traditions. Because of my Celtic ancestry, I have had a growing interest in the art of the Celtic tribes. Though not an expert or scholar in this field, I will try to help everyone and anyone who is interested in Celtic art with this resource guide.

I graciously acknowledge the overwhelming amount of help that I have obtained from my friend and colleague, Jean P. Lindsay, who is also of Celtic ancestry. We both obtained our BA's from Indiana University, majoring in Art History.

Throughout my research, I have found many links to the Celts. I will provide these links on this page for more interesting and useful information. Lately, there has been an overwhelming amount of interest in the Keltoi.

Table of Contents

A Little History of the Aesthetics Concerning Celtic Art

Evidence of the Celtic people has been around for at least 4,000 years. Because of the limited amounts of written Gaelic, archaeologists mainly interpret Celtic history from artifacts left over in graves and garbage dumps. Scholars can get a one-sided description of the Celts by reading Roman documents dating circa 140-50 BCE.


"Celtic is a term applied to art in a diversity of styles. Many of the elements associated are not 'Celtic' at all." (Laing, p. 8) Much of the art found in the temperate parts of Western Europe is a borrowing of traditional styles that the Celtic tribes either traded with or were ramsacking at the time. "At various times, the Celts adapted styles and ornamental motifs from the Classical Greeks, Orientals, Romans and Vikings." (ibid., p. 2)

However, scholars have categorized Celtic Art in three stages:

Hallstatt Culture (2000-600 BCE)

Artwork found from this period is named after a small town in western Austria. Artifacts dating from this era stretch from Sopron, Austria to the shores of Brittany in France.


The art of this period contains a variety of Mediterranean influences. The spiral is found on virtually all types of artwork. Most of the artwork found dating from this period appears to be imported. The Hallstatt Celts apparently were more impressed with the saltmines in the area than perfecting a certain style of art. Yet, their knowledge of preserving objects with salt helped influence their creativity.

During this phase, Hallstatt artists started experimenting with different ornamentation that can be determined as primarily Celtic. Visible ornamentations are abstract representations of forest wildlife and waterfowl.

For example: "At Hallstatt, ducks appear swimming up the supports of a bronze container, which also is further embossed with ducks and wheels on its side." (ibid., p. 26) Apparently, scholars believe that ornamentation of this kind was meant for cultic purposes. In Minoan art, curvilinear and abstract animal motifs (mainly bulls and bull horns) decorate vessels used for all types of cults and practices, especially in the pouring of libations. Throughout the Hallstatt culture, the animal in question was mainly waterfowl. Many pieces include various species of birds and swans.

Visuals and more in-depth study of the Hallstatt and La Tène cultures is here.

La Tène Culture (700 BCE-43 CE)

The La Tène Culture (800 BCE-200 CE) spanned the widest and vastest areas of Europe as well as developing new and more fluid styles. Greatly influenced by the Hellenistic Greeks, the La Tène Celts developed a more sophisticated style that was more insular and decorative. According to Frank Delaney's narration:

"The Hallstatt Culture was the seeding of Celtic Art, but the La Tène Culture was the flower."

A very intricate and interesting piece found in the Brno-Malomerice region of Czechoslovakia illustrates the advancements of La Tène art. Resembling a deer, the piece is realistic yet abstract because of the ornamentation.

The Age of the Celtic Renaissance: Hiberno-Saxon Art (800-100 CE)

Note: Hiberno meaning Irish or Scottish. I get Hiberno mixed up with Hispania which is goofy, but then I am goofy!--Karen

Probably the most significant and important types of art during this period are the Celtic Christian art of Ireland and Northumberland. Illuminated manuscripts illustrated with the most abstract luminous lettering were carefully executed on vellum by Celtic monks.

The Book of Kells is one of the most superb examples representing illumination during this period. It was begun by Connachtach, who was an important scribe and the abbot of Iona. It is generally dated ca. 760-820 CE. It was begun at Iona; but when the Vikings began invading the British Isles at the beginning of the 9th century, the monks packed it up and took it to Ireland for safety. It was completed there, at the monastery of Kells. The book is a huge edition of the four Gospels. It is very lavishly illuminated; this was not for everyday usage, but was only brought out for very special occasions. A superb computer-checked facsimile of the manuscript can be viewed at the Lilly Library at Indiana University.

Here are a few examples of Celtic art. Click on the titles for images.

Since there is a lot of Celtic art we would like to cover, we are obviously not finished.

Short Bibliography of Books Concerning Celtic Art

Ancient Celtic Art

This page was last updated on April 11, 2000.