The Rediscovery Of The Celtic Heritage

This wholesale destruction of sacred artefacts had an effect on art styles. After the Puritan iconoclasm, Celtic interlace was no longer seen as an everyday part of life by all those who passed the local cross. It became a misty memory, whose nature was misunderstood and unrecognized. Thus, in learned circles, most understanding of the principles of Celtic art was lost, though in certain craft circles the knowledge was maintained among initiates. Also, especially in Ireland, knowledge of other esoteric Celtic traditions was maintained by local bards, wise women and cunning men. Knowledge and use of the ogham script continued among the people, being used occasionally on tombstones until the present day. In the nineteenth century at Kinsale in County Cork lived a man named Collins who had a poem about the zodiac painted on his walking-stick in white ogham characters. His cart also bore his name in ogham, and he was prosecuted for not writing it in the Roman alphabet.

Even where Celtic art was not completely ignored, learned artists from the academies contented themselves with copying earlier examples as instances of ancient barbarism rather than high art with a contemporary value. Unfortunately, because they did not take care to work according to the proper principles, what they produced was of inferior quality, and often broke the simplest rules, such as those for for later scientific archaeologists. However, it is only through the prodigious work of these early antiquaries that we know anything about many ancient crosses and other monuments. Another stalwart recorder of ancicnt monuments was the Oswestry scholar Edward Lhuyd (1660—1709), sometime keeper of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, who wrote about many Welsh antiquities that subsequently have been lost or destroyed.

It was not in Wales, however, that the fortunes of Celtic art first took a turn for the better, but in Scotland and Ireland. Scottish national romanticism, promoted by Sir Walter Scott and given considerable impetus by George IV's visit to Edinburgh in 1822, led to the revival of highland dress and the resumption of production of Celtic jewellery, based on surviving examples. Writing in The British Architect in 1875,

Scottish national romanticism, promoted by Sir Walter Scott ... led to the revival of highland dress and the resumption of production of Celtic jewellery, based on surviving examples.

constructing basic interlace patterns. Even those artists who worked with antiquaries to record the remains of ancient Celtic art often drew impressions of what they saw, rather than accurate detail. Camden's Britannia, the first great attempt to document British antiquities, contains illustrations that were insufficiently accurate

Derived from the Celtic Cross is the typical medieval cross of which this example stands in the churchyard at Cricklade, Wiltshire, England. (Nigel Pennick)

notable Neo-Gothic architect William Burges recognized Scott's seminal role, stating that the real restorer of medieval art was Sir Walter Scott'. After Scott's impetus, the restored tradition was reinforced later by Queen Victoria's patronage, which ultimately resulted in a return to the manufacture of Celtic Crosses in stone, mainly as graveyard memorials. Commentators on Celtic art often condemn this period as being a conscious revival that has no artistic or spiritual value. However, this attitude is often conditioned by the political theory that tradition has no place in the modern world. Nineteenth-century Celtic Crosses stand as authentic products of the Celtic spirit, however removed some of the individual pieces may be from the traditional current.

The general revival in Christian art in the United Kingdom under Queen Victoria, which at that time included the whole of Ireland, provided the impetus for proper study of ancient ecclesiastical art. Of course, the Celtic Cross was recognized then as one of the most notable instances of early Christian art in the British Isles. An interest in crosses in general was expressed by the publication in 1875 of Alfred Rimmer's The Ancient Stone Crosses of England (Virtue and Co.) Again, in this book, because of a lack of understanding of the principles, the illustration of Celtic interlace and key-patterns was poor, as in an engraving of the Nevern cross, which completely fails to depict the ornament correctly. However, Rimmer did express the general feeling of loss; that the sacred landscape had been destroyed wantonly by Puritan vandalism. 'Could road-side crosses have remained to the present day', wrote Rimmer, 'they would have been cherished objects in almost every village in England.'

Because of the dedicated work of antiquaries over the years, gradually a general awareness grew that the past mattered. Then, those old stone crosses that had been abandoned and used as bridges over streams, as building blocks or as gateposts to fields were located and removed to museums. In 1892, the antiquary Archdeacon Griffiths of Carmarthen donated an early Christian monument to the Cardiff Free Library and Museum. The process then began of taking away stone crosses from their original sites and displaying them in national museums in London, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Dublin. However, there was an alternative to the wholesale removal of monuments from their proper location. In the 1860s, the London firm of Brucciani and Company was established as the most able producer of plaster casts of antique monuments. The non-destructive technique used by Brucciani involved covering the stones with gelatine sheet and materials through which moisture could not penetrate. Then the clay and plaster used for the process of casting did not come into contact with the valuable carvings, yet reproduced them faithfully. This technique was used with ancient sculptures from Greece and Rome, and substantial collections of them still exist, most notably at the Museum of Classical Archaeology at Cambridge.

During the 1890s, a collection of Welsh crosses was begun by the curator of the Cardiff Free Library and Museum, which served as the basis for the present collection of crosses in the National Museum of

Wales. In 1894, using Brucciani's technique, a programme was set up to make and collect casts of ancient stones, beginning with the famous crosses and slabs from Margam and Bridgend. W. Clarke of Llandaff took over the task from Brucciani in 1900, and continued with the programme of making casts of all known stones. Being from Wales, Clarke's brief was expanded to look for any 'as yet undiscovered or forgotten', and, gradually, as in other parts of the British Isles, a comprehensive knowledge was built up. Casts of crosses from other parts of the British Isles were made at the same time, and some of these replicas can be seen in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin. Ironically, subsequent degradation of the real stones as the result of air pollution means that many of these replicas now show more detail than the originals.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, antiquaries and archaeologists began to make systematic studies of the Celtic Crosses of their respective localities. In his Old Cornish Crosses, published in 1896, A. G. Langdon recorded 360 examples from that county alone, which made Rimmer's earlier estimate of 5,000 crosses in England appear rather conservative. The antiquary J. Romilly Allen (1847-1907) also took an academic approach to Celtic monuments, recording them accurately with measured drawings. It was Romilly Allen who laid the foundations for the current resurgence of Celtic art. His book, The Early Christian Monuments of Scotland (The Pinkfoot Press), published at Edinburgh in 1903, was followed by works on Wales and Celtic Culture in Pagan and Pre-Christian Times (1904). The results of the new science of archaeology were significant in the restoration of Celtic art that we see today. Nineteenth-century Romantic artists like William Hole integrated all sorts of Celtic archaeological artefacts from different places and periods into their historic paintings. Yet, despite their historical inaccuracy, there is no dissonance. Such paintings work as art, attesting to the underlying spirit of Celtic tradition.

At this time, as the result of a renewed interest in vernacular tradition, Celtic art assumed an important part in the repertoire of the Arts-and-Crafts movement. Based upon indigenous principles, it took traditional design elements and reinterpreted them in a modern form. Located at Compton, near Guildford in Surrey, the Watts Mortuary Chapel is one of the most remarkable Celtic Arts-and-Crafts buildings ever erected. Designed by Mary Fraser-Tytler Watts, wife of the eminent Victorian painter George Frederick Watts, it incorporates Celtic Crosses unlike any seen before, yet completely within the tradition.

The fine nineteenth-century Celtic Cross that marks the grave of the Welsh bard Tegid, co-translator of the Mabitiogion, in the churchyard of St Brynach's, Nevern, Dyfed, Wales. (Nigel Petwick)

Each and every part of Mary Watts's chapel contains a symbolic meaning, reflecting her saying 'All creation is the garment of God'. Constructed of brick and terracotta, it is a masterly design of such stunning originality that makes it all the more regrettable that she spent her life in the shadow of'England's Michelangelo' rather than practising in her own right as an architect. In keeping with the spiritual ethos of the Arts-and-Crafts movement, that local materials and techniques should be used as far as possible, she set up a pottery using local clay to make the terracotta panels, roundels and other decorative elements of the chapel. This pottery, which continued to produce wares until the 1950s, also made terracotta tombstones of various designs of Celtic Crosses, many of which can be seen in the graveyard in which the chapel is set. The chapel's symbolic decoration includes a number of roundels that progressively denote spiritual evolution in addition to the Celtic Cross illustrated here. Like ancient Celtic Crosses, the Watts chapel is truly part of the land, for it is made of materials won from the local earth, related perfectly to its location in the landscape.

On the Isle of Man, the Arts-and-Crafts architect

Baillie Scott used the Celtic Cross in the ornament _

of some of his houses. For example, in Onchan, he built the houses Breaside and Leafield, and ornamented them with wheel-crosses made of pebbles standing proud of the cement rendering of the external walls. At Glen Falcon, built three years later in 1900, he made a copper fireplace-surround with a repoussé pattern of an eightfold cross in Manx tradition. Ornamental elements from Celtic Crosses were popularized by the Manx designer Archibald Knox in his metal-work for Liberty and Company. In Ireland the Arts-and-Crafts-inspired Dun Emer Guild, founded by Evelyn Gleeson in 1902, produced textiles and carpets that used Celtic Cross interlace and tesselation patterns. Later, the foundation of the Irish Free State in 1921 gave impetus to the promotion of Celtic art as a national style. It has held its position since then.

However, Ireland's troubles also led to one of the worst losses of ancient Celtic manuscripts. This took place in June 1922 during the

Dun Emer Guild CarvedDesigns Celtic Archibald Knox

Mary Watts's Celtic Cross design and altar cross for the Watts Mortuary Chapel at Compton, Surrey, England.

Smaller examples of tombstones can also be interesting instances of more recent Celtic Crosses. An early twentieth-century example stands over the grave of Cecil Bendall, Professor of Sanskrit at Cambridge University, in St Giles's Cemetery, Cambridge, England. (Nigel Petmick)

Irish Civil War, when the Four Courts in Dublin, held by Republican soldiers, was shelled by Free State artillery. The building, used by the Irish Republican Army as a munitions store, received a direct hit from a shell and exploded catastrophically. The Irish National Archive, held in the building and containing many priceless documents, was totally destroyed in one blow. After the victory of the Free State faction, however, Celtic monuments were erected to those who fell in the war. In the United Kingdom, too, to commemorate 'The Great War for Civilization', the Celtic Cross was adopted as the model for many of the numerous war memorials that were erected in almost every village to honour those who had died in the conflict. Wherever possible, the new British war memorials were erected at places where crosses had stood in former times. Thus, stone crosses were restored to the British landscape as new representatives of the 'cherished objects' whose loss Rimmer had lamented 50 years earlier.

In the 1920s, interest in Celtic artwork continued. In 1922, the English fantasy artist Sidney Sime designed a cover for the libretto of Josef Holbrooke's opera, Bronwen. It showed the hero and heroine standing beneath a Pictish-type cross-slab with interlace panels in the form of a swastika. Of course, before the 1930s, that ancient sign had none of the bad connotations later attached to it by the Nazis. As an ancient symbol for lightning, it appears on ancient slabs like the Craignarget Stone, and occasionally upon graveyard memorials like Professor Cecil Bendall's Celtic Cross in Cambridge, which refers to his Hindu connections. Following the work of earlier antiquaries, especially Romilly Allen, from the 1920s, the Scottish artist George Bain investigated actual examples of Celtic art from Pictish stones and Celtic manuscripts, and, by analysis, expanded on Romilly Allen's re-discoveries. George Bain's main intention was to bring Celtic art back into the repertoire of contemporary artists, craftspeople and designers. His master-work, Celtic Art: The Methods of Construction (McLellan), first published in 1951, which contains his analysis, of the principles underlying Celtic art, has bccomc the standard work on r 'f

Celtic art. As Bain intended, the book became the greatest influence on contemporary Celtic artists, and remains so today.

Through the work of Romilly Allen, George Bain and his son Iain, and the Irish artist John G. Mernc, the principles of Celtic art are understood once more, and there has been a renaissance of Celtic art in every field except, paradoxically, that of making stone crosses. The Celtic artists Jim Fitzpatrick, Courtney Davis, David James and Simon Rouse are among the most notable contemporary exponents of the style in book illustrations, posters and paintings, often with a spiritual content. Fantasy artists, illustrating the works of J. R. R. Tolkien and his imitators, have taken to Celtic art as the authentic reflection of the elder times in northern Europe. Similarly, with a recognition of ancestral tradition, contemporary jewellers are now making Celtic Crosses of precious metals as pendants to wear around the neck, and small replicas of Celtic Crosses are available as ornaments. Since the 1980s, elements of Celtic art have become a significant current in the repertoire of the tattooist. Celtic Crosses, interlace and stylized animal patterns adorn the human body. This art is worldwide. Among the most notable contemporary tattooists putting Celtic Crosses on people arc Darren Rosa and Jonathan Shaw of New York, Geoff Wilson of Lillydale, Australia, and 'Crazy Greg' of Heidelberg, Germany. Their work is in some way a contemporary restoration of the body art of the ancient Picts and Copts.

In 1996, the continuing awareness of the Celtic Cross was evidenced by the British Royal Mint issuing of a ¿1 coin, designed by Norman Sillman. Its reverse ('tails') side bears a Celtic Cross, representative of Northern Ireland. However, a revival of making new, full-sized, coloured Celtic Crosses is still awaited. All of the appropriate knowledge and skills exist among contemporary practitioners of Celtic art, and this is ample evidence that the Celtic tradition, already 2,700 years old, will continue to flourish in the foreseeable future.

Fantasy artists, illustrating the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and his imitators, have taken to Celtic art as the authentic reflection of the elder times in northern Europe.

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