A haven for Celtic culture

This post-Celtic influence also penetrated into contemporary medieval art in lowland Scotland, and is reflected in several medieval Scottish brooches, ivory caskets, and weapons. In the Scottish Highlands, the Celtic tradition continued to influence the design of weapons until the destruction of the Highland Clan system following the Battle of Culloden (1746). Until then, Celtic interlace was found on Highland targes (shields), dirks (daggers) and broadswords (basket-hilted swords). Following Culloden, Celtic (Jacobin) artistry was viewed with suspicion by the Anglo-Scottish authorities, and it only revived as an art form in the mid-19th century.

Unlike Scotland, Wales was almost completely assimilated by the medieval English by the end of the 13th century, and Celtic culture and artwork were not tolerated by the English authorities who administered the principality. Although a handful of earlier medieval examples of Celtic stonework exist in Wales, all predated the subjugation ot Wales by Edward I of England late in the 13th century.

In Ireland, Celtic culture was more deeply ingrained, and during the later medieval period the production of artwork, manuscripts, and stonework continued to draw on older Celtic influences. The most widely-known example of this post-Celtic Irish culture is the harp of Brian Boru, an instrument associated with a warlord who focused Irish opposition to Norse rule. The stunningly beautiful instrument was produced at some point between the 13th and 16th centuries, and its Celtic influence is demonstrated by the harp's interlaced ornamentation. This harp has now become the national symbol of Ireland.

Earlier Celtic religious objects were modified to suit more modern Gothic tastes, but this brutal reworking was unable to completely obscure the beauty of the original pieces. Other objects were almost purely Celtic, such as the 14th-century Domnhnach Airgid shrine, or the 15th-century book satchel designed to hold the manuscript of the Rook of Armagh. Art historians identify' these two pieces as being representative of an early Gaelic Revival, which spanned the 15th to the 17th centuries. Influenced by a hardening political resistance to outside interference in Ireland, the movement sought inspiration in older Celtic artwork rather than the Anglo-Norman medieval influences. These Irish craftsmen were rejecting external threats to Irish culture as well as to its political identity. They were keeping the older Celtic traditions alive.

Facing: St. Conall Cael's Bell Shrine is a classic example of an earlier Celtic religious object modified to suit a later gothic taste. The bell (which can be seen on page 147) was encased in this 15th-century silver "shrine" to protect the saintly relic.


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