Decoration of Meta Lajok

Although the eonstruetion of lute Celtic mctuhvork pieces was technically impressive, the true glory of Celtic artistry is to he found in the decoration applied to these objects. These intricate and effervescent designs of polychrome decoration are among the most beautiful pieces of metal decoration ever produced.

[eltic metalwork was often richly inlaid (with enamel, glass, semi-precious stones, or other decorative materials. The Celts had made glass from the fifth century, and a century later commercial glass workshops were in operation. Glass was not a Roman invention or exclusively used by them, and the Celts used it for the decoration of jewelry. Glass votive offerings were made in Gaul and southern Germany during the I .a Tene period, often produced by twisting rods of semi-molten glass into an animal shape.

The Celts were using glass inlay on bronze objects during the early La Tene period, but these early pieces used glass that was softened and then inserted into place. True enamel work involved the melting of the glass inlay. This true enameling was probably introduced to Britain by the Romans, and Irish metalworkers adopted the technique while they were still using their older semi-molten inserts. The red glass favored by late Celtic enamel workers had a high lead content, making it unstable at higher temperatures. Although this type of glass remained in widespread use, other forms more suited to melting into enamel were increasingly used during the Celtic renaissance period.

Another technique was the setting of glass into a decoration in an unniolten state. Plain or colored glass pieces were shaped, then set in the same way as metalworkers used semi-precious stones. Miilefiori has already been described (see page 139), and its emphasis on multiple strands or colors of glass made it one of the most esthetic methods available. Other forms of inlay

Above: An Irish "latchet" dress fastener of the 6th-7th centuries, showing lavish use of red enamel and finely worked spirals.

piece of filagree decoration mounted on a relief strip of backing, which is pierced, and mounted over a flat backing plate. The filigree work is held in place by lapping the edges of the wire-around the backing plate, or by stitching or even occasionally riveting it into position. One distinctive feature of late Celtic Irish mctalwork is the crispness of the filigree work, with intricate designs of interwoven gold wires providing a marked contrast to the simplicity of the object being decorated.

Gilding was also practiced, and the surfaces of metal objects were tinned or plated by dipping the metalwork into a pot of molten metal. In tinning, the molten substance is tin mixed with mercury, but a similar mercury gilding technique was used for applying gold or silver gilt finishes, usually onto a bronze surface. If applied correctly, the plated surface is highly resilient. Mixing gold dust with mercury produces a coating that can !>e spread onto the surface with a heated spatula, then the object is reheated to burn off the mercury, which serves as a bonding agent.

Above: Irish Shrine Boss, ad 700-750. Cast from a wax or lead form in bronze and then thickly gilded. The settings once held glass, crystal, or amber ornamentation. At the top is a ring of black niello framing plain gold troughs once filled with panels of filigree.

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