The Celtic Hoqrs

Creations in miniature

Many consider this chalice to be a parallel of artistic perfection to the Book of Kelts (see pages 162-163). It was obviously intended to be a

Celtic Culture

Thanks to the depredations of Vikings, some of the greatest works of Celtic metalsmiths are still available to us today after their creators and owners buried their valuables to secure them from Viking theft. Pieces such as the Tara Brooch, the Ardagh Chalice, and items from the Derrynaflan Hoard are rightly regarded as the epitome of Celtic artistry.

n~~j ronically, in later years, settled Vikings I themselves buried valuables to hide them in times of unrest, and these hoards, or chaches, also included Celtic objects. The practice of hoarding was particularly prevalent in Celtic Ireland during the period of Viking raids. The Derrynaflan Hoard—named after the site of its discovery in 1980, at Derrynaflan, County-

returned to reclaim their possessions, they very probably met a violent end.

The objects are of a variety of types, dates, and origins: a silver chalice, a silver paten with an accompanying stand, a plain bronze basin, and an elaborate gilded bronze sieve or strainer ladle. The chalice—a poorer piece than the paten, with crude ornamentation and clearly crafted by a metalworker who was not an expert in his field—probably dates from the mid-eighth century, while the rest of the objects were crafted c.700. Although unexceptional, it is still a striking object, as is the strainer ladle, which boasts gold and enamel decoration around its rim.

The chalice itself is similar to another example found at Ardagh in County Limerick. But by comparison with the Derrynaflan Chalice, the Ardagh Chalice exemplifies the finest of Celtic ornamental metalwork of the Celtic Renaissance period.

Creations in miniature

Many consider this chalice to be a parallel of artistic perfection to the Book of Kelts (see pages 162-163). It was obviously intended to be a

Above: The Tara Brooch (c.mid-7th century) represents the peak of sophistication in Celtic metalwork and ornamentation.

Tipperary—was found near an extant medieval church, which replaced one that was once part of a Celtic monastic settlement.

Although the exact reason the hoard was buried is unknown, it is considered likely that it was hidden sometime during the late ninth century. The owners were probably monks from the important monastic site where the found was made. Since the monks never liturgical object, and is composed of two quite plain bowls made from silver, one inverted on top of the other, and held together with a cast gilt-bronze collar. Two handles are mounted on the bowl, and these joints are decorated with miUefiori-style medallions of embossed copper and silver with eloborate enameling, and fixed to the bowl by plaques enlivened by yellow, red, blue, and green glass studs. A decorative band

Ardagh Chalice PanelsArdagh Chalice Panels

Left: The Ardagh Chalice displays a calm sanctity offset by exuberant decoration. It is also a superb example of the art of the late Celtic metalworker.

circles the rim consisting of ten panels. The panels, separated by raised decorated studs, art-incised with intricate gold filigree patterns, and a similar band encircles the base. Circular medallions on either side of the bowl add a powerful decorative touch to the chalice.

Perhaps the other most vibrant piece of Celtic Renaissance metakvork is the so-called Tara Brooch, which was actually found near the River Boync, County Mcath. Even by today's mechanical standards, the decoration on this brooch is astonishing (it is reproduced here at actual size). This superb piece of Celtic jewelry is based around a closed cast silver circle. On both its front and back a series of frames hold filigree decoration and gilt chip carvings (granulation), while a pair of enamel circles, glass and amber studs, and a sunken spiral pattern complete the striking decoration of the small object.

The brooch was worn on a tunic, probably joined together over the shoulder by a safety chain, part of which can still Ik- seen. Birds and mythical beasts are packed into every space, recalling earlier La Tene styles and linking its design with that of the manuscript illuminations in the Lindisfarne Gospels (see pages 160—161).

A similarly exquisite brooch was recovered at Hunterston in Ayrshire, Scotland. This latter piece carries Scandinavian names scratched into its underside, reflecting the value these pieces had to Norse raiders. Numerous other examples of Celtic Irish metalwork were recovered from sites in Norway, where they had been taken as plunder.

Like the Ardagh Chalice, the Derrynaflan hoard was not a uniform set of metal objects, such as a Communion set. Indeed, such unified collections were rare. Its collective importance lies in its representation of the liturgical objects used by a prosperous Celtic church near the height of the Celtic Renaissance.


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