The Onigins of CeLtic At

Patterns evident in late Bronze ¿\ge metalwork of the Urnfield period were repeated during the llallstatt Celtic period of the early Iron Age, and their origins can he traced back even to Neolithic times. Typical forms of proto-Celtic decoration include geometric patterns and animal motifs, and these remained in constant use throughout the Iron Age that followed. Kxamplcs can be found on bronze swords, horse furnishings, and on votive offerings.

Below: The Trundholm Sun Car was deposited in a Danish peat bog in about the 12th century bc. The representation of the sun was popular in early Celtic art.

Ionic graves of the I 'mfield period | foreshadow the lavishly supplied burial chambers and graves of the true Celtic periods. Bronze items found in graves dating from 1300-1000 BC are decorated with geometric patterns, such as a breastplate left as a funerary offering at Fillinges in southeastern France. A similar example found at Marmesse in north eastern France has decorative circles crudely resembling the contours of the male chest, and is decorated with a linear trim of two rows of small raised circles, each delineated by outer bands of even smaller dots.

A common ornamental theme in Bronze Age Europe was the seasonal cycle, a major influence on an agrarian society. Another was the animals and birds which surrounded these pre-Celtic people, particularly domestic livestock. Examples from Urnfield period sites in Hungary include horses, pigs, sheep, and dogs. Wild animals were also depicted, particularly boars and bears. About 1500 BC these Urnfield craftsmen began to experiment with depictions of mythical beasts, human beings, and hybrid creatures which were partly human, partly animal. This was a period when a small degree of interaction was taking place

Urnfield Culture ArtCeltic Bronze Age Art

between the Bronze Age cultures of central Kurope and those of the Mediterranean basin.

Artistic models encountered to the south and east of Europe may have influenced this new realism or surrealism. A noticeable feature was the depiction of bird-men, birds with human faces. It is unclear whether this had any religious significance, but it predates a trend found in later Celtic art, where the transformation of man into animal or vice versa appears to have been a recurrent theme.

Elusive meaning

A bronze object discovered in a bog at Trundholm in Denmark dates from about 1200 BC, and was possibly a votive offering. It consists of a "sun car"; a six-wheeled cart carrying a gilded disk, which most probably represents the sun. The sun itself is decorated with geometric swirls, while a lifelike standing pony or small horse surmounts the front of the cart. Although the exact meaning of this piece is unclear, evidence from stone circles and burial chaml>ers provides clear proof of the importance of the sun in Bronze Age European society. This decoration of bronze and even gold objects with geometric patterns is evident in other less spectacular examples of Bronze

Age metalwork. Linear patterns, concentric circles, and triangular designs appear to have been the most common. This curvilinear ornamentation is also encountered in later Celtic art.

Two of the most spectacular pieces of artwork dating from the Urnfield period are bronze-vessels shaped to resemble ducks or geese. They were found in the Carpathian mountains, and have been dated to between 1200 and 800 BC. One is evidently a depiction of a mythical bird, since it combines horns and a beak. The other is a reasonably accurate representation of a duck with a graceful neck and beak. It stands on its own webbed feet.

Widespread iron-working began around 700 BC, and the blurred line between the end of the Bronze Age and the start of the Iron Age mean that there is really a period of transition from the Urnfield culture to the Hallstatt culture. The line between the two cultures was drawn where it was for the convenience of museum curators and archaeologists. The continuity of the art of the proto-Celtic and early Celtic periods is a clear indication that this is a purely-arbitrary dividing line.

Left: Part of the funerary objects recovered from Hallstatt in Austria, this bronze container was decorated with a running frieze of animals, and a geometric pattern that suggests a Grecian influence.


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