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Celtic Metalwork


Dee Mc

on 22 May 2014

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Transcript of Celtic Metalwork


As well as worship and prayer,
each monk had a role
within the monastery.

Some monks studied...
...some farmed...
...some cooked...
...some wove cloth...

...some did
...and others
made beautiful
works of art.
some very skilled monks
made decorated metal objects.
Skilled metal workers made jewellery
and things such as covers
for the most special Gospel books...
The Book of Kells…
… as well as making other objects used in the most important building in the monastery...
… the church.
why metal?
Metal has always been important
in Britain and Ireland.
(which began over 7000 years ago and lasted until the Bronze Age)
... the Bronze Age

(c. 2000 BC – 700 BC)
...and the Iron Age
(c. 700 BC to 43 AD)
...metal was used
to make weapons
and tools.
When the Celts-
who were well-known
for being fierce warriors...
...arrived in Britain and Ireland
from Central Europe
(in around 500 BC)...
...they brought
their language
and culture.

Life was very different
in Celtic and Medieval
Ireland and Britain...
People lived in small farming communities and had to defend themselves from raids on their towns by other tribes of people.
Communities had a ‘pecking order’...
...with slaves or hostages
at the bottom...
...then peasants and soldiers...
... then nobles...
...and tribal kings at the top.
Both men and women wore jewellery
to show their wealth.
Jewellery and metalwork were very expensive because they could only be made by very skilled people and were often made using gold, silver and precious stones.
Artists and craftsmen were
highly respected in Celtic Society.

Their crafted metal and art
was full of patterns, spirals and animals.
The Celts were a Pagan people.
Nature and animals were very important to the Celts and featured greatly in their art and craft.
The Celts believed that every tree, bush, flower and river had a God living in it, and animals were important symbols.
Nature and animals were very important to the Celts and featured greatly in their art and craft.
When Christianity arrived in Ireland, some of the Celtic designs that people were familiar with were then used to tell Bible stories and tell people about Christianity.
What did metalworkers make?
We know that from early times (2200 - 1800 BC) gold found in river beds throughout Ireland was used to make jewellery.
found in 1896 on farmland near Limavady, Northern Ireland.
Broighter Collar
(1st century BC)
Today there is still gold in the hills near Omagh (Co. Tyrone)!
Gold and silver jewellery
like the Broighter collar
(1st Century BC)
and the ‘Tara’ brooch
(8th Century AD)
would have been made
for important people to wear-
just like today…

The Tara Brooch was made from silver and decorated with gold, silver, copper, amber and glass.
It is covered in tiny gold designs,
including long-beaked birds!
The torc was a sign of nobility and importance.
A torc was an important piece of jewellery worn by the Celts. It was a neck ring made from a metal rod (sometimes twisted)- either bronze or gold, depending on the wealth of the wearer.
Gospel Book Covers
In around 1006 AD, the cover was stolen from the Book of Kells.

The cover has never been found but it was likely decorated with gold and gems.
Metal objects made in monasteries
around the time
of the Book of Kells

Ardagh Chalice ( 8th Century AD)
Derrynaflan paten (8th Century AD)
Kells Crozier (C. 8/9 century AD)
Bell shrine of St Patrick
(8/9 Century AD)
Where did the designs come from?
La Tene is a style of decoration. It can be identified from its swirls and knot work.
It had been around for many years before the Book of Kells was made in the 8th/9th Century...
Entrance stone, Newgrange (c.3200 BC)
...or before Columba founded monasteries
in Ireland and Britain in the 6th Century…
We think people
began to draw
in the La Tene style
in Europe
in around 450 BC.

People making beautiful metal objects with La Tene spirals and knotwork inspired other artists.
Artists in Ireland and Britain mastered the designs
and made them their own, creating
beautiful works that are still famous today.
The Book of Kells
(8th/9th Century) is an impressive example of how artists used the La Tene style.
How was metal art made?
Skilled metalworkers would have used different metals in lots of different ways to make a single finished piece.
Clay moulds were made...
Often the main part of the object was cast, then gold or silver wire designs were added, sometimes along with jewels, to the surface.
...molten metal was poured into these...
...finally, applique ornamentation (like wire & jewels) was added to the surface.
Artists making metalwork
would have used templates to help them.
To create the complicated designs they would have used tools like a compass, ruler and dividers.
Metalwork was very important
and needed a lot of skill.
The beauty of early medieval metalwork inspired other artists who were creating illuminated manuscripts and stone crosses…
Hunterston brooch
Other art inspired by metalwork
Irish High Crosses
High crosses
were important symbols
in early Christian Ireland.
They are usually found
outside a monastery.
The carved stones are decorated with Celtic designs and often show scenes from the Bible. We think the stories on these stones were probably used to teach Christianity.
The decoration carved into them seems to be inspired by metal objects from the time.
The triple-spiral decoration on the South Cross at Ahenny in Co. Tipperary can also be seen in the ‘Tara’ brooch and the Book of Kells.
detail from
South cross

Interlace was a pattern,
seen in the Book of Kells,
that was also very common
on High Crosses.
ruler & dividers
Detail from Portrait of John page, Book of Kells
art of the Book of Kells
and other Celtic illuminated manuscripts,
can be traced back to some of the designs and patterns found in very special & important pieces of early medieval Irish and Scottish
metal work
(e.g. from 7th Century AD)
During the Copper Age
Chi Rho page (from The Book of Kells)
All photographs from the Book of Kells
© By kind permission of The Board of Trinity College Dublin
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