most often associated with Ireland, the word "Celtic" (from
the Greek, keltoi ) actually refers to the larger, dominant
pre-christian culture of Europe north of the Mediterranean.
Celtic society and culture first appeared ca. 500 B.C. in the
area of the Danube headwaters, and by the first century B.C.
it encompassed the regions of modern-day Spain, France, Belgium,
Germany, Central Europe, the Balkans, as well as the British
Isles. By the tenth century A.D., with the exception of Brittany
in northern France, Celtic civilization had contracted, surviving
primarily in Ireland, Wales, and the highlands of Scotland
- the so-called Celtic Fringe.
term Celtic, in modern usage, also refers to the family of languages
spoken by these earliest Indo-European inhabitants of northern Europe.
Irish Gaelic is considered the most archaic surviving form of spoken
Celtic. Irish emerged as a written language with the advent of Christianity
sometime in the early fifth century A.D., and as such it stands as
the oldest and longest literary vernacular tradition outside of the
classical world. A beautiful and sonorous language once spoken by
millions, Irish is now spoken as a living, daily language by no more
than 25,000 Irish men and women.
also refers to a distinctive style of European art. The earliest
clear expression of Celtic art is found in the pottery and
metalwork artifacts of the Hallstatt culture ( flourished ca.
8th and 9th centuries B.C. ) . A later form emerges with the
beautifully intricate and accomplished metalwork of the La
Tene period ( flourished ca. 450 B.C.). Despite a long and
powerful tradition of insularity, Celtic art did display elements
of syncretism. It is this marriage of Celtic vision with earlier
elements of indigenous Irish iconography and the later assimilation
of Romano-Christian culture that produced what many consider
to be the crowning glory of Irish Celtic art.
of Kells" is a Gospel manuscript created in approximately the
9th century A.D. in the British Isles. This Book, along with
The Lindisfarne Gospels are truly amazing examples of early
western art and are arguably the finest surviving illuminated
manuscripts in the whole of Europe. The attention to detail
in lettering and illumination, largely the handiwork of Irish
monks, is nothing less than astonishing. It is, perhaps, the
characteristically Irish elements of playfulness ( both grotesque
and beautiful ), combined with a sense of freewheeling invention,
color and fantasy that provide such vivid evocations of the
early Middle Ages. Certainly, few examples of medieval art
present such a gleeful and unselfconscious blurring of the
dividing line between the Christian world and the slowly fading
script used throughout the pages of the "Book of Kells" is
known as "half-uncial". This type of lettering is a transitional
step between Roman Capitals and the "lower case" lettering
later found in medieval manuscripts. Additionally contained
within many of the illuminated pages are square capitals
or "Rustic" Anglo-Saxon majuscules which playfully interact
with their surrounding imagery.