Defining Celtic Art

A definition:
Shall we start with Wikipedia?

“Celtic art is the art associated with the peoples known as Celts; those who spoke the Celtic languages in Europe from pre-history through to the modern period, as well as the art of ancient peoples whose language is uncertain, but have cultural and stylistic similarities with speakers of Celtic languages.”

Actually, I kinda like this one. It has a lot going for it. I’m not completely sold, but we can start here. It does have a few flaws. First, you need the definition of ‘Celtic’ or ‘Celts.’ Then, perhaps, you have to be in tune with the science of historic linguistics and the ability of specialists to tell you when and where certain languages were spoken. And what does ‘cultural and stylistic similarities’ mean?

For some, Celtic art is only the works of pre-Roman Celts. Some feel that subsequent degradation of the clear Celtic style through influence of Roman and later Christian cultures creates something decidedly non-Celtic. Some are only acquainted with the traditions of the Christian times: the Book of Kells, the crosses of Clonmacnois, the Ardagh Chalice. And some are only familiar with the green trappings of St. Patrick’s day, the kilts and bagpipes of Scotland or the spoons of Wales. It’s ok. We welcome the uninitiated. Just don’t bring green beer.

The fact is, that much of the common and popular knowledge of Celtic art and even the definition of ‘Celt’ is based on works that came out in the 40’s. We’ve come a long way, baby, and new information is not getting out there. Stay with me.

Saying that there is any single, representational Celtic style is incorrect. So I will just refuse to address that particular ‘Pre-Roman is more Celtic’ reasoning. Celtic art was influenced in many ways by many other cultures at many different times and developed in different ways throughout the areas recognized as Celtic. It’s my blog. I mentioned your reasoning. I find it woefully inadequate so I will not bother my readers with it.

Why bother with it all? Isn’t Celtic art just art made by Celts? Well, sure. But during the rise of nationalism throughout the 1800’s and 1900’s, artists of Celtic ethnicity identified themselves by their national identity, as ‘Irish’ or ‘Welsh’ rather than Celtic. Irish art has come to encompass the range of styles and techniques one would expect of a modern country, yet the term Celtic art still hovers around the idea of historic and predominantly linear, non-representational design.

Celtic art is art done by Celtic speakers from ancient to modern times. Seems way too narrow. There are artists utilizing the methods and symbolism of Celtic art today. And they aren’t always Celtic speakers. It is a growing thing. The history of Celtic art provides roots, a sense of depth. For many of us, the designs evoke a sense of rhythm, a resonance like music. Modern artists use individual elements of Celtic design like musicians use notes. It is in the skill of the individual artist to create a composition that sings to an audience.

Sooo…..

We can start with some of the Wikipedia stuff. But we’ll make some changes. Celtic art is art created by ancient cultures recognized as Celtic through archeological and/or linguist evidence. It is also art based on the designs, motifs and visual impressions which are recognized thusly as historically Celtic.

Did you see what I did there? I used the word ‘thusly’ but I also added ‘archeological’ evidence. Did Wikipedia do that? No. Does that seem odd, now that you think about it? It should. It explains why Wikipedia had to add the part about cultures “whose language is uncertain.” I didn’t have to do that.

Ah. Outdated views of Celts. I have my evidence. The next post will cover the fads of the historian and how Wikipedia is perpetuating a stereotype.

 


Bloddeuwedd of Wales (bW)

The fourth branch of the Mabinogi tells the tale of Bloddeuwedd, (pronounced Blod-Eye-With) the flower maiden.

Llew Llaw Gyffes was the son of Arianhrod and Math. Arianhrod was unhappy with the presence of the child in court, and placed three curses upon him. Some say that she was unhappy because the child represented the shame of her husband calling her virginity into question, and requiring it to be tested magically. Others state that there is evidence in the story of the child being the son of her brother, Gwydion, and thus a reminder of the shame of incest. As the stories are collected from older sources, compiled in the medieval period, it is possible that the incest aspect, found in other Celtic tales, was written out and a more medieval conceit of a challenge to virginity was overlaid.

When the child was born, Gwydion took him away from court and had him fostered. Without a name, he was brought to the court. His mother cursed him to remain unnamed unless she named him. Gwydion tricked her into naming him. She cursed him to remain without a weapon until she armed him. Gwydion tricked her into providing him with a weapon.

She cursed him to have no wife of the races of the earth. Math, and the ever-resourceful warlock, Gwydion, created Bloddeuwedd from the flowers of oak, broom and meadowsweet, and nine elements. She was beautiful, and her name translates as ‘flower face’.

Bloddeuwedd did not wish to be the wife of Llew Llaw Gyffes, and she conspired with her secret lover, the huntsman Gronw Pebr to slay her husband.

For all his curses, Llew Law Gyffes was hard to kill. He could not be slain by day or night, not indoors or outdoors, not on dry land or water, not while riding or walking, not clothed and not naked, nor by any weapon lawfully made.

Bloddeuwedd was able to convince her husband to show her how this could possibly be accomplished. He told her he could be killed at twilight, wrapped in a net, with a foot on a cauldron and a foot on a goat, and stabbed with a spear forged over the course of a year during the time everyone was at mass. Some translators prefer to state that he could only be slain with his own spear.

Gronw Pebr waited with the spear, and stabbed him. He was not slain, but shifted shape into an eagle and fled the scene. Gwydion returned him to human shape and healed him.

For his part, Gronw Pebr was slain in the manner he would have slain Llew Llaw Gyffes. Bloddeuwedd was turned into an owl by Gwydion, so that she would never be greeted by those of the daylight again.

No one seems to know if Llew Llaw Gyffes ever married again…

While an illustration of the assassination attempt would definitely stretch the skills of any artist, and I may try it at a later date, I am concentrating on the flower face and owl aspects of Bloddeuwedd’s beauty.

Oak flowers, meadowsweet and broom. Let’s see how we can manage that. I plan to lay it out on a scratchboard surface, using a high contrast/stylized floral design. This one will probably be professionally reproduced and I will hand color it myself.

KJN

 


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