Once tribes of fierce warriors, called the Keltoi by the Greeks, ranged over a goodly portion of Europe. Eventually the wild Celtic tribes were pushed north and west by the disciplined armies of mighty Rome, leaving behind traces of a culture whose incredibly beautiful art seems at odds with their fierce nature. Initially found primarily in metal work such as the Battersea Shield and the Tara Broach, the intricate knotwork, spirals, and zoomorphics found their way into other media. (See the Battersea Shield HERE and the Tara Broach HERE at World of Celtic Art.)
The Illuminated Manuscripts
Of all the treasures left by the ancients, the illuminated manuscripts are often considered the zenith of art. The Book of Kells, housed in the Library at Trinty College Dublin, is thought by many to be the finest illuminated manuscript extant. Certainly Kells, along with the Book of Durrow and the Lindisfarne Gospels, contain some of the best examples of the knotwork, key patterns, spirals and zoomorphics so typical of Celtic art.
Left: From the Book of Kells, folio 27v - "Evangelical Symbols" To see a larger version, click HERE
Kells, Durrow and Lindisfarne, along with other illuminated manuscripts, have provided a rich source of inspiration for the revival of interest in Celtic art. That interest in things Celtic extend into the world of woodcarving.
We now have a wide variety of books and web sites available to provide history, instruction and examples of fine Celtic art; further on in this article you'll find an extensive list of useful links.
Folios from the Book of Kells on the WOM web site used with the kind permission of Trinity College Dublin. More Kells folios may be found here: Monogram Page folio 34r - St John's Gospel folio 292r - St Matthew's Gospel folio 29r
To see examples from the Book of Durrow visit the Manuscripts, Books, and Maps website; to see samples from the Lindisfarne Gospels visit the British Library website.
For an index of significant illuminated manuscripts, visit Celtic Studies Resources page on Illuminated Manuscript Information.
Learning to Draw Celtic Knotwork
While there are a multitude of sources of Celtic art in print and on the web, learning to draw your own knotwork designs allows greater flexability in your carving designs. Drawing knotwork can also be a lot of fun once you have some understanding of the methods involved. Here are some classic print volumes:
Celtic Art: The Methods of Construction by George Bain
While George Bain does propose methods of construction for Celtic art, the real value of Bain's book is the significant collection of examples of art drawn from Kells, Lindisfarne and other sources. You can spend hours looking through this volume, because almost every page has something that "would make a great carving." A "got-to-have" book.
Celtic Knotwork by Ian Bain
George Bain's son Ian takes his father's work a step further by developing a more useable method of constructings knotwork. It takes a bit of work and practice, but once you master Ian Bain's methods you'll be able to draw knotwork to fit almost any size and shape. Another "got-to-have."
For a quick view of Bain's method, visit Ian Bain's knotwork method drawing at House Ravenscroft
How To Draw Celtic Knotwork - A Practical Handbook by Andy Sloss
Andy Sloss teachs you to draw knotwork "in under an hour." While the Bain's method centers around the use of a drawn grid, Sloss proposes the use of a defined set of modules that vary in how lines enter and leave the module (typically a square.) He claims that with eight different shapes you can draw almost any Celtic knot, complex or otherwise. It seems a bit more complex to this observer, but his book is worth a good look.
Celtic Design - Illuminated Letters by Aidan Meehan
In this volume (one of a series) Meehan focuses on alphabets and illuminates letters, with a bit of history, construction methods and a great collection of examples drawn from a variety of sources.
Celtic Art collections by Courtney Davis
Davis has drawn a large number of books of Celtic art; click HERE to visit his website
Internet Resources on for drawing knotwork
Other Resources for Celtic Art
Celtic Art may be found almost everywhere these days, and the internet is not exception. The Celtic Art Resource File has lots of useful links in these areas:
Click HERE to go to the Celtic Art Resource File