As a topic for debate among present-day descendants of the Celts, Celtic art is as fraught with controversy and conflicting theories as any other. For example, if you investigate this subject for any length of time, you’ll run across people who are emphatic that the interlaced knots and spiral designs so closely associated with Celtic art are not in fact Celtic at all; these same people would have us believe that attribution for the bulk of the Celtic designs featuring animals rightfully belongs to the Vikings. They could be right of course, but then again they may not be.
The most revered of Celtic art masterpieces is the Book of Kells (see illustration), an illuminated manuscript produced circa 6th to 9th century by Anglo-Saxon Columban monks with close ties to the monastic community at Iona. This book, owned by and on display (one page at a time) in the library of Trinity College in Dublin, presents Biblical gospels richly illustrated (some places in gold leaf) with representations of the Bible's cast of characters, and embellished with the interlaced knotwork commonly identified with the Celts.
Three enduring symbols dominate the rich worlds of Celtic art, illuminated manuscripts, jewelry and metalwork. These traditional, symbolic forms are the Celtic Knot, the Celtic Cross and the Claddagh. Each has a different origin, and a distinctive symbolism and meaning. Click on the links below to learn more.
Celtic knotwork or Celtic interlace comprises one of the most enduring motifs in Celtic jewelry and art. The delicate twists and turns, consisting of complete loops with no beginning and no end, are ubiquitous throughout the culture.
The Celtic Cross – a cross with arms of equal length encircled by a ring – is another Celtic symbol that possesses an array of possible meanings and interpretations.
Fede, or "Faith rings," of which the Claddagh Ring is one, date from the times of the ancient Romans, and were popular throughout Europe in the Middle Ages.