THE CELTIC BROOCH

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In order to understand the condition of the arts in the more remote parts of the British Isles, subsequent to the introduction of Christianity towards the middle of the fifth century, one must remember the situation created by the invasions of the Teutonic tribes, whereby nearly the whole of northern and western Europe relapsed into paganism, while Ireland and the western highlands of Scotland alone remained faithful to the Christian Church.

During the earlier centuries of this period, the designs and processes of the Celtic crafts, nurtured in these parts of the British Isles by the Church, undisturbed by invaders, and free from outside influences, were brought to a state of high perfection.

The introduction of Christianity into Ireland by St. Patrick, who doubtless brought with him European craftsmen, had greatly encouraged the production of metalwork; and though changes in design resulted, the spiral patterns characteristic of Celtic art were retained for a considerable length of time—longer in fact than in any other quarters.

It is unfortunate, however, that while a number of objects of early Christian art from Ireland and the Scottish highlands have survived, there is scarcely a single article of jewelry which is prior in date to about the ninth century a.d.

The chief personal ornaments belonging to this later period, i.e. the ninth century onward, are a number of remarkable objects known as Celtic brooches. The Celtic brooch, as far as its origin and development are concerned, shows no kinship with the bow or disc shaped brooches already described, though, like them, it probably originated among the primitive Celts of the Danubian region.

One theory derives its evolution from what is known as a ring-pin, that is a simple pin, the head of which, primarily solid, was afterwards pierced and fitted with a ring, which in course of time increased in size and became highly ornamented.

Another theory traces the Celtic brooch from a combination of a long pin with the ancient dress fasteners— penannular rings furnished with knobs—such as are found in prehistoric graves, and are even now worn by the natives of West Africa.

This penannular brooch has been found not only in Scotland and Ireland, but as far east as Livonia, and is actually still in use in Algeria at the present day. Its peculiarity consists in the great size of its pin—one in the British Museum measures 22| inches—the length of the pin being supposed to have corresponded to the rank of its owner.

In some of the earlier forms the ring is of the same breadth all round, and merely cut across in one place for the passage of the pin. But as a rule this penannular ring terminates in knobs, and when the pin which travels round the ring has pierced the portions of the garments it is intended to unite, the ring is pushed a little to one side and prevented by the terminal knobs from becoming unloosened.- The developments in the form of this brooch show its evolution from a penannular to an annular ring.

In some—probably the earliest—examples, the ring and the head of the pin terminate in bulbous knobs, or in spherical. Such long stout pins could only have served to fasten coarse, loosely woven fabrics. – J. R. Allen describes the exact function of this brooch, and illustrates its use in ancient and modern times.

In others the ends of the rings and the pin-heads are broadened, in order to provide space for an elaborate surface decoration of interlaced work and zoo morphic and anthropomorphic designs similar to those upon the Irish manuscripts.

Finally, the opening is closed and the ring becomes annular. The finest examples of these brooches are preserved in the museum of the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin, the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland in Edinburgh, and the British Museum.

Among the earliest—which are not, however, prior to the later Anglo-Saxon period, and make their appearance about the ninth century—are those with a plain penannular ring, formed of a solid cylindrical rod of silver, terminating with bulbous knobs furnished with expansions, and often covered with a peculiar prickly ornamentation like thistle-heads.

Specimens of this style of brooch have been found in Ireland, Scotland, and in the north of England. The simplest of the silver penannular brooches with discoidal terminations in the museum at Edinburgh is one from Croy in Inverness-shire. It has ends expanding into circular discs with amber settings. The most elaborate, one of two known as the Cadboll brooches, found at Rogart in Sutherland-shire, has four raised heads of birds, two upon the circumference of each disc, and two upon the ring.

The collection in the Royal Irish Academy contains several splendid brooches of a similar type, notably the Kilmainham brooch from Kilmainham, Co. Dublin, the surface of which is ornamented with compartments of thin plates of gold tooled with interlaced patterns. The terminations of the penannular ring soon become so expanded that they fill up exactly half the ring. Upon these flattened plaques, which have just space enough between them for the pin to pass, is a serpent.

The presence of the trumpet pattern upon the backs of these two famous brooches determines their date as prior to the eleventh century; for the old Celtic pattern disappears from brooches and from most Irish and all Scottish metalwork after the year 1000 a.d., and is succeeded by varieties of interlaced work and zoomor-phic designs.

The later Celtic brooches differ besides in form, for the pin is longer in proportion to the size of the ring, and its head is hinged upon a constriction of the ring, which itself becomes partly filled up. The Celtic brooch is distinct in itself, and does not merge into any other form.

It disappears entirely about the thirteenth century, and is succeeded by a totally different type of brooch, which belongs to the ornaments of the later Middle Ages.

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Author: connielimon2014

Bead Jewelry Artisan, mother of one daughter and grandmother of two grandsons, daughter of Korean War Veteran.

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