Early Celtic or La Tène art

Early Celtic art is the popular name given to the decorative styles of Europe, from Ireland to Romania, from 500 BC to AD 100. It is more correctly called La Tène art, after the place in Switzerland where many objects with this style of decoration were found in the nineteenth century. Inspired by formal motifs imported from Greece and Italy, European metalworkers rapidly evolved their own abstract flowing patterns. Early Celtic art features stylized faces and entwined plant ornament; even precise patterns such as those on the bronze Battersea shield reveal owl-like faces. Although in the European tradition, metalwork produced in the British Isles between the sixth century BC and AD 100 has its own distinctive style.

The art is one of display in warfare, personal ornament and possessions. Many fine pieces accompanied their owners to the grave, and others were carefully deposited in the ground in hoards. A remarkable number of weapons have been recovered from lakes, rivers and bogs: evidence of water-cults, whose details are obscure since the Britons of this period left no written history. Some of the finest examples of British art were dredged from the River Thames in and around London. Other rivers have yielded treasures such as the magnificent Witham Shield, from the River Witham, near Lincoln, swords and scabbards from the River Nene near Peterborough, and a unique bronze shield found in a former watercourse at Chertsey, Surrey, in 1985.

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