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Ancient Celtic Sculpture Timeline

Ancient Celtic Sculpture Timeline

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  • c. 600 BCE

    The Hirschlanden Warrior, a sandstone representation of a Celtic Warrior from Ludwigsburg, Germany, is made.

  • c. 600 BCE

    The Strettweg Cult Wagon, a miniature bronze Celtic wagon, is made.

  • c. 500 BCE

    The Celtic Pfalzfeld Pillar, a stone four-sided column showing human heads, is made.

  • 450 BCE - 400 BCE

    The 'Prince of Glauberg', a sandstone statue of a Celtic warrior, is made.

  • c. 200 BCE

    The Celtic sandstone Mšecké Žehrovice Head is made.

  • c. 200 BCE

    The ‘Tarasque de Noves’, a Celtic limestone statue of a dog eating a human, is made.

  • c. 100 BCE

    The bronze figure known as the 'God of Bouray', likely a representation of the Celtic Cernunnos, is made.

  • c. 100 BCE

    The granite Turoe Stone from Celtic Galway is made.

  • 50 BCE - 100 CE

    The Stanwick Horse Mask, a bronze decorative mask from Celtic Britain, is made.

Celtic art

Celtic art is 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.

Celtic art is a difficult term to define, covering a huge expanse of time, geography and cultures. A case has been made for artistic continuity in Europe from the Bronze Age, and indeed the preceding Neolithic age however archaeologists generally use "Celtic" to refer to the culture of the European Iron Age from around 1000 BC onwards, until the conquest by the Roman Empire of most of the territory concerned, and art historians typically begin to talk about "Celtic art" only from the La Tène period (broadly 5th to 1st centuries BC) onwards. [1] Early Celtic art is another term used for this period, stretching in Britain to about 150 AD. [2] The Early Medieval art of Britain and Ireland, which produced the Book of Kells and other masterpieces, and is what "Celtic art" evokes for much of the general public in the English-speaking world, is called Insular art in art history. This is the best-known part, but not the whole of, the Celtic art of the Early Middle Ages, which also includes the Pictish art of Scotland. [3]

Both styles absorbed considerable influences from non-Celtic sources, but retained a preference for geometrical decoration over figurative subjects, which are often extremely stylised when they do appear narrative scenes only appear under outside influence. [4] Energetic circular forms, triskeles and spirals are characteristic. Much of the surviving material is in precious metal, which no doubt gives a very unrepresentative picture, but apart from Pictish stones and the Insular high crosses, large monumental sculpture, even with decorative carving, is very rare. Possibly the few standing male figures found, like the Warrior of Hirschlanden and the so-called "Lord of Glauberg", were originally common in wood.

Also covered by the term is the visual art of the Celtic Revival (on the whole more notable for literature) from the 18th century to the modern era, which began as a conscious effort by Modern Celts, mostly in the British Isles, to express self-identification and nationalism, and became popular well beyond the Celtic nations, and whose style is still current in various popular forms, from Celtic cross funerary monuments to interlace tattoos. Coinciding with the beginnings of a coherent archaeological understanding of the earlier periods, the style self-consciously used motifs closely copied from works of the earlier periods, more often the Insular than the Iron Age. Another influence was that of late La Tène "vegetal" art on the Art Nouveau movement.

Typically, Celtic art is ornamental, avoiding straight lines and only occasionally using symmetry, without the imitation of nature central to the classical tradition, often involving complex symbolism. Celtic art has used a variety of styles and has shown influences from other cultures in their knotwork, spirals, key patterns, lettering, zoomorphics, plant forms and human figures. As the archaeologist Catherine Johns put it: "Common to Celtic art over a wide chronological and geographical span is an exquisite sense of balance in the layout and development of patterns. Curvilinear forms are set out so that positive and negative, filled areas and spaces form a harmonious whole. Control and restraint were exercised in the use of surface texturing and relief. Very complex curvilinear patterns were designed to cover precisely the most awkward and irregularly shaped surfaces". [5]

Ancient Celtic Sculpture Timeline - History

The history of art is the academic school of study based on art and its developmental history as well as stylistic context (format, design, look, genre). This includes large forms such as architecture as well as minor forms such as decorative objects.

Art history can be studied many ways and is broken down into multiple coexisting disciplines. Factions include but are not limited to connoisseurs, critics, and academic art historians.

Prehistoric Art

Prehistoric art comprises of all arts and crafts that are produced in cultures that lack the development of written language and record-keeping. Art from a culture progresses from being described as prehistoric when it either develops writing and record-keeping or has established significant connection with another culture that has.

Ancient Near East

The development of art in the ancient world societies would be characteristically different than it was in prehistoric societies. Textbook art history in the ancient near east would include art of Mesopotamian, Sumerian, Akkadian, Neo-Sumerian, Babylonian, Hittite, Elamite, Assyrian, Neo-Babylonian, Achaemid, Persian, and Sassanian societies.

Ancient Egyptian Art

This art category includes art that belong to the civilization located in Nile Valley from 5000 BC to 300 AD. Egyptian artwork was very stylized and symbolic in this period, with painting and sculpture being the most popular art. The quality of Egyptian art throughout the ancient period was observed to be of high quality, and remained quite stable throughout 3000 BC to 300 AD with little influence from outside cultures.

Greek Art

Greek art mainly specialized in architecture and sculpture. Greek art influenced both the West and the East. Not only did art in the Roman Empire draw Greek influence, but to the East, Alexander the Great’s conquests facilitated centuries of contact between Indian, Central Asian, and Greek cultures. Greco-Buddhism art was one legacy of this interaction. The highly technical expectations of the Greeks would influence art in Europe for many generations. In the nineteenth century, Greek art traditions dominated the entire western art world.

Roman Art

Roman art spans Ancient Rome as well as the territories of the Roman Empire. While Roman art is believed to have borrowed from Greek art (which it did rely on quite heavily), it also contains elements from Etruscan, Egyptian, and native Italic culture. A prominent historian of Rome, Pliny, wrote that while many art forms advanced during Greek times remained more advanced than Roman art even during Rome’s prominent periods.

Early Christian Art

Early Christian art specifies the artwork produced by Christians in the time frame 100-500. Art before 100 could not be distinguished as Christian without uncertainty. Beyond 500, art by Christians portrayed elements of Byzantine art.

Christian art was difficult to track. One of the reasons is that most Christians were persecuted and were restricted from producing works of art. They may also consisted of lower classes, which is reflected by the lack of patronage for art creation. Aside from that, scriptural restrictions disapproved of production of carved wood or stone in the form of an idol. Christians may have bought pagan symbols, but transferred Christians ideology into them.

Byzantine Art

Byzantine art refers to art created in the territories of the Byzantine Empire between the fourth and fifteenth centuries. The Byzantine Empire was the political continuation of the Roman Empire, and therefore the classical artistic heritage is carried on through Byzantine art. Constantinople, the Byzantine capital, was adorned with large amounts of classical sculptures.

The most prominent feature of Byzantine art was that it became more abstract, favoring symbolism rather than realistic representations.

Art in Early Europe

This category includes art from European and Germanic societies before the Christianization of Europe. Some of these include Scythian, Celtic, Iron-Age European, Ango-Saxon, and Viking societies.

Islamic Art

This category encompasses art produced in the seventh century and onwards by people residing in places inhabited or ruled by culturally Islamic populations. Islamic art does not necessarily include only religious art. It also includes elements from other aspects of Islamic society. Some Islamic theologians actively discouraged secular elements in art.

Islamic art includes the extensive use of decorated calligraphy and the use of arabesque, the geometrical repetition of vegetal or floral designs.

Early Medieval Art

Art from Medieval times were mostly religious in focus, funded by influential Church figures such as bishops, abbeys, or wealthy secular patrons. A distinguishing element of Medieval art concerns the lack of realism. With the collapse of the Roman Empire came the loss of the knowledge of realism and perspective drawing. Despite this, art was used during this era to convey religious ideology, and iconic art was oftentimes sufficient for such a task.

Gothic Art

Gothic art followed from a Medieval art progression that grew out of France from the Romanesque art tradition in the mid-twelfth century, spearheaded by the development of Gothic architecture. It grew popular north of the Alps but never quite overtook Italian classical styles. International Gothic developed in the late fourteenth century, developing further until the late fifteenth century. Late Gothic art grew in Germany as well as many areas well into the sixteenth century. Prominent Gothic art include panel-painting, sculpture, illuminated manuscript, fresco, and stained glass.

Renaissance Art in Italy

Early Renaissance art emerged in the Italian city-state of Florence. It began with Donatello and his revival of classical techniques such as contrapposto and subjects such as the unsupported nude. Many artists came after him, studying lost ideas such as Roman architecture. A large count of major artists, such as Brunelleschi, Donatello, Giotto, and Lorenzo Ghiberti worked on the Florence Cathedral.

In the fifteenth century Renaissance art progressed further, being termed the High Renaissance by the sixteenth century. Prominent artists from this era include Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo Buonarroti, and Raffaello Sanzio. While there are no distinct “Renaissance” styles per se during this period, art by High Renaissance masters are all characterized by astounding technical skill. High Renaissance art commanded such authority that they would be used as reference for instruction for many generations to come. Artists could declare divine inspiration, raising the level of art to a status formerly limited to poetry. Artistry would become a respectable profession that it had not been.

Renaissance Art Outside Italy

Renaissance art outside Italy is often referred to as Northern Renaissance, which is refers to the fact that most of Europe outside of Italy is north of it. The realism in art respected in Italy did not influence the North until the late fifteenth century. Gothic influence remained popular even until the onset of Baroque styles. Many northern artists in the sixteenth century travelled to Rome for inspiration, of which often they found in High Renaissance art.

While Italian painters were more partial to Greco-Roman styles, Germanic and Netherlandish art tended to be more religious and mythological in nature. Northern Renaissance art also specialized in genre and landscape painting.

Baroque Art

Baroque art grew during the 17th and 18th centuries. It is considered part of the Counter-Reformation, the movement which sought to reconfigure the Catholic Church as a response to the Protestant Reformation. Baroque art placed great emphasis on high detail and overly ornate decorations. It would develop into Rococo in the mid-18th century, which was even more richly decorated and gaudy. Contempt for such ornateness would eventually inspire Neoclassicism.

18th Century Art

18th century art includes late Baroque in the early 18th century, Rococo in the mid-18th century, Neo-Classicism in the 18th to 19th century, and Romanticism in the late 18th and 19th century. The styles of Baroque and Rococo were highly ornate, and artists of these styles often served kings. Rococo which came after Baroque quickly fell out of favor when Louis XIV passed away. Disgust for him among artists and the public paved the way for the development of Neoclassicism.

Neoclassicists sought to revert to the simpler art of the Renaissance out of their distaste for the grandeur of Baroque and Rococo styles. Some of the most renowned neoclassicists include Canova, Ingres, and Jacques-Louis David.

Romanticism grew out of a certain group of individuals’ rejection of Enlightenment ideas and the art of Neoclassicists. Romantic art focused on the utilization of motion and color to convey emotions, as opposed to the classicist use of Greco-Roman mythology and traditions. Romanticism emphasized portraying the beauty and power of nature.

19th Century Art

Art in the 19th century began with the continuation of Neo-classicism and Romanticism into the mid-century. After that, a new classification of art became popular: modernism. The date 1863 is commonly identified as the beginning of modern art it was the year that Edouard Manet exhibited the painting “Le dejeuner sur l’herbe” in Paris. This is not to say that he is the father of modern art, however, as there were many others also who embarked towards new styles which would all constitute the art period known as modernism.

20th Century Art

20th century art came to be known as modernism, which began in the 19th century. Movements such as Post Impressionism and Art Nouveau from the previous century led to Die Brucke in Germany as well as Fauvism in France. The heart of Die Brucke led to what was called Expressionism which called for the emotions. Kandinsky of Munich led another German group called the Der Blaue Reiter, which associated the blue rider imagery with spiritual/mystical art of the future. Cubism by Picasso rejected the plastic ideas of the Renaissance by introducing multiple dimensions to 2 dimensional images.

Contemporary Art

Contemporary art is most commonly associated with produced since World War II. Exhibitions of contemporary art are typically at museums and other similar art institutions. These places are artist-run and are supported by the likes of awards, grants, prizes, and direct sales of exhibited works.

Contemporary art institutions are often criticized for their exclusivist behaviors, or more specifically, their tendencies to regulate what can or cannot be considered contemporary art. Outsider art, technically contemporary because they are created in present times, might be largely ignored by contemporary art institutions because the artists are self-taught and are therefore working beyond any art historical context.


Printmaking is the process of creating art through printing (typically on paper). Printmaking differs from photography in that it contains an element of original production, as opposed to the reproduction of an image, as in photography. Each print is made to be a unique copy with original qualities lent by the processes of printmaking, which is in contrast to photography in which one copy can be made in many multiples.

Prints are done by transferring ink from premade screens or matrices to paper medium. Examples of matrices are copper or zinc plates, polymer plates for etching and engraving aluminum, stone, or polymer for lithography wooden blocks for wood engravings and woodcuts and linoleum for linocuts.


Photography is the process of creating pictures by allowing radiation to burn on a radiation-sensitive film or image sensors. During the twentieth century people started to advocate and accept photography as fine arts. In the U.S., photographers such as Edward Steichen, John Szarkowski, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston, and F. Holland Day spent their lives promoting photography as a fine arts. This resulted in a movement called Pictorialism, using soft foci for dream-like and romantic-looking photographs. A reaction to this was the advocation of straight photography, which was to photograph objects as they were and not as imitations or representations of other things.

Chinese Art

Art in China dates back as far back as 10,000 BC, comprising of sculptures and simple pottery. Following this period was a series of art dynasties, each lasting as long as a few hundred years. Art in the Republic of China in Taiwan and other overseas Chinese communities can be considered Chinese art because they originate from the culture and heritage of China.

Japanese Art

Japanese art has a long history, starting as early as 10,000 BC all the way until the present. It ranges a variety of styles, including ancient pottery, wooden and bronze sculpture, and inked silk or paper. Modern Japanese art also includes manga, or cartoon.

Historically Japan was vulnerable to sudden onsets of novel and alien ideas, only to be followed by long-lasting eras of isolation and minimal contact with the world outside Japan. Over time the Japanese absorbed and assimilated elements of foreign cultures with their own indigenous aesthetic tastes. In the seventh and eighth centuries Japan developed complex art with the spread of Buddhism. In the ninth century, Japan started to rely less on Chinese influence and developed indigenous art forms. Secular art started to flourish more and more. Until the late fifteenth century both religious and secular art were popular. However, with the Onin War, Japan came under a century of economic, political, and social turmoil. After that, with the emergence of the Tokugawa shogunate state came the decline of religion, and the surviving arts became largely secular.

Art in India

Indian art originates from India in the 3000 BC, ranging towards present time. Compared to Western art, Indian art is more ornate and sensuous. Strong design is characteristic of Indian art both in ancient and modern times.
Indian art is typically categorized into four specific periods:
-Ancient (3500 BC – 1200 AD)
-Islamic ascendancy (1192-1757)
-Colonial (1757-1947)
-Independence and postcolonial (post-1947)

Art in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asian art is associated with the geographical area that includes modern Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar (formerly Burma), Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia. All these areas are also collectively known as Indochina. Influences come primarily from China, India, and indigenous cultures. Of all the Southeast Asian countries, Vietnam has the most influence from Chinese culture. In many Southeast Asian cultures, Hindu influence is retained despite Islamic conversion.

African Art

Art of Africa constitutes one of the most diverse creations, owing to the large amounts of independent societies and civilizations, each with its own artistic culture. African art also includes art by African Disporas, such as African Americans. Characteristics common to most art from African culture include: emphasis on human forms, visual abstraction (as opposed to naturalistic representation), sculpture emphasis, three-dimensional qualities, and nonlinear scaling.

Art in the Americas

Art history in the Americas began in pre-Columbian times with indigenous cultures. This category refers to arts by indigenous peoples in the Americas from ancient times to present day. The indigenous peoples referred to include those of South America, Meso America, and North America, including Greenland.

Art of Pacific Cultures

Art of Pacific cultures refers to those from the oceanic regions of present day Australia, Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia, including areas as far as Hawaii and Easter Island. Art from these peoples vary throughout different regions and cultures. Themes of the supernatural and fertility are the most common. Masks, tattoos, painting, petroglyphs, stone and wood carving, and textile are the most common art forms.

3. Ancient Celtic burial mounds reveal a complex society.

Ancient Celtic settlement Chysauster Village, a late Iron Age and Romano-British village of courtyard houses in Cornwall, England.

Geography Photos/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

The Celts were far from savages, as evidenced by the intricate metalwork and jewelry excavated from ancient Celtic hill forts and burial mounds across Europe. One such mound near Hochdorf, Germany, held the remains of a Celtic chieftain and a wealth of artifacts pointing to a complex and stratified Celtic society.

The Hochdorf chieftain’s mound dates from 530 B.C, what archeologists call the late Hallstatt period, when Celtic culture was concentrated in Central Europe. The chieftain was laid out on a long bronze couch with wheels and dressed in gold finery including a traditional Celtic neck band called a torc. He was surrounded by ornate drinking horns and a large bronze cauldron, which still held the remains of high-proof honey mead.

Arnold says that the wheeled couch was replaced in later Celtic burial mounds by two-wheeled chariots that carried the honored dead into the afterlife. The drinking equipment points to the critical role of feasting as a sociopolitical tool to the Celts. What the Greeks and Romans described as 𠇎xcessive drinking” was actually a way for Celtic elites to strengthen ties with allies. And that continued in the great beyond.

“The Celts believed in a type of BYOB afterlife,” says Arnold. “You had to bring alcohol with you and throw a big party when you got to the other side. A sign of a good leader was generosity.”

History of Sculpture

Ecstasy of Saint Teresa (1647-52)
By Bernini.

Any chronological account of the origins and evolution of three-dimensional art should properly occupy several volumes, if not a whole library of books. Compressing it into a single page means that most of the story is unavoidably omitted. Even so, it's still a great story! From Prehistory, through Classical Antiquity, the Gothic era, the Renaissance to the 21st century, the history of sculpture is filled with extraordinary artists - most sadly anonymous - whose visual expressiveness remains with us in the form of wonderful marble statues, stone reliefs, and immortal bronzes.

Even today, visit any cathedral, or any of the great cities, squares or buildings of the world, and you are certain to see great examples of 3-D art.

The Burghers of Calais (1885-95)
By Auguste Rodin.

For bronzes - statues and reliefs,
see: Bronze Sculpture.
For Pentelic, Parian, Carrara
stone, see: Marble Sculpture.
For other similar forms of
carving, see: Stone Sculpture.
For sculptures in wood,
see: Wood Carving.
For sculpting in clay, see:
Ceramic Sculpture.

Chronology of Fine Art Sculpture

Prehistoric Sculpture

Sculpture begins in the Stone Age. Exactly when, we don't know. The earliest known examples are the two primitive stone effigies known as The Venus of Berekhat Ram and The Venus of Tan-Tan. The Venus of Berekhat Ram (dating from c.230,000 BCE or earlier) is a basaltic figurine made during the Acheulian Period, which was discovered on the Golan Heights. The Venus of Tan-Tan (c.200,000 BCE or earlier) is a quartzite figurine from the same period.

If these objects are pre-sculptural forms, the earliest prehistoric sculpture proper emerged around 35,000 BCE in the form of carvings of animals, birds, and therianthropic figures, made during the Lower Perigordian/Aurignacian Period and discovered in the caves of Vogelherd, Hohle Fels, and Hohlenstein-Stadel, in the Swabian Jura, Germany. The earliest figurative sculpture is the ivory carving known as the Lion Man of the Hohlenstein Stadel (38,000 BCE).

For a list of the top 100 3-D
artists (500 BCE - present),
see: Greatest Sculptors.

For more information, see:
History of Art

For details about the development
of Western painting and sculpture
see: History of Art Timeline.

As well as being the most enduring
form of art, sculpture is certainly
the most influential. Historically,
nearly all Kings, Popes and tyrants
have recognized the propaganda
effect of inspirational sculpture.
Roman Emperors distributed portrait
busts of themselves to every corner
of their empire the Roman Church
decorated their cathedrals, abbeys
and churches with tens of thousands
of statues and relief sculptures to
convey the message of the Bible
Pharaohs, Kings and Emperors
from Ancient Egypt, Persia, Greece
and the modern world, have invested
fortunes in monumental sculpture
to commemorate success in battle.
Modern tyrants, from Stalin to Saddam
Hussein, have errected statues as
monuments to their glorious rule.
Of course nothing compares to the
inspirational message of America's
Statue of Liberty, probably the No 1
propagandist work of sculpture.
As well as having huge narrative
content capable of promoting a
specific message, sculpture is also
an arduous craft whose creators
are highly dependent on both tools,
technology. From the very earliest
tool-cultures of the Paleolithic era,
sculptural progress has been marked
by the discovery of new materials
and equipment. Amazingly, by the
birth of Christ, most of the sculptor's
traditional methods and techniques
had already been discovered,
including bronzework and the
refined goldsmithery practised
by nomadic tribes.
In any event, for all these reasons,
the history of sculpture is closely
linked with the politics, technology
and financial prosperity of society.
Above all, its history is inextricably
related to architecture, the parent
art whose structures form such an
important home for decorative
sculptural works. Every major
architectural movement has been
accompanied by huge demand for
sculptures of all kinds.

For a list of masterpieces of
sculpture, by sculptors across the
ages, see: Greatest Sculptures Ever.

For two essays on plastic art
appreciation, please see:
How to Appreciate Sculpture
3-D art from Stone Age to 1850.
How to Appreciate Modern Sculpture
19th/20th century sculptors.

For more about the different types,
styles and values of traditional and
contemporary visual art, see:
Definition of Art.

Another early type of Stone Age sculpture are the miniature obese figurines called Venuses: such as the Venuses of Willendorf, Kostenky, Monpazier, Dolni Vestonice, Moravany, Brassempouy, and Gagarino. Made from materials as varied as mammoth bone, ceramic clay and bone ash, as well as various types of stone like steatite, oolitic limestone, serpentine, and volcanic rock, these venus figures have been located in sites across Europe, from Russia to Spain. Anthropologists believe they may have been used in fertility rituals, although why fat women should be so iconic remains a mystery. (Lack of food? Ed).

Mesolithic Sculpture (c.10,000-4,000 BCE)

Mesolithic art witnessed more bas-reliefs and free standing sculpture such as the anthropomorphic figurines unearthed in Nevali Cori and Gobekli Tepe near Urfa in eastern Turkey, and the statues of Lepenski Vir (eg. The Fish God) in Serbia. It also witnessed the creation of the Shigir Idol (7,500 BCE) - the world's oldest surviving wood carving - found near Sverdlovsk in Russia. Arguably the greatest Mesolithic work of art is the terracotta sculpture from Romania, known as The Thinker of Cernavoda, an unmistakable image of cognitive thought.

Neolithic Sculpture (c.4,000-2,000 BCE)

Neolithic art is noted above all for its pottery, but it also featured free standing sculpture and bronze statuettes - in particular from the Indus Valley Civilization, the North Caucasus and pre-Columbian art in the Americas. The most spectacular form of Neolithic art was Egyptian pyramid architecture whose burial chambers led to an increased demand for various types of reliefs as well as portable statues and statuettes. (See Egyptian sculpture.) Indeed, the advent of the Bronze Age (In Europe: 3000-1200 BCE) as well as the emergence of cities and public buildings, and the development of more sophisticated tools, triggered a general increase in the demand for all types of art, including sculpture. See, for instance, Mesopotamian sculpture (3000-500). It was during this era that art began to assume a significant role in reflecting the aspirations of powerful rulers and the deities they worshipped. In short, prosperous and ambitious communities were good for sculpture.

Eastern Mediterranean Sculpture (c.2000-1100 BCE)

Following the flowering of architecture and other arts in Egypt, the Levant also witnessed the rise of the Minoan culture on the island of Crete, which was noted for its sculpture and metalwork. After an unknown catastrophe (probably earthquake) around 1500 BCE, the Minoan civilization collapsed, and Crete was conquered by the Myceneans from the Greek mainland, who were themselves overcome and the city of Mycenae destroyed around 1100 BCE.

Far Eastern Sculpture (c.1700 BCE - 1150 CE)

Chinese art during the Shang Dynasty (c.1600-1050) developed along quite different lines to Western varieties. For the finest bronze sculpture produced in China during this period, see: Sanxingdui Bronzes (1200-1000 BCE). Famous examples of Indian and South-East Asian sculpture include the extraordinary reliefs at the 11th century Kandariya Mahadeva Hindu Temple (1017-29) in Madhya Pradesh, India and the 12th century Angkor Wat Khmer Temple (1115-45) in Cambodia.

Sculpture of Classical Antiquity (c.1100-100 BCE)

Due to the cultural stagnation of the Greek "Dark Ages" (1100-900 BCE) and the predominance of pottery during the Geometric Period (900-700 BCE), Greek sculpture did not really appear until the Daedalic or Oriental-Style Period around 650 BCE. Thereafter it developed according to the traditional chronology of Greek art during classical antiquity, as follows: Archaic Period (c.650-500 BCE) Classical Period (c.500-323 BCE) and Hellenistic Period (c.323-100 BCE). For more, see: Greek Sculpture Made Simple.

Archaic Greek Sculpture (c.600-500 BCE)
The Archaic period was a time of slow but continuous experimentation the most prized form of Archaic Greek sculpture was the kouros (pl.kouroi), or standing male nude.

Classical Greek Sculpture (c.500-323 BCE)
Divided into the Early Classical Period, High Classical Period and Late Classical Period, this was the high point of Greek creativity. In the plastic arts, famous sculptors like Polykleitos (5th century BCE), Myron (Active 480-444 BCE), and Phidias (c.488-431 BCE) (see his work at the Parthenon) achieved a level of realism - further developed by later artists such as Callimachus (Active 432-408 BCE), Skopas (Active 395-350 BCE), Lysippos (c.395-305 BCE), Praxiteles (Active 375-335 BCE), and Leochares (Active 340-320 BCE) - which would remain unsurpassed until the Italian Renaissance.

Hellenistic Greek Sculpture (c.323-27 BCE)
During this period (characterized by the spread of Greek culture throughout the civilized world), classical realism was replaced by greater heroicism and expressionism. See: Pergamene School of Hellenistic Sculpture (241-133 BCE). Famous works of Hellenistic Greek sculpture include: Dying Gaul by Epigonus the Winged Victory of Samothrace Laocoon and His Sons by Hagesandrus, Polydorus and Athenodorus (42-20 BCE), and the Venus de Milo. For the greatest Hellenistic reliefs, see: Pergamon Altar of Zeus (166-56 BCE).

Despite the political and military demise of the Greek City States from around 200 BCE, and the consequent rise of Rome, Greek sculpture retained its status as the finest ever made. Even the Romans failed to overcome their sense of inferiority in the face of Greek artistry, although they were cute enough to copy as many Greek works as possible, and it is largely through these copies that the art of Greek sculpture is known. The real influence of Hellenistic Statues and Reliefs actually occurred 1600-1700 years later when it was "rediscovered" by artists of the Early Renaissance in Italy, after which it formed the cornerstone of European art for the next four centuries. In short, the Greeks get maximum points.

Celtic Metal Sculpture (400-100 BCE)

Let's not forget the Celts - a series of nomadic tribes which emerged from the Caucasus around 800 BCE, and gradually spread westwards across Europe (600-100 BCE) as far as the Iberian peninsula, Britain and Ireland. Although highly mobile, and masters of blacksmithery and goldsmithery, they were too disorganized to compete with the highly disciplined and centralized State of Rome. Eventually wholly Romanized, at least on the Continent, their Celtic metalwork art included some of the finest metal sculpture of the age (eg. the Broighter Boat c.100-50 BCE). They were also exceptional traders and their intricate metalwork designs were exported and imitated throughout the known world. For stonework by the Celts, see: Celtic Sculpture. For monumental Keltoi stone sculpture, see: the Turoe Stone.

World's Greatest Clay Sculpture
The Terracotta Army (dating to 246-208 BCE), a huge collection of clay warriors and horses, was sculpted in Shaanxi province, China, under the orders of Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi. Thousands of figures remain buried at the site. See also Chinese Buddhist Sculpture (100-present). For art in India, see Indian sculpture (3300 BCE - 1850).

Roman Sculpture (c.200 BCE - c.200 CE)

Until about 27 BCE, despite the influence of earlier Etruscan sculptors - noted for their "joi de vivre" - Roman sculpture was unidealized and realistic thereafter it became sternly heroic, and quite mediocre. It was designed above all to express the majesty and power of Roman rule, thus aside from a number of magnificent historical reliefs (eg. the spiral bas-relief of Trajan's Column) and rare monuments (eg. the Ara Pacis Augustae), Roman sculptors were largely employed in the production of portrait busts of the Emperors and other dignitaries. In short, no big deal.

Byzantine Sculpture (330-1450 CE)

Up until the fourth century, early Christian sculpture had been almost exclusively tomb reliefs for sarcophagi in Rome. When the Roman Empire divided into East and West, the Eastern capital was located in Constantinople. The art of the Eastern Roman Empire, based in Byzantium, was almost entirely religious, but, aside from some shallow ivory reliefs and goldsmithing, the Eastern Orthodox brand of Christianity did not permit 3-D artworks like statues or high reliefs. Good for painters, bad for sculptors.

Sculpture During The Dark Ages (c.500-800)

As the name suggests, this was a dark and quiet time for European sculptors. The Church was weak, the Barbarians (who weren't big into sculpture) were strong, and cities were impoverished and uncultured. There was some activity in Constantinople and on the fringes of Europe, for instance in Ireland, where (from 800-1100) the monastic church began commissioning a number of freestanding stone crosses known as Celtic High Cross sculptures - decorated with Gospel scenes and other Celtic-style patterns - but little medieval art was created on the Continent.

Note About Sculpture and Architecture

Before proceeding, it is worth emphasizing the key connection between public architecture or building programs, and sculpture. In simple terms, public buildings typically needed sculptural decoration, both inside and out. Supporting columns often incorporated decorative motifs or statues and reliefs, as did facades, doorways and various interior screens. Thus each new major program of public works - typically heralded by a new style of architecture - triggered a huge parallel program of sculpture. In short, Medieval sculptors loved architects.

Early Romanesque Sculpture (Carolingian, Ottonian) (c.800-1050)

The revival of medieval sculpture began with Charlemagne I, King of the Franks, who was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 800. The Carolingian empire dissolved quite quickly but Charlemagne's patronage of the arts was a crucial first step in the revitalization of European culture, not least because many of the Romanesque and Gothic churches were built on the foundations of Carolingian architecture. Charlemagne's architectural achievements were continued by the Holy Roman Emperors Otto I, II and III, in a style known as Ottonian. So the art of sculpture was back, albeit on a modest scale. See also: Medieval Artists.

Romanesque Sculpture (c.1000-1200)

In the 11th century, a more confident Christian Church began to reassert itself. This doctrinal expansionism led to the Crusades to free the Holy Land from the grip of Islam. The Crusaders' success and their acquisition of Holy Relics triggered the construction of new churches and cathedrals across Europe in the fully fledged Romanesque style of architecture - a style known in Britain and Ireland as "Norman" architecture. This in turn led to a huge wave of commissions for Romanesque sculpture and stained glass. Thus finally, the art of sculpting was back. And with this new demand for plastic art came the establishment of new carving and modelling workshops, apprenticeships, and recognition for master-craftsmen. Indeed, by the 12th century the leading sculptors became highly sought-after by Abbots, Archbishops and other secular patrons, for their unique contribution to the visual impact of the religious buildings under construction.

Gothic Sculpture (c.1150-1300)

The Church's building program stimulated the development of new architectural techniques. These techniques came together during the mid-late 12th century in a style which Renaissance architects later dubbed "Gothic architecture". Characteristic Romanesque-style features such as rounded arches, massively thick walls and small windows and were replaced by pointed arches, soaring ceilings, thin walls and huge stained glass windows. This completely transformed the interior of many cathedrals into inspirational havens, where the Christian mesage was conveyed in a variety of Biblical art, including beautiful stained glass windows, and by a wide variety of sculpture. Cathedral facades and doorways were typically filled with sculptural reliefs depicting Biblical scenes, as well as rows of sculptures portraying Prophets, Apostles, ancient Kings of Judea, and other gospel figures. Interiors featured column statues and more reliefs, the whole thing being laid out according to an intricate plan of gospel iconography designed to educate and inspire illiterate worshippers.

In essence, the Gothic cathedral was intended to represent the Universe in miniature - a unique piece of Christian art designed to convey a sense of God's power and glory and the rational ordered nature of his worldly plan. Among the greatest homes of Gothic architectural sculpture are the French cathedrals of Notre Dame de Paris, Chartres, Reims, and Amiens the German cathedrals of Cologne, Strasbourg and Bamberg, and the English churches of Westminster Abbey and York Minster - among many others. In summary, Gothic sculpture represented the high-point of monumental religious art. Although the Church would continue to invest heavily in the power of painting and sculpture to inspire the masses (notably in the Counter Reformation Baroque period), the Gothic era was really the apogee of "idealistic" religious artistry. Henceforth, the art of sculpture would become more and more enmeshed in secular as well as Papal politics.

Italian Renaissance Sculpture (c.1400-1600)

The Italian Renaissance was inspired by the "rediscovery" of, and reverence for, the arts of Classical Antiquity, especially in the field of architecture and sculpture. Renaissance art was also coloured by a strong belief in Humanism and the nobility of Man. It began in Florence, being inspired by individuals such as the architect Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446), the sculptor Donatello (1386-1466), the painter Tommaso Masaccio and the theorist Leon Battista Alberti (1404-72), and financed by the Medici Family. It then spread to Rome - where it received support from the Papal ambitions of Pope Sixtus IV (1471-84), Pope Julius II (1503-13), Pope Leo X (1513-21) and Pope Paul III (1534-45) - and Venice. The arts in Northern Europe (notably Flanders, Holland, Germany and England) also underwent a renaissance, particularly in oil painting, printmaking and to a lesser extent wood-carving, although this so-called Northern Renaissance developed somewhat independently due to the Reformation (c.1520) and the consequent lack of religious patronage from a Protestant Church that took a dim view of religious painting and sculpture.

Early Renaissance Sculpture (1400-90)

Given the respect accorded to the Italian Renaissance, it's easy to forget that many Italian artists were strongly influenced by Gothic traditions and craftsmanship. Renaissance sculptors, in particular, were indebted to their Gothic predecessors. One need only study the reliefs on the facades and doorways of 12th century cathedrals to see the extraordinary three-dimensional realism and emotionalism which was being achieved centuries before the Renaissance. The big difference between Gothic and Renaissance sculptors is that the names of the latter are now world-famous, while many of the former are unknown.

Bearing this in mind, Early Renaissance sculptors sought to improve further on Gothic works, taking much of their inspiration from Classical Roman and Greek sculpture. In so doing, they injected their statues with a range of emotion and imbued them with new energy and thought. The three greatest 3-D artists of the Early Renaissance were Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455), Donato di Niccolo di Betto Bardi, known as Donatello, and Andrea del Verrocchio (1435-88).

In 1401, a competition was held for the commission to create a pair of bronze doors for the Florence Baptistry of St. John - one of the oldest surviving churches in the city. Lorenzo Ghiberti duly won the commission for the doors, which took him 27 years to finish. A second similar commission followed, occupying Ghiberti for a further 25 years. However, his gates became a tangible symbol of Florentine art, causing Michelangelo to refer to them "the Gates of Paradise".

Donatello, the first real genius of Italian Renaissance Sculpture, reinvented the medium of sculpture in much the same way as Masaccio, Piero della Francesca and Mantegna revolutionized the art of painting. Capable of investing his figures with intense realism and emotion, his masterpiece is his bronze sculpture David (c.1435-53), the first life-size nude sculpture since Antiquity, which was created for the Medici family and sited in the Palazzo Medici in Florence. The slender form of the Biblical shepherd boy seems hardly capable of the homicidal skill required to slay Goliath, but both his pensive feminine pose with its Classical contrapposto (twist of the hips), exerts a hypnotic effect on the viewer. It must surely be one of the greatest statues ever created. For details, see: David by Donatello.

Andrea del Verrocchio

The David (c.1475) by Andrea del Verrocchio is more refined but less intense than Donatello's statue, while his equestrian statue of the condottiere Bartolommeo Colleoni (1480s) is less heroic but conveys a greater sense of movement and swagger than Donatello's Gattamelata (1444-53) in Padua.

Other important sculptors of the early Renaissance include: Jacopo della Quercia (c.1374-1438) Nanni di Banco (c.1386-1421) the terracotta sculptors Luca Della Robbia (1400-1482), his nephew Andrea Della Robbia (1435-1525), Niccolo Dell'Arca (1435-94) and Guido Mazzoni (1450-1518) Antonio Rossellino (1427-79) Antonio Pollaiuolo (1432-98).

High Renaissance Sculpture (c.1490-1530)

Renaissance sculptors were dominated by Michelangelo (1475-1564), the greatest sculptor of the Italian Renaissance, and arguably of all time. The art historian Anthony Blunt said of Michelangelo's works like Pieta (1497-9, marble, Saint Peters Basilica, Rome), David (1501-4, marble, Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence) and Dying Slave (1513-16, marble, Louvre, Paris) that they possessed a "superhuman quality" but also "a feeling of brooding, of sombre disquiet. they reflect the tragedy of human destiny." Some of Michelangelo's marble carvings have a flawless beauty and polish, testifying to his absolute technical mastery. In the field of the heroic male nude he remains the supreme exponent. For more, see David by Michelangelo.

Other important sculptors of the High Renaissance include the artist and Venetian architect Jacopo Sansovino (1486-1570) and Baccio Bandinelli (1493-1560).

Northern Renaissance Sculpture (c.1400-1530)

In Northern Europe, the art of sculpture was exemplified in particular by two awesome craftsmen who took the art of sculpting in wood to new heights: the German limewood sculptor Tilman Riemenschneider (1460-1531), noted for his reliefs and freestanding wood sculpture and the wood-carver Veit Stoss (1450-1533) renowned for his delicate altarpieces.

Other important sculptors from North of the Alps include:
Hans Multscher (c.1400-1467) Giorgio da Sebenico (1410-1473)
Michel Colombe (c.1430-1512) Gregor Erhart (c.1460-1540).

Mannerist Sculpture (1530-1600)

If the confidence and order of the High Renaissance period was reflected in its idealised forms of figurative sculpture, Mannerist sculpture reflected the chaos and uncertainty of a Europe racked by religious division and a Rome recently sacked and occupied by mercenary French soldiers. Mannerist sculptors introduced a new expressiveness into their works, as exemplified by the powerful Rape of the Sabines by Giambologna (1529-1608), and Perseus (1545-54) by Benvenuto Cellini (1500-71). However, compare the famous naturalistic recumbent marble statue of Saint Cecilia by Stefano Maderno (1576-1636). See also Juan de Juni (1507-1577), who spread the Renaissance to Spain, Alonso Berruguete (c.1486-1561) who introduced Mannerism to Spain, and Francesco Primaticcio (1504-1570) who launched Mannerism in France. For the top French Mannerist sculptors, see: Jean Goujon (c.1510-68), Germain Pilon (1529-1590), Barthelemy Prieur (1536-1611) and Adriaen de Vries (1560-1626).

Baroque Sculpture (c.1600-1700)

During the later 16th century, in response to the Protestant Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church launched its own Counter Reformation. This propaganda campaign, designed to persuade worshippers to return to the "true" Church, employed the full panoply of the visual arts, including architecture, sculpture and painting, and became associated with a grander, more dramatic idiom known as Baroque art. It entailed massive patronage for artists - good news for sculptors!

Even Saint Peter's Square in Rome, was remodelled in order to awe visitors. The genius architect/sculptor Bernini (1598-1680) designed a series of colonnades leading to the cathedral, which gave the impression to visitors that they were being embraced by the arms of the Catholic Church.

Bernini was the greatest of all Baroque sculptors. After working for Cardinal Scipione Borghese, he became the leading sculptor for Pope Urban VIII. Drawn to the dramatic naturalism of what is called the Hellenistic baroque style of the second and first century BCE, (eg. see works like The Vanquished Gaul Killing Himself and his Wife) Bernini's unique contribution was to create sensational illusionistic masterpieces (eg. by depicting a moment in time), in a manner hitherto only achieved by painters. It was as if he treated the relatively intractable materials of sculpture as if they were entirely malleable. His sculptural technique and composition were so stunning that he attracted no little criticism from envious rivals.

His main rival was Alessandro Algardi (1598-1654), the favourite sculptor of Pope Innocent X. If Bernini epitomized Greek dramatic naturalism, Algardi's style was more restrained (critics say feeble). Another rival was the Flemish sculptor Francois Duquesnoy (1594-1643) whose style was entirely classical. Duquesnoy was rather a shadowy figure who worked in a severe, unemotional style which was nevertheless highly regarded by academic writers for its perfect synthesis of nature and the antique. The draperies flow elegantly, following the shape of the body, while the figure is balanced in perfect grace and repose - the complete opposite of Bernini's dynamic movement and intense feeling.

French Baroque sculpture was exemplified by Francois Girardon (1628-1715), a sort of French Algardi, and his rival Antoine Coysevox (1640-1720) whose looser style was still relatively restrained compared to Bernini, and Pierre Puget (1620-94) who was one of the very few sculptors to recapture the immediacy of Bernini's best work.

Other Baroque sculptors include: Juan Martines Montanes (1568-1649), Alonzo Cano (Granada, 1601-67), and Andreas Schluter (1664-1714), the greatest Baroque sculptor in Northern Germany. In Southern Germany, one of the greatest masters was Jorg Zurn (1583-1638), who produced the awesome five-storey High Altar of the Virgin Mary (1613-16), in the Church of Saint Nicholas at Uberlingen, on the northern shore of Lake Constance (Bodensee).

Rococo Sculpture (c.1700-1789)

Basically a French reaction against the seriousness of the Baroque, Rococo art began in the French court at the Palace of Versailles before spreading across Europe. If Baroque sculpture was dramatic and serious, Rococo was all frills and no substance, although in reality it was not so much a different style from the Baroque but rather a variation on the style brought to fruition by Bernini and his contemporaries. Even so, one can talk about Rococo qualities in a work of sculpture - informality, gaiety, a concern for matters of the heart and a self-conscious avoidance of seriousness.

The most successful sculptor of the first half of the 18th century was Guillaume Coustou (1677-1746), Director of the French Academy from 1707, who continued the baroque trend of his uncle Coysevox. His pupil, Edme Bouchardon (1698-1762), is a more interesting figure. whose feeling for the antique led him to anticipate the later trend towards neoclassicism.
Jean-Baptiste Pigalle (1714-85), a favourite of Madame de Pompadour, was another important exemplar of the Rococo style as was his chief rival was Etienne-Maurice Falconet (1716-91) who specialized in erotic figures that have a tenuous derivation from Hellenistic originals. His masterpiece, however, remains his classical "Bronze Horseman" monument to Peter the Great in St Petersburg - see Russian Sculpture.

In England, the leading sculptors of the 17th/18th century included the classicist Michael Rysbrack (1694-1770), the more theatrical Louis Francois Roubiliac (1705-62), and the eminent wood-carver Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721). German Rococo sculpture was exemplified in works by the Dresden sculptor Balthazar Permoser (1651-1732), small groups of craftsmen working in the churches of Catholic southern Germany, and Ignaz Gunther (1725-75) whose figurative sculptures have a hard surface realism and polychromed surface reminiscent of medieval German wood-carving.

Whimsical decadent Rococo was swept away by the French Revolution which ushered in the new sterner style of Neoclassicism.

Neoclassical Sculpture (Flourished c.1790-1830)

Neoclassical art - basically Greek art with a modern twist - was dominated by Neoclassical architecture. Neoclassical buildings include the Pantheon (Paris), the Arc de Triomphe (Paris), the Brandenburg Gate (Berlin), and the United States Capitol Building. Neoclassical sculpture involved an emphasis on the virtues of heroicism, duty and gravitas. Leading Neoclassical sculptors included the exceedingly severe and heroic Antonio Canova (1757-1822), the troubled portrait-bust master Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (1736-1783), the more naturalistic/realist Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741-1828), the rather light-hearted Claude Michel called Clodion (1738-1814), and the English sculptors Joseph Nollekens (1737-1823), Thomas Banks (1735-1805), John Flaxman (1755-1826), and Sir Richard Westmacott (1775-1856). Only later in the 18th century did a worthy successor to Canova appear in the person of the Danish sculptor Bertel Thorwaldsen (1770-1844), who approached the antique with a comparable high-mindedness albeit with less originality.

19th Century Sculpture

In many ways, the nineteenth century was an age of crisis for sculpture. In simple terms, architectural development had largely exhausted itself, religious patronage had declined as a result of the French Revolution, and the general climate of "populism", began to cause much confusion in the minds of institutional and private patrons as to what constituted acceptable subjects (and styles) for sculptural representation. Being involved in a more expensive art-form than painters, and thus dependent on high-cost commissions, sculptors often found themselves at the mercy of public opinion in the form of town councils and committees. Aside from a number of grandiose public monuments, and the usual commemorative statues of Bishops and Kings - invariably executed in the sterile, conformist style required by the authorities (eg. the Albert Memorial) - sculptors had few opportunities to showcase their originality. Painting on the other hand was undergoing huge and exciting changes. In short, it was not a great time to be involved in 3-D art.

Nineteenth century sculptors worth a mention include the versatile James Pradier (1790-1852), the romantics Francois Rude (1784-1855), David d'Angers (1788-1856), Antoine-Louis Barye (1796-1875), and Auguste Preault (1809-79), and the Florentine Neo-Renaissance sculptress Felicie de St Fauveau (1799-1886). One of the most talented artists was the light-hearted Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (1827-75), whose sensuality was adapted to the demands of decorative sculptors of the 1860s by Ernest Carrier-Belleuse (1824-87), otherwise most noted for the fact that one of his pupils was an unknown sculptor called Auguste Rodin. Jules Dalou (1838-1902) was a more contemplative and serious follower of Carpeaux. Among the 19th century classicists, leading figures included John Gibson (1791-1866), the talented but frustrated Alfred Stevens (1817-75), the versatile George Frederick Watts (1817-1904), and the American Hiram Powers (1805-73).

We should also not forget the imaginative French sculptor Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904) - better known as the creator of the world-famous sculpture - The Statue of Liberty - in New York harbour. Also the great monumental American sculptor Daniel Chester French (1850-1931), noted for the seated figure of Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC.

The great exception was the incomparable French genius Auguste Rodin (1840-1917). One of the few authentic masters of modern sculpture, Rodin saw himself as the successor to his iconic hero Michelangelo - although the Florentine was a carver in marble while Rodin was principally a modeller in Bronze. Also, while Michelangelo exemplifies the noble and timeless forms of Classical Antiquity, Rodin's most characteristic works convey an unmistakable modernity and dramatic naturalism. Arguably, Rodin's true predecessors were the Gothic sculptors, for he was a passionate admirer of the Gothic cathedrals of France, from whose heroic reliefs he derived much of his inspiration. In any event, Rodin's impact on his art form was greater than any sculptor since the Renaissance.

20th Century Sculpture: The Advent of Modernism

With sculpture less able to reflect the new trends of modern art during the 19th century, leaving artists like Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) free to pursue a monumentalism derived essentially from Renaissance ideology, and others to celebrate Victorian values in the form of patriotic and historical figures, likewise executed in the grand manner of earlier times, it wasn't until the emergence of modern 20th century sculptors like Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957), Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916) and Naum Gabo (Naum Neemia Pevsner) (1890-1977), that sculpture really began to change, at the turn of the century. For the influence of tribal cultures on the development of 20th century sculpture, see: Primitivism/Primitive Art. In this regard see the work of Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (1891-1915) and his mentor Jacob Epstein (1880-1959). In particular, note the impact of African sculpture on modern sculptors of the Ecole de Paris.

In fact, the early decades of the 20th century saw fine art in a ferment. The revolutionary Cubism movement, invented by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and Georges Braque (1882-1963), smashed many of the hallowed canons of traditional art, and triggered a wave of experimentation in both painting and sculpture. The latter was significantly redefined by a series of sculptors like Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) - see his "readymades" - Jacques Lipchitz (1891-1973), and Alexander Archipenko (1887-1964), as well as Brancusi, Boccioni and Gabo. Representationalism was rejected in favour of new abstract expressions of space and movement, often using non-traditional materials never before used in sculpture.

In the wake of Cubism, The Great War (1914-18) and the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution had a further huge impact on artists across Europe, as exemplified in the influential iconoclastic movements of Dada and Constructivism. Sculptors joined painters in producing works of art reflecting new icons like the machine, as well as new ideologies of design (eg. Bauhaus design school theories), and form (eg. the incredible Merzbau of Kurt Schwitters).

The 1920s in Paris saw the emergence of Surrealism, a hugely influential movement which sought a new "super-realism" in a style which embraced both abstraction and naturalism. Famous surrealist artists working in 3-D include: Salvador Dali (1904-89) who produced his surrealist Mae West Lips Sofa and Lobster Telephone Meret Oppenheim (1913-85) who created Furry Breakfast and FE McWilliam (1909-1992) who produced Eyes, Nose and Cheek. Other modern sculptors like Jean Arp (1886-1966) as well as Henry Moore (1898-1986) and Barbara Hepworth (1903-75) - leaders of modern British sculpture - were experimenting with new forms of biomorphic/organic abstraction, while the American Alexander Calder (1898-1976) was pioneering mobile sculpture and kinetic art, and David Smith (1906-65) was developing abstract metal sculpture. Many sculptors developed their style as the century progressed: Alberto Giacometti (1901-66), for instance, began in surrealist mode during the 1920s and 1930s before perfecting his unique semi-abstract figurative works. See also the modernist British-American artist Jacob Epstein (1880�), whose bold figurative works proved highly controversial.

Post-War Sculpture (1945-70)

No sculpture emerged in New York or Paris to compare with the predominant painting style of Abstract Expressionism (c.1945-62), although innovation there certainly was, chiefly in the use of new materials and a growing mood of conceptualism - a style which focuses on the idea behind the 3-D object, rather than the object itself - as well as a blurring between painting and sculpture. Major innovations - mostly by American sculptors, but see Destroyed City (1953) by the Russian sculptor Ossip Zadkine (1890-1967) - included the "sculptured walls" of Louise Nevelson (1899-1988) - assemblages composed of found objects, mostly wood, sprayed in white, black or gold paint and arranged in box-like shelves occupying a wall the felt sculptures of Robert Morris (b.1931) the neon and fluorescent works of Bruce Nauman (b.1941) the works of Cesar (1921-98) made from car-parts the junk sculptures (eg. heaps of broken telephones) of Arman (Armand Fernandez) (b.1928) the kinetic art of Jean Tinguely (1925-1991) and the abstract sculpture of the British artist Sir Anthony Caro (1924-2013).

Chronologically, the first major post-war movement involving sculptors, was 1960s Pop-Art, which originated in the pioneering work of Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) and Jasper Johns (b.1930) during the 1950s. Famous Pop sculptures include: Japanese War God (1958) by the pioneer Eduardo Paolozzi (b.1924), Ale Cans (1964) by Jasper Johns, the canvas, foam rubber and cardboard Floor Burger (1962) and Giant Fag-Ends (1967) by Claes Oldenburg (b.1929), and the witty Joe Sofa (1968) by the Italians Jonathan De Pas (1932-91), Donato D'Urbino (b.1935) and Paolo Lomazzi (b.1936) - all showing traces of earlier surrealist art. Pop sculpture isn't serious but it's great fun.

In complete contrast to Pop art, 1960s Minimalism explored the purity of ultra-simplified forms to the point of absurdity. Famous Minimalist sculptors include Sol LeWitt (b.1928) - the American conceptual artist noted for his skeletal, geometric box-like constructions the uncompromising simplified forms of Donald Judd (1928-94) the experimental artist Walter de Maria (b.1935) and the Massachusetts-born Carl Andre (b.1935). Minimalist sculpture can be fully appreciated by anyone with a PhD in Fine Art Interpretation.

Land Art: Environmental Sculpture

The 1960s also witnessed a completely new type of sculpture known as Land Art (Earthworks, or Environmental art). Like kids building sand castles on the beach, artists rushed out into the wilds and dug, excavated and re-shaped the natural landscape to create (what they hoped was) art. The pioneer environmental sculptor was the pessimistic Robert Smithson (1938-73). Latterly, the artist-couple Christo and Jeanne-Claude Javacheff have achieved fame by wrapping parts of the environment in coloured fabric, while Andy Goldsworthy (b.1956) specializes in temporary environmental sculptures (eg. made of snow) that decompose or disappear.

Postmodernist Contemporary Sculpture

By 1970, an increasing amount of contemporary art was becoming extremely experimental - art critics might say wacky, incomprehensible and kitsch-like. From the 1970s onwards, this tendency was christened "Postmodernist art". Nobody really knows what this word means, and, if they do, they can't explain it. As far as postmodernist sculpture is concerned, the best one can say is that it takes sculpture to the limit of three-dimensional expression, and frequently crosses over into other art-forms like installation, pure assemblage art and even theatre. One of the most famous postmodernist sculptors is the Indian-born British Turner Prize Winner Anish Kapoor (b.1954).

Postmodernism is exemplified by the works of Damien Hirst (b.1965), the ingenious, market-driven leader of the 1980s Young British Artists movement, who achieved world-wide fame for The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991), a dead Tiger shark pickled in a tank of formaldehyde - Is it a sculpture or installation? Nobody really knows. Other controversial works by Hirst include: Virgin Mother (2005) a huge work depicting a pregnant female human, cut away to display the fetus, muscle tissue and cranium and his diamond encrusted skull For the Love of God (2007). Critics claim Hirst is no more than a very innovative showman, but collectors - as well as the public - seem to love him. Let history have the final say on this multi-millionaire artist.

Not all contemporary sculpture is controversial as Hirst's dead shark. The late-20th century has witnessed a number of exceptional sculptors working in more or less traditional modes, albeit with a modernist conception. Famous examples of contemporary sculpture include: the large scale metal sculptures of Mark Di Suvero (b.1933), the monumental public forms of Richard Serra (b.1939), the hyper-realist figures of Duane Hanson (1925-96) and John De Andrea (b.1941), the environmental structures of Antony Gormley (b.1950), the fabulous realist figures of Rowan Gillespie (b.1953), the innovative Neo-Pop works of Jeff Koons (b.1955), and the surrealist Maman spider sculptures of Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010).

Acclaimed sculptures of the early 21st century include works by Eduardo Chillida (1924-2002) (eg. the iron piece Berlin, 2000, Bundeskanzleramt, Berlin-Tiergarten) by Sudobh Gupta (b.1964) and Damian Ortega (b.1967), among others too numerous to mention.

Architectural Sculpture

Although outside the scope of this article, mention should be made of great iconic works of architectural sculpture, including: The Colossus of Rhodes, The Statue of Liberty, The Eiffel Tower, Nelson's Column, The Chicago Picasso, and The Dublin Spike, among others.


• For more about the origins and history of sculpture, see: Visual Arts Encyclopedia.


During the most recent Quaternary glaciation, ice sheets more than 3,000 m (9,800 ft) thick scoured the landscape of Ireland, pulverising rock and bone, and eradicating any possible evidence of early human settlements during the Glenavian warm period [5] human remains pre-dating the last glaciation have been uncovered in the extreme south of Britain, which largely escaped the advancing ice sheets.

During the Last Glacial Maximum (ca. 26,000–19,000 years ago), [6] Ireland was an arctic wasteland, or tundra. This period's effects on Ireland are referred to as Midland General Glaciation, [7] or Midlandian glaciation. [8] It was previously believed that during this period ice covered two thirds of Ireland. [9] [7] Subsequent evidence from the past 50 years has shown this to be untrue and recent publications suggest that the ice sheet extended beyond the southern coast of Ireland. [10]

During the period between 17,500 and 12,000 years ago, a warmer period referred to as the Bølling-Allerød allowed for the rehabitation of northern areas of Europe by roaming hunter-gatherers. Genetic evidence suggests this reoccupation began in southwestern Europe and faunal remains suggest the existence of a refugium in Iberia that extended up into southern France. Those originally attracted to the north during the pre-boreal period would be species like reindeer and aurochs. Some sites as far north as Sweden inhabited earlier than 10,000 years ago suggest that humans might have used glacial termini as places from which they hunted migratory game.

These factors and ecological changes brought humans to the edge of the northernmost ice-free zones of continental Europe by the onset of the Holocene and this included regions close to Ireland. However, during the early part of the Holocene Ireland itself had a climate that was inhospitable to most European animals and plants. Human occupation was unlikely, although fishing was possible.

Britain and Ireland may have been joined by a land bridge, but because this hypothetical link would have been cut by rising sea levels so early into the warm period, probably by 16,000 BC, few temperate terrestrial flora or fauna would have crossed into Ireland. [11] [12] Snakes and most other reptiles could not repopulate Ireland because any land bridge disappeared before temperatures became warm enough for them. [13] The lowered sea level also joined Britain to continental Europe this persisted much longer, probably until around 5600 BC. [14]

The earliest known modern humans in Ireland date back to the late Palaeolithic Age. This date was pushed back some 2,500 years by a radiocarbon dating performed in 2016 on a bear bone excavated in 1903 in the "Alice and Gwendoline Cave", County Clare. The bone has cut marks showing it was butchered when fresh and gave a date of around 10,500 BC, showing humans were in Ireland at that time. [15] In contrast, a flint worked by a human found in 1968 at Mell, Drogheda, that is much older, probably well pre-dating 70,000 BC, is normally regarded as having been carried to Ireland on an ice sheet, probably from what is now the bottom of the Irish Sea. [16]

A British site on the eastern coast of the Irish Sea, dated to 11,000 BC, indicated people were in the area eating a marine diet including shellfish. These modern humans may have also colonised Ireland after crossing a southern, now ice-free, land bridge that linked south-east Ireland and Cornwall, if it existed, or more likely, by boat. In the south, the Irish Sea facing South Wales was at the least a good deal narrower than today until 12,000 BC [11] in the north, the sea-crossing to Kintyre in Scotland, though much too deep to have ever been a land bridge, is even today only twelve miles at its shortest point and would then have been less. [11] These people may have found few resources outside of coastal shellfishing and acorns, and so may not have continually occupied the region. The early coastline of Ireland is now almost entirely under the sea, so evidence of coastal populations is lost, [11] though ways of investigating undersea sites are being explored.

The return of freezing conditions in the Younger Dryas, which lasted from 10,900 BC to 9700 BC, may have depopulated Ireland. During the Younger Dryas, sea levels continued to rise and no ice-free land bridge between Great Britain and Ireland ever returned. [17]

The last ice age fully came to an end in Ireland about 8000 BC. [18] Until the single 2016 Palaeolithic dating described above, the earliest evidence of human occupation after the retreat of the ice was dated to the Mesolithic, around 7000 BC. [19] Although sea levels were still lower than they are today, Ireland was very probably already an island by the time the first settlers arrived by boat, very likely from Britain. [11] The earliest inhabitants of the island were seafarers who depended for much of their livelihood upon the sea, and later inland settlements or camps were usually close to water. [20] Although archaeologists believe Mesolithic people heavily relied on riverine and coastal environments, ancient DNA indicates they had probably ceased contact with Mesolithic societies on the island of Britain and further afield. [21]

Evidence for Mesolithic hunter-gatherers has been found throughout the island: a number of the key early Mesolithic excavations are the settlement site at Mount Sandel in County Londonderry (Coleraine) the cremations at Hermitage, County Limerick on the bank of the River Shannon and the campsite at Lough Boora in County Offaly. As well as these, early Mesolithic lithic scatters have been noted around the island, from the north in County Donegal to the south in County Cork. [22] The population has been tentatively estimated at around 8,000.

The hunter-gatherers of the Mesolithic era lived on a varied diet of seafood, birds, wild boar and hazelnuts. [24] [25] There is no evidence for deer in the Irish Mesolithic and it is likely that the first red deer were introduced in the early stages of the Neolithic. [26] The human population hunted with spears, arrows and harpoons tipped with small stone blades called microliths, while supplementing their diet with gathered nuts, fruit and berries. They lived in seasonal shelters, which they constructed by stretching animal skins or thatch over wooden frames. They had outdoor hearths for cooking their food. During the Mesolithic the population of Ireland was probably never more than a few thousand. Surviving artefacts include small microlith blades and points, and later larger stone tools and weapons, in particular the versatile Bann flake. [27]

Many areas of Europe entered the Neolithic with a 'package' of cereal cultivars, pastoral animals (domesticated oxen/cattle, sheep, goats), pottery, weaving, housing and burial cultures, which arrive simultaneously, a process that begins in central Europe as LBK (Linear Pottery culture) about 6000 BC. Within several hundred years this culture is observed in northern France. An alternative Neolithic culture, La Hoguette culture, that arrived in France's northwestern region appears to be a derivative of the Ibero Italian-Eastern Adriatic Impressed Cardial Ware culture (Cardium pottery). The La Hoguette culture, like the western Cardial culture, raised sheep and goats more intensely. By 5100 BC there is evidence of dairy practices in southern England, and modern English cattle appear to be derived from "T1 Taurids" that were domesticated in the Aegean region shortly after the onset of the Holocene. These animals were probably derived from the LBK cattle. Around 4300 BC cattle arrived in northern Ireland during the late Mesolithic period. The red deer was introduced from Britain about this time. [26]

From around 4500 BC a Neolithic package that included cereal cultivars, housing culture (similar to those of the same period in Scotland) and stone monuments arrived in Ireland. Sheep, goats, cattle and cereals were imported from southwestern continental Europe, after which the population rose significantly. The earliest clear proof of farmers in Ireland or Great Britain is from Ferriter's Cove on the Dingle Peninsula, where a flint knife, cattle bones and a sheep's tooth were found and dated to c. 4350 BC. [28] At the Céide Fields in County Mayo, an extensive Neolithic field system (arguably the oldest known in the world) has been preserved beneath a blanket of peat. Consisting of small fields separated from one another by dry-stone walls, the Céide Fields were farmed for several centuries between 3500 and 3000 BC. Wheat and barley were the principal crops cultivated. Pottery made its appearance around the same time as agriculture. Ware similar to that found in northern Great Britain has been excavated in Ulster (Lyle's Hill pottery) and in Limerick. Typical of this ware are wide-mouthed, round-bottomed bowls. [29]

This follows a pattern similar to western Europe or gradual onset of Neolithic, such as seen in La Hoguette Culture of France and Iberia's Impressed Cardial Ware Culture. Cereal culture advance markedly slows north of France certain cereal strains such as wheat were difficult to grow in cold climates—however, barley and German rye were suitable replacements. It can be speculated [ by whom? ] that the DQ2.5 aspect of the AH8.1 haplotype may have been involved in the slowing of cereal culture into Ireland, Scotland and Scandinavia since this haplotype confers susceptibility to a Triticeae protein induced disease as well as Type I diabetes and other autoimmune diseases that may have arisen as an indirect result of Neolithisation. [ citation needed ]

Some regions of Ireland showed patterns of pastoralism that indicated that some Neolithic peoples continued to move and indicates that pastoral activities dominated agrarian activities in many regions or that there was a division of labour between pastoral and agrarian aspects of the Neolithic. At the height of the Neolithic the population of the island was probably in excess of 100,000, and perhaps as high as 200,000. But there appears to have been an economic collapse around 2500 BC, and the population declined for a while.

Monuments Edit

The most striking characteristic of the Neolithic in Ireland was the sudden appearance and dramatic proliferation of megalithic monuments. The largest of these tombs were clearly places of religious and ceremonial importance to the Neolithic population, and were probably communal graves used over a long period. In most of the tombs that have been excavated, human remains—usually, but not always, cremated—have been found. Grave goods—pottery, arrowheads, beads, pendants, axes, etc.—have also been uncovered. These megalithic tombs, more than 1,200 of which are now known, can be divided for the most part into four broad groups, all of which would originally have been covered with earth, that in many cases has been eroded away to leave the impressive stone frameworks:

Ancient Celts Art

Ancient Celts artis characterized by the horror vacui applied to the designs, though minimalist artistic representations are also sometimes encountered. They are full of colors and plenty of imagination reveling intricate designs, geometric and stylized elements that were use as inspiration later by Christian’s artists in the confection of outstanding and beautiful illuminated manuscripts in the Medieval Celtic Art or in the Insular Art period by Celtic monks.

The earliest artistic remnants founded of the Celtic culture include many stylized bird, animal and human representations, crafted with such mastery, detail and fluidity they really give the impression of been full of life and movement. They produced sophisticated metalwork, stone and wood carving and decorate these objects with a variety of geometrical, knotted, and spiral designs, stylized animals and human figures.

Celtic art is ornamental, avoid straight lines and only occasionally symmetry is used. The stylized figures allow combining tricky ways of representation that can be appreciated different depended of the position in which the spectator is observing the object. Their art often contain complex symbolism in which patterns and number and their repetition conform the whole figure design.

The geometric patterns are under the rounded lines control, and endless variety of swirls, curves, and other shapes, sometimes with a vaguely natural form appearance suggesting a much undefined plant or animal- like form instead of a natural and clear defined one. But it was characteristic of the Celt to avoid in their art all exact imitation of the nature world, they tend to stylize them as mentioned before, representing the abstract concept, reducing their designs for instance to pure decoration.

This intricate designs and patterns were applied to weapons, ornaments, and household of all kinds, in gold, bronze, wood, stone, ceramic and possibly textile and fabrics as well.

For the purpose to better study the Celtic art and culture, have been subdivided in different periods by multidisciplinary team of specialist. New knowledge about this culture is currently surfacing from the archeological excavations allowing this nomenclature be more adequate. The new discovers allows a better understanding identifying the differences between artifacts and their relation with the location and time of creation.

Different periods of the Celtic art and culture:

No architectural remains have survived intact from the earliest ancient period of the Celts although recent archeological studies in a place called Castell Henllys have help to reconstruct some aspects about the round houses builder by Celts in the Bronze Age period.

In a place near Salzburg, in Austria was discovered at Hallstatt, relics from about 750 to 400 B.C portend in some cases a high standard of civilization and considerable commerce were: amber from the Baltic, Phoenician glass, and gold-leaf of Oriental workmanship have been found there. Iron swords were also in the group whose hilts and sheaths are richly decorated with gold, ivory, and amber. Hallstatt culture produced art with geometric ornament, but marked by patterns of straight lines and rectangles rather than curves.

The Enamel-working was an example nevertheless of the mastery developed by Britain Celts people before the Romans conquest took place, which means that some skills like this one were developed by them before they even get any contact with the Romans. The Ireland Celts art remain for a long time strong and pure because not Romans or others cultures invade that country for centuries.

The ancient Celts culture and art along their line of evolution in no way seem to have invented any new ideas, they had an extraordinary aptitude nevertheless for picking up knowledge from the different peoples with whom war or commerce brought them into contact, they receive artistic influences from the Etruscan, Greek, Roman, Phoenician and oriental cultures and this wealth in techniques, styles and craftsmanship skills was widely taken advantages of by the Celts who mastered all of them with surprising abilities, passing to their successors a baste cultural and artistic inheritance.

The Gundestrup Cauldron. Courtesy The National Museum of Denmark.

Celtic Monolithic.

Ancient Celtic Art

The art of the Celts is generally associated with ornamental artistry that is comprised of repetitive patterns, spirals, knots, foliage, and animal forms. Celtic art is essentially easy to identify because of these recognizable features, but the Celts themselves are more difficult to define. Celtic people are associated with a wide geographical area and their traditions are rooted in various cultures throughout long stretches of time.

By 800 B.C. Celtic art was evident through much of Europe. This continental style of Celtic art, while less sophisticated than later styles, came to rise during the Iron Age. Its designs often show axial symmetry. Often, functional objects like belt hooks or wine vessels were the mediums for early Celtic-style decorative work. This art era, which would come to be known as the Hallstatt period, witnessed the carving of jewelry, beads, statuary, and even tableware.

As Celtic art traditions continued, their style became associated with people of La Tene culture. While La Tene culture developed from the early Iron Age peoples of the region, it shows a marked Mediterranean influence. Celtic traditions became ever more widespread in areas like the British Isles by 500 BC and stretched as far east as the Black Sea. Artistry grew more sophisticated and embodied more classical Mediterranean features. There was certainly a Greek influence and Roman too which is not surprising given the proximity of the competing groups. Metalwork continued to employ telltale Celtic designs that were richly symbolic. Also, the use of red enamel began to appear in various items like amulets and vases.

The Celtic art of Ireland is particularly noteworthy, however, since it remained relatively untouched during the Roman Empire. Its practice of La Tene-style artistry evolved to incorporate Scandinavian influences. Intricate and symbolic silverwork was a popular form of British Isles art. Some famous Celtic art treasures of this area include the Ardagh Chalice and the Tara Brooch. Also, certain regions and their people, like the Picts, added their own particular stamp to Celtic art traditions. As time progressed in the British Isles, Filigree work developed a high sophistication and the illumination of texts obtained near legendary status as in the famed Lindisfarne Gospels.

Celtic art often merged with new influences such as Christianity as evidenced by extremely decorative Celtic crosses such as the tenth-century Muiredach’s High Cross. As more Irish monasteries were created, the need for more decorative objects grew. For this reason, Celtic art is frequently associated with Ireland and elsewhere in the British Isles, though its rich history also encompasses large tracts of continental Europe. The Middle Ages witnessed a dramatic Celtic Renaissance in Ireland known as Insular Art which is also typically placed under the umbrella of Celtic art. Yet, no matter where Celtic art is found, it tends to employ similar traits like animal ornament, geometric shapes, key patterns, and interlocking loops—designs that are unmistakably Celtic.

7. They Worshipped a Huge Number of Gods and Goddesses

There were hundreds of gods and goddesses in the Celtic pantheon, and some of them were so niche that only a single tribe or even family worshipped them. The druids, who led religious ceremonies, were in charge of rituals which included sacrifice. These ceremonies would usually take place at shrines in natural locations such as hilltops and streams, but there were some secret ceremonies which would be conducted in hidden sacred groves. The druids were very important in Celtic society as they served as judges, teachers, and lore-keepers.

Ancient Celtic Sculpture Timeline - History

"The eating and feasting habits of the Celts were recorded by a number of classical writers, the most important of these being Posidonius, a Syrian Greek philosopher who in his Histories provides eyewitness accounts of the Gauls in the 1st Century BC. Although his work does not survive intact, it was an important sources of information for a number of later Greek writers, notably Diodorus Siculus (1st century BC) and Athenaeus (fl. C. AF 200). Detailed accounts are also found throughout the corpus of early medieval Irish saga literature, much of which is believed to reflect Iron Age Celtic society. Athenaus, quoting Posidonious, describes the informal feasting arrangements of the Celts as follows: 'the Celts place dried grass on the floor when they eat their meals, using tables which are raised slightly off the ground.' The classical material indicates that the feast was centered around the cauldron and roasting spits and was characterized by an abundance of roasted and boiled meat, which were eaten with bare hands. the feast was a ceremonial manifestation of the warfaring nature of society."
---Oxford Compantion to Food, Alan Davidson [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 1999 (p. 149-50)
[NOTE: This book contains far more information than can be paraphrased here. It also cites sources for further study. Your librarian can help you find a copy.]

"The Celts, like their predecessors, prepared their meat by roasting or stewing. Both methods became easier after the introduction of metal utensils. Bronze, known in Britain from introduction the middle of the second millennium BC, was for a long time used sparingly for weapons, knives or jewelry. The inspiration for cauldrons of the meat came from the Greek trading colonies on the French Mediterranean coasts. Their vessels of riveted sheet bronze were seen and copied by itinerant Irish smiths about the eighth or seventh century BC. Soon cauldrons began to made in Britain too, though there were rare at first and were probably reserved for ritual meals rather than everyday use. Metal had many practical advantages over pottery. The new containers could be placed directly over the flames of a fire. They were not liable to be broken through over-heating or by being accidentally dropped. They were even more hygienic, for they could be cleaned with sand or ask and water more thoroughly than earthenware pots."
---Food and Drink in Britain From the Stone Age to the 19th Century, C. Anne Wilson [Academy Chicago:Chicago] 1992 (p. 67)
[NOTE: This book is an excellent source for your project. It is arranged by general food group (cereals, breads, meats, vegetables, etc.) and then by time period. Each chapter has pages devoted to Iron Age Celtic foods/cooking methods. Sample below. Ask your librarian to help you find a copy of this book.]

"Mealtimes among the Celts in Gaul were described by Posidonius (135-51 BC). The diners sat on the ground on straw or hides, and ate their meat with their fingers in a cleanly by leonine fashion, raising up whole limbs in both hands and biting off the meat, while any part that is hard to tear off they cut through with a small dagger which hangs attached to their swordsheath in its own scabbard'. They were waited upon by t heir older sons and daughters. Beside them are hearths blazing with fire, with cauldrons and spits containing large pieces of meat. Brave warriors they honor with the finest portions of the meat.' The Celtic Iron Age saw the establishment of salt working around Britain coasts. The salt helped to preserve meat for winter use, and especially the pork so well loved by the Celts. The hams prepared by their neighbours in Gaul were exported to Rome as a delicacy but we know no details about the salted meats of Britain. According to an Italian recipes of the mid-second century BC, hams had to be covered with salt and steeped in their own brine for seventeen days, dried for two, rubbed over with oil and vinegar, and them smoked for a further two days. It is likely that Celtic Britons followed similar practices, barring the oil and vinegar dressing."
---Food and Drink in Britain (p. 68)

"The Celts, who began to settle in Britain from the eighth century B.C., added hens, ducks, and geese to the list of Britain's domeseticated animals. They refused to eat the wild horses and instead tamed them for riding and for drawing wagons and chariots. The Celts were the first to recognize that the soil of Britain is more fertile than that of continental Europe, and they cleared forests to plant cereals and allow pasture to grow for grazing. They preserved meat, fish, and butter in salt and exported British beef to the Continent. The Celts also tilled the soil so successfully that they exported grain to many parts of Europe. In Britain, they built underground grain storage silos. The Celts processed wheat by setting ears alight, then extinguishing the fire when the husks were burnt. The wheat was then winnowed and baked, and saddle querns were used to grind it into flour. These industrious farmers also began beekeeping, with conical hives made from wickerwork daubed with mud or dung. They employed shallow earthenware pots as drinking vessels, whereas deeper pots were made for cooking pottages (mixtures of meat, grains, leaves, roots, and herbs) slowly over a fire. Honey and water, left together in a pot, will ferment, and this drink--mead--was often flavored with wild herbs and fruits. Some cow, ewe, and goat milk might have been drunk fresh, but most of it would have been made into cheese and only the whey drunk. The Celts made an unhopped beer from barley and wheat, first allowing the grain to germinate, then stopping this process with heat and allowing it to ferment. Finally, they also imported wine and, later, began to grow vines themselves."
---Cambridge World History of Food, Kenneth F. Kiple and Kriemhild Conee Ornelas [Cambridge University Press:Cambridge] 2000, Volume Two (p. 1217-8)
[NOTE: page 1217 contains a summary of foods known in the British Isles prior to the Celts. Presumably, these foods were also known to these peoples.]

  • Food and Drink in Prehistory Europe/Jacqui Wood
  • Prehistoric Cooking, Jacqui Wood (includes modernized recipes)
  • "The Celts," Food in the Ancient World, Joan P. Alcock (p. 172-180)

What did Irish people eat before the potato arrived?
Food history books skip from Ancient Celtic fare to the late 17th century, when the Irish embraced the potato. Surely, food did not stand still for centuries. "Irish Food Before the Potato," A.T. Lucas, Gwerin: A Half-Yearly Journal of Folk Life, Volume III, No. 2, 1960(p. 3-43) explores this period in depth. Information is grouped by food type: meat, bread, milk, cheese, corn (grain), butter, drinks. This scholarly article is not available via the Internet or academic databases. You can read it here, in three short courses: I, II & III.

Cabbages and their cousins were known to ancient cooks. They were thought to have several medicinal attributes. The Romans are said to have introduced cabbages to Europe, with the possible exception of Ireland, where [According to C. Anne Wilson/Food and Drink in Britain(1973)], linguistic evidence suggests it was already known to Iron Age Celts. In Medieval Europe cabbage/cole (often in combination with members of the onion family) were the food of the common man. Potatoes were introduced to to Europe by 16th century explorers. They were first regarded as curiosities, not readily embraced as food. The French, then the Irish, were among the first to recognize the fact that potatoes could keep a nation from starving. Recipes for potato and cabbage dishes were inevitable. These dishes developed according to collective taste and culinary experience.

"Colcannon. Originally and Irish dish of boiled potatoes and cabbage or kale mashed together and flavoured with onion, shallots, or leeks and cream or butter. The word 'colcannon' is from the Gaelic cal ceannann' which literally means white-headed cabbage. However, the cannon' part of the name might be a derivative of the old Irish cainnenn', translated variously as garlic, onion, or llek. Therefore it can be suggested that in its earliest form colcannon may have been a simple mixture of some brassica and allium. One of the earliest Irish references to the dish as a mash of potatoes and cabbages is found in the Diary of Wiliam Bulkely, of Bryndda, near Amlwch in Anglesey, who made two journeys to Dublin in 1735. The dish was introduced into England in the 18th century, where it became a favorite of the upper classes. In Ireland colcannon was associated traditionally with Hallowe'en (31 October) festivities, when it was used for the purposes of marriage divination. Charms hidden in bowls of colcannon were portents of a marriage proposal should unmarried girls be lucky enough to find them, whilst others filled their socks with spoonfuls of colcannon and hung them from the handle of the front door in the belief that the first man through the door would become their future husband."
---Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 1999 (p. 203)

"There were variations, if rare, even that the poor ate. One was colcannon, or cale-cannon, turnips or cabbage mashed up with potatoes and stewed. (A northern version, popular in county Armagh, substituted beans for the turnips and cabbage.) Colcannon entered English usage in 1774, but the dish may be older. What is more certain is that colcannon was a treat--few cottagers grew turnips or cabbages. That didn't stop it from becoming a delicacy, however, because the peasants reportedly liked to steal the missing ingredients now and then. When Irish immigrants came to the United States, they introduced colcannon to American cuisine."
---The Potato: How the Humble Spud Rescued the Western World, Larry Zuckerman [North Point Press:New York] 1998 (p. 32)

"Cabbage and Potatoes.
--Chop cold boiled cabbage and potatoes quite fine put them together, season with butter, pepper and salt, add a very little vinegar or hot water, to moisten without making it wet, put it into a stew-pan over the fire, stir it well, that it may be thoroughly heated, but not burn then take it into a dish, and serve for breakfast, or with cold boiled salt meat for dinner."
---Mrs. Crowen's American Lady's Cookery Book, Mrs. T. J. Crowen [Dick & Fitzgerald:New York] 1847 (p. 194)

--Boil separately equal weights of young cabbage, savoy, or spinach, and potatoes. Chop the greens and mash the potatoes, and mix them well together with a little pepper and salt, and one ounce of butter to one pound of the mixed vegetables. Heat the mixture over the fire for a few minutes, stirring it all the time then press it into a hot, well-buttered mould. Turn out and serve. Or, press it after mixing into a well-buttered mould, and put it into the oven for half an hour. Turn out and serve. Cold vegetables may be warmed up in this way. Probable cost, 6d. for a pint mould. Sufficient for three or four persons."
---Cassell's Dictionary of Cookery with Numerous Illustrations [Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Co.:London] 1875 (p. 150)


Ingredients: To each 2 lb. of sieved cooked potatoes, add 1/2 lb. sieved green cabbage, cooked with bacon, if possible. 1 teaspoonful minced onion 1 oz. butter 1 tablespoonful cream 1/2 teaspoon pepper 1/2 teaspoonful salt.
Method: Cook potatoes by steaming for 3/4 to 1 hour. Peel and pass through sieve. Add hot sieved cabbage. Melt the butter, add the onion, milk and seasoning. Stand it over gentle heat, add vegetable mixture and heat thoroughly but do not allow to boil. Serve very hot. Serves six."
---250 Irish Recipes: Traditional and Modern, [Mounth Salus Press:Dublin] 196? (p. 76-77)

"Irish stew is a celebrated Irish dish, yet its composition is a matter of dispute. Purists maintain that the only acceptable and traditional ingredients are neck mutton chops or kid, potatoes, onions, and water. Other would add such items as carrots, turnips, and pearl barley but the purists maintain they spoil the true flavour of the dish. The ingredients are boiled and simmered slowly for up to two hours. Mutton was the dominant ingredient because the economic importance of sheep lay in their wool and milk produce and this ensured that only old or economically non-viable animals ended up in the cooking pot, where they needed hours of slow boiling. Irish stew is the product of a culinary tradition that relied almost exclusively on cooking over an open fire. It seems that Irish stew was recognized as early as about 1800. "
---Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 1999 (p. 407)

"764. Irish Stew

Having taken the loose fat form a loin or neck of mutton, cut from three to four pounds of it into small well-shaped chops. Flatten and season them with salt and mixed spices. Peel six or eight onions parboil and skin a quantity of potatoes. Lay some shred suet at the bottom of a stew-pan, and a half-pint of broth, or melt two ounces of butter. Slice in a layer of potatoes, then a layer of chops, then strew in the onions, then again the potatoes and chops, &c. and let the top be covered with potatoes. A shank or small bit of ham, or a scrape of smoked tongue, or a little sausage meat, is a great addition to this favourite family dish. It must stove very slowly, and the pan must be closely and constatnly covered. Mshed potato makes an excellent wholesome paste to cover plain meat-pies of all kinds, particuarly pies of fat meat.--Obs. Some cooks wrap an old napkin round the stew-pan lid, which forms a kind of luting in dressing this and othe stoved dishes. There is a kind of cottage oven used in Ireland, in form of a wide stew-pan, made of cast-irong, whith a lid of the same thickness, on which embers of turf are put. This is placed over other embers, and an equal slow heat is maintained, which dresses a stew, baks a pudding or a bit of meat, and is found very useful at other times as a cottage-pot. Hunter's pie is another excellent form of Irish stew, only this is sometimes made of beef-collops instead of mutton-chops and then the potatoes are always mashed. Place the potatoes, meat, and onions in alternate layers in an earethen-ware pie-dish, andbake them the top layer of potatoes ma be neatly scored, scollopped on the edges, and glazed with eggs, if approved. A fashionable Irish stew is baked in a mould, en casserole, and turned out when served."
---The Cook and Housewife's Manual, Mistress Margaret Dods [Mrs. Isobel Christian Johnston], facsimile 4th edition revised and enlarged 1829 [Rosters Ltd:London] 1988 (p. 377-378)

"Irish Stew.

Take from two or three pounds of chops from the best end of a neck of mutton, and pare away nearly all the fat, for an Irish Stew should not be greasy. If liked a portion of the breast may be cut into squares and used, but a neck of mutton is the best joint for the purpose. Take as many potatoes as amount after peeling to twice the weight of the meat. Slice them, and slice also eight large onions. Put a layer of mixed potatoes and onions at the bottom of a stewpan. Place the meat on this and season it plentifully with pepper and slightly with salt. Pack the ingredients closely, and cover the meat with another layer of potato and onion. Pour in as much water or stock as will moisten the topmost layer, cover the stewpan tightly, and let its contents simmer gently for three hours. Be careful not to remove the lid, as this will let out the flavour."
---Cassell's Dictionary of Cookery with Numerous Illustrations [Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Co.:London] 1875 (p. 331)

Dinty Moore's Irish Stew.

"Irish Stew

To each pound of meat allow 2 lbs. potatoes, 1/2 lb. onions, and just enough water to cover. (A little mushroom ketchup or a few spiced mushrooms is a good, but not classic, addition.)
2 lb. scrag or middle neck of mutton
4 lbs. potatoes
1 lb. onions
seasoning and 1 pint water
a bunch of mixed herbs
2 bay-leaves
Cut the meat into cutlets. Trim off the fat, cut the potatoes in half and slice the onions thickly. Put in the pan a layer of potatoes, then the meat, them more potatoes and all the other ingredients. Cover tightly and simmer gently for 2-2 1/2 hours. Watch that it does not stick. and shale the pan form time to time. This dish should not be sloppy the consistency should be thick and creamy and it should be very well seasoned. Spiced or stuffed prunes are excellent with ths. If stuffed, they are stoned and stuffed with the flesh of prunes."
---The Constance Spry Cookery Book, Constance Spry and Rosemary Hume [Pan Books Ltd.:London] 1956 (p. 570-571)

"Irish Stew

Ingredients: 2 lb. breast of mutton or 1 1/2 lb. gigot chops 5 medium-sized onions 2 lb. potatoes pepper and salt 1 pt. cold water 1 teaspoonful chopped parsley.
Method: Cut themeat into neat pieces, removing the skin and sujperfluous fat.All fat is nto removed becuase the potatoes will abosrb a cretain amount. Put the meat in the bottom of stewpan, then put in somesliced potato and onion. Season with pepper and salt. Add water, bring to the boil, skim, simmer for 1 hour. Arrange the remainder of potatoes and onion on top, cover and simmer for a further hour. When stew is cooked serve on a hot dish with the potatoes and onion around and the meat in the centre. Pour a little gravy on top and serve the remainder in a hot sauceboat. Garnish with parsley."
---250 Irish Recipes: Traditional and Modern, [Mounth Salus Press:Dublin] 196? (p. 54-55)
[NOTE: "A gigot is the hind leg of a meat animal-in current usage. restricted to lamb, but formerly also used for veal, venison, etc."---An A-Z of Food & Drink, John Ayto [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 2002 (p. 140)]

"New Year's Eve. The last night of the old year was known in Irish as Oiche na Coda Moire--The Night of the Big Portion--because of the belief that a big supper on this night ensured full and plenty for the year to come. No food should be taken out of the house on New Year's Eve. On any other night of the year a hungry traveler or homeless waif might expect hospitality as a matter of course, but on this night food and drink were given grudgingly, if at all. It was better not to ask. This custom went back to the time when the success or failure of the crops meant all the difference between famine and plenty. Spells and incantations were invoked to guard against the danger. It was customary of the woman of the house in many parts of the country to bake a large barm brack on New Year's Eve. As night approached the man of the house took three bites out of the cake and dashed it against the front door in the name of the Holy Trinity, expressing the pious hole that starvation might be banished from Ireland. After the ceremony of banishment was over the fragments of the cake were gathered up an eaten by the family. In Imokilly, Co Cork, they had a custom that the crumbs were thrown at the door and windows to prove that no one inside was hungry. A rather more pleasing version of this custom from west Limerick is given by Kevin Danaher in The Year in Ireland. The door was struck three times with a large cake while the head of the household recite. 'Happiness in and misfortune out From tonight to this night twelve months In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen' Church bells ringing, hooters hooting, bonfires burning, people joining hands at midnight and singing 'Auld Lang Syne'--these are now the customary ways to welcome the New Year. New Year's Day was always known as La na gCeapairi--the Day of the Buttered Bread. This was possibly a talisman against hunger, or to show that food was plentiful. Sandwiches of bread and butter were placed outside the door on this morning."
---Land of Milk and Honey: The Story of Traditional Irish Food and Drink, Brid Mahon [Mercier Press:Boulder CO] 1991 (p. 146-148)

Recommended reading:
"Irish Food Before the Potato," A.T. Lucas, Gwerin: A Half-Yearly Journal of Folk Life, Volume III, No. 2, 1960 (p. 8-43)
Land of Milk and Honey: The Story of Traditional Irish Food and Drink/Brid Mahon
---best overall history
A Little History of Irish Cuisine/Regina Sexton
---recommended by culinary historians
Oxford Companion to Food/Alan Davidson
---includes separate entries for traditional dishes
You Eat What You Are: People, Culture and Food Traditions/Thelma Barer-Stein
---popular foods, dining customs, holiday meals & glossary. Grades 4-12.

FoodTimeline library owns 2300+ books, hundreds of 20th century USA food company brochures, & dozens of vintage magazines (Good Housekeeping, American Cookery, Ladies Home Journal &c.) We also have ready access to historic magazine, newspaper & academic databases. Service is free and welcomes everyone. Have questions? Ask!