Fraser Hunter from the National Museum Scotland gave a talk on Celtic art to the Buteshire Natural History Society on Tuesday, March 11.
The talk was informative, entertaining and beautifully illustrated by a series of stunning, detailed photographs, including a piece from the collection in Bute Museum. Fraser focused on the earlier period of Celtic art starting around the third century BC and showed how Celtic art in Scotland was quite distinct in style compared to Celtic art forms found in France and Germany at that time, but how over time, other influences modified both the culture and art. A chariot burial in Midlothian was used as an example. Such burials are more usually found on mainland Europe, but though this burial appeared to be European in style the contents, including the chariot itself were clearly British.
Using close up images of artefacts from the third century BC Fraser showed the interplay between stylised spiral decoration and naturalistic components as well as the intricacy of much of the metalwork. Images of some of the torcs from this period show such details that Fraser suggested that many of the craftsmen may have been very short-sighted as modern workers would normally have to use a magnifying glass to achieve such detail. Again the influence of other cultures was evident in some of the torcs as they emulate styles found elsewhere but are made from the gold-silver mix used to manufacture such prized items in Scotland rather than the gold used in continental work.
Fraser commented on where items are found and the luck that often plays a part in locating hordes, such as a find close to a quarry edge that would have been destroyed by a very small extension to the quarry but lain too deep to be detected if the top surface of the ground had not been stripped off in preparation for quarrying. This particular collection included partially made ornaments, metal bases awaiting enamel and glass decorations. On closer inspection the goods were inside a building that had probably been used for ceremonial purposes.
The arrival of the Romans and the spread of their influence resulted in a two way influence. Examples of Celtic art are found in Roman forts, Roman coins were sometimes melted down to use for Celtic art and there is a blend of styles such as a Roman brooch design with Celtic art decoration. Fraser ended his talk by describing how the arrival of Roman influences meant that Celtic art evolved into a style we would recognise as Romano-British, with influences from both cultures.