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The Celtic Brooch, a Brief History

Last week I started to design some new items including Celtic brooches. I’ve written before about the fascinating history and meaning of Celtic torcs so I was now eager to see what inspired the design of famous works such as the Tara brooch. Before I give you a sneak peek of my sketches I thought it would be a good idea to share some of what I have discovered.

Tara brooch

While the torc was probably the most honoured form of adornment amongst the Celts the brooch was the most popular. This popularity is due to the fact that they were worn by both men and women and also served the practical purpose of fastening cloaks and other items of clothing. These brooches replaced straight pins to fasten clothing and were the early version of the safety pin we still use today. They were known as fibula brooches, possibly because their long shape resembled the shape of a fibula bone.

It is thought the Celts were influenced by early Mycenaean pins however the Celts began to develop and explore this design creating their own unique version. They made the brooch longer for practical as well as decorative purposes, now the brooch could hold more fabric. They also added their signature artwork of stylized animals and Celtic knotwork. In Britain and Ireland the most popular style of this brooch was the penannular brooch, where the top of the brooch was a circular shape with a small gap. The best known example of this style is the Tara brooch.

Tara Brooch showing decoration on back

What I find really interesting about these brooches is how similar in style and shape they are to the Celtic torc. They adapted the design of the fibula brooch to allow for more decoration and also to incorporate the symbolism of the torc shape. The circle in Celtic history was said to represent eternity and may be influenced by the pagan symbol for the sun. Like many other famous Celtic artworks the Celts decorated every available space on the brooch even making the unseen back of the brooch as ornate as the front.

Equipped with all this knowledge I started sketching! I’m hoping to translate some of these into silver next week so will keep you posted…

Sketches of Celtic Brooch Designs

 

 

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