Irish Art History: From Past to Present

irish art history

Prehistoric Irish Art History

Irish art history dates back to circa 3200 B.C. Some of the earliest stone carvings are from Ireland’s Neolithic era, such as those on the megalithic tomb of Newgrange at Brú na Bóinne in County Meath. Later, the Bronze Age saw the expansion of metalworking on the island while the Beaker culture thrived during this era as well.

Celtic & Christian Art

Celtic art was not introduced to Ireland till circa 300 B.C. It flourished alongside the La Tene culture after the island started trading with Northern Europe and Britain. However, these contrasting, but often complementing La Tene styles, were lost under the Roman Empire.

Ireland started developing its own distinct Celtic designs, especially crosses, intricate patterns and spiral designs. These Celtic artworks are a distinct feature of Irish art history, with almost no influence of other prevalent variants during the time.

Ireland was not Christianized till around the fifth century. Monasteries served as primary scholarship centers which helped foster insular art. Illuminated manuscripts, decorative stonework, and Christian metalwork were all conceived during this era.

The Dark Ages of Irish Art

Then came a long period of nearly zero art production. For almost five hundred years till the end of the sixteenth century, Irish art history had no major transformation. This came at a time when Renaissance art swept much of Europe. But Ireland remained insulated from this wave.

Irish art reemerged in the latter half of the seventeenth century, but even then, promising artists on the island sought opportunities overseas. Many Irish artists became skilled in Landscape and portraiture, and this led to the inception of the Royal Dublin Society and Royal Irish Academy.

Because of limited patronage and lack of opportunities, Irish artists continued to work abroad. Irish artists who specialized in portraits often preferred London while landscape artists chose Paris.

Irish Art Revival

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, the scene began to change and the Celtic Revival movement renewed the interest of artists and patrons alike. This was particularly evident with Belfast-born artist, Sir John Lavery. Despite working abroad, Lavery was still rooted in Ireland artistically. As well as Beatrice Elvery, Garrett Morphy, and Paul Henry.

Today, Ireland has a unique art culture of its own, rooted in both the past and the challenges of present-day social issues and politics in Ireland. The country’s most recognized living artists include Brian O’Doherty, Sean Scully, and Dorothy Cross.

Locals and visitors alike can still revisit the art history of Ireland’s past at the National Gallery of Ireland and the National Museum of Ireland while viewing the latest in Irish modern art the Irish Museum of Modern art and Kerlin Gallery.