Insular art refers to the style of art which developed in the British Isles from the late 5th to 8th centuries. During this period, the art of the British Isles at large shared many common stylistic features.
Insular art evolved directly from the fusion of Anglo-Saxon and Celtic styles of art. Anglo-Saxons arrived at the British Isles in the 5th century while still being pagan Germanic tribes.
Their interaction with the Celtic tribes in Ireland, who had already converted to Christianity, gave birth to a unique style of art which can be seen in the illuminated manuscripts, sculptures, and metalwork art of the period.
After a flurry of rapid activity and the production of many rich pieces of Insular art in the 8th century, the style declined with the beginning of Viking raids on the British Isles.
The most iconic example of Insular art can be found in the illuminated manuscripts produced in the British Isles from the 5th to 8th centuries.
Early illuminated manuscripts in this style adopted art elements from both Anglo-Saxon and Celtic traditions. These include the use of different geometrical shapes such as circles and spheres and the use of small animal figures and interlaces.
In illuminating the manuscripts of the Insular art, inspiration was also derived from the intricate metalwork art of the period. By combining all these elements, the illuminated manuscripts of the Insular art created a style that was unique in all of Europe.
These manuscripts were typically produced by the monks at the Christian monasteries situated all over the British Isles by the 7th century. Some of the most notable examples of illuminated manuscripts in this style include the Book of Kells, Lindisfarne Gospels, and the Book of Durrow.
Metalwork was a popular form of art among the Anglo-Saxons and Celtic populations of the British Isles even before the birth of the Insular style of art. Once the art traditions of the two cultures fused as a result of interactions, the metalwork styles that resulted were spectacularly intricate and thorough.
Many rare pieces of metalwork done in the Insular style survive to this day. Most notably, these include the brooches dating from the 5th to 10th centuries. The brooches of the period are marked for being exceptionally durable and very high quality.
Precious stones and embellishing elements such as colored glass were used to decorate Insular metalwork. Surviving pieces of Insular metalwork include a large variety of brooches, church relics such as chalices, and secular jewelry commissioned by wealthy noblemen.
Another notable medium of the Insular style was the religious sculpture. Sculpture became a popular medium of Insular art only from the 7th century to the 10th century.
During this period, a huge number of highly intricate, elaborately carved, and sculpted stone crosses were erected all over the British Isles.
Notable features of these crosses included geometrical decorations, the use of carved foliage, sculpted figures and images related to Biblical themes, and typically, a scene of crucifixion at the center of the cross.