Iron Age art of Northern Europe
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Iron Age European Art

clay pot with clay helmet on top
Villanovan cremation urn with helmet on top (ca. 900 BC)

In the beginning of the Iron Age, people in Europe were still reluctant to represent the human form; the Villanovan cremation urns are just clay pots, but they wear helmets as if they were people - sometimes real helmets, sometimes clay ones.

clay pot in the shape of a person with a big head and tiny arms
Etruscan cremation urn
(ca. 600 BC)

By the time these are Etruscan cremation urns, though, they're definitely representing people.

bronze deer figurine
Bronze deer figurine (Bulgaria, ca. 1000 BC)
Now in Sofia, Bulgaria

In Eastern Europe, people were making small horse and deer figurines, like the ones further east in Central Asia, and further south in Greece.

gaulish pot
This is a pot from Gaul
before the Romans conquered it.

Soon the Etruscans are inspired by Greek art and create full-sized clay statues. Roman soldiers and traders carried the idea of sculptures of people and animals to the edges of the Roman Empire

woman nursing a baby
Clay statuette of a
woman nursing a baby
Bavaria, 100s AD (now in Munich)

There are many carvings, paintings, mosaic floors, and statuettes all over the European parts of the Roman Empire. This small clay statue of a woman nursing her baby was probably made to leave at a religious shrine as a sacrifice to the god, or as a thank-you offering for a safe and successful childbirth. But outside the borders of the Roman empire, in Central Europe, representations of people are still rare and abstract well into the medieval period.

Learn by doing:
More about Northern European art - the Middle Ages

Bibliography and further reading about early European art:

More about Northern Europe
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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