Celtic links from pre-history to now at British Museum show

Wed Oct 21, 2015 7:12am EDT
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By Nigel Stephenson

LONDON (Reuters) - In a darkened gallery of the British Museum, where spotlights catch the intricate swirling decoration of Celtic Iron Age metalwork, visitors are confronted by a face from another world.

It belongs to a 2,500-year-old red sandstone warrior who marked a grave in present-day Germany. His bulbous "ears" are in fact a "leaf-crown" headdress denoting high rank. His hollowed-out eyes mesmerize.

Too fragile to travel from the German museum of which he is the centerpiece, even in replica he is a presence from deep pre-history.

The warrior and his creator were Celts, although they would not have said so. Greek writers first used the term in about 500 BC to describe "barbarian" tribes in northern Europe.

The exhibition "Celts: art and identity" plots how the word Celtic has been used and co-opted to define identity over time.

The Celts were not one ethnic group and, while Celtic languages would have been spoken in much of the landmass, they had no common tongue, although their art demonstrates cultural connections across Europe from the Atlantic to the Black Sea.

"In a way, what brings them together is what they are not," lead curator Julia Farley said.

"These are people who are deciding that they want to have an abstract art style rather than following the trend towards increasing naturalism that we see in the classical world."   Continued...

A visitor looks at The Gundestrup cauldron displayed in the "Celts: art and identity" exhibition at the British Museum in London, Britain in this September 23, 2015 file photo. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett/Files