Exhibiting the Celts


I received my exhibition listing from the British Museum yesterday with details about ‘Celts: art and identity‘. The text informed me that ‘this is the first major exhibition to examine the full history of Celtic art and identity’. The exhibition opens on 24 September 2015.

This claim rather overlooks the stunning major international exhibition ‘Die Kelten in Mitteleuropa’ at the Keltenmuseum in Hallein, Austria in 1980. Some 67 museums from 10 different countries were represented. The catalogue has a substantial section on ‘Kultur der Kelten’ with a chapter on ‘Die keltische Kunst’ by Otto-Herman Frey. The catalogue has the Vorwort in four languages: German, English, French and Welsh (‘Mae’r Celtiaid yn dod!’).

The highlights in London will include the Holzgerlingen double-horned statue (Kelten no. 17), the Gundestrup cauldron (Kelten no. 188), and a gold torc from Snettisham.

I sometimes wonder if these major ‘blockbuster’ exhibitions fail to acknowledge earlier explorations. But then would ‘this is a further major exhibition to examine …’ bring in the visitors?


Incidentally I paid 15 Austrian Schillings to see the exhibition (at a student rate). The British Museum will be charging £16.50 (but free to Friends). Notice the Hallein ticket is in four languages.

UCS Heritage Professor Shortlisted in Poetry Competition

Rotas Opera
Latin inscription from Cirencester © David Gill

Professor David Gill, Director of Heritage Futures at UCS, has been shortlisted in the first Corinium Museum poetry competition. The Corinium Museum in Circencester is one of the leading Roman collections in the UK. The winning and shortlisted poems will be displayed in the museum alongside the objects.

Professor Gill’s poem, ‘Sowing Letters’, was inspired by a Latin acrostic inscription cut into wall plaster that was found in a Roman house at Cirencester in the 1860s. The five lines of text can be read from left to right, right to left, or vertically. The letters can be re-arranged to form the first two Latin words of the The Lord’s Prayer (‘Pater Noster’) with ‘A’ and ‘O’, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet that allude to Jesus Christ as the beginning and the end. The text is perhaps one of the earliest allusions to Christianity found in the British Isles.

The earliest known version of the inscription has been discovered at Pompeii, destroyed during the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79. Another has been excavated at the site of Dura-Europus on the river Euphrates in what is now modern Syria.

Professor Gill’s poem uses two of the Latin words from the inscription to provide an acrostic structure to his work.

Walbrook, London

walbrook_mithThe excavations by William F. Grimes at the Walbrook in London captured the public imagination. The building that caught the imagination was the temple of Mithras and the Guildhall Museum published a guide to the Finds from the Temple of Mithras, Walbrook (price 1 s). There are 8 full page black and white photographs, plus the images on the front and read covers, and with two pages of text, one on the temple and the other on the ‘Works of art’.


A companion guide was Small finds from Walbrook 1954-1955 also published by the Guildhall Museum (price 1 s 6 d). This consisted of nine black and white plates with facing text description, and covered Grimes’ work in the mid-1950s.


The finds from the Mithraeum appeared in a volume by J.M.C. Toynbee, The Roman Art Treasures from the Temple of Mithras (London and Middlesex Archaeological Society, special paper 7; 1986). The introduction on the archaeological back ground is by Grimes (pp. 1-4). Several of the pieces are illustrated in colour.


The full account appeared as an English Heritage archaeological report in 1998.  This included Alan Sorrell’s reconstruction of the Mithraeum.

A Handook to Roman London

Roman London

A visit to the Museum of London prompted me to check my shelves for guides on Roman London. My Guildhall Museum handbook was written by Ralph Merrifield in 1973. The opening image is the Roman funerary monument from Camomile Street that now welcomes visitors to the Roman gallery.

The sections are:

  • The beginning of London
  • London as the capital of Roman Britain
  • Buildings of Roman London
  • The fort
  • The city wall
  • Roman Londoners
  • Trade and industry in Roman London
  • Religion in Roman London
  • The end of Roman London

There are reconstructions by Alan Sorrell, as well as a map of Roman London.

We Will Remember Them

War Memorial at the British Museum © David Gill

It was moving to stand in front of the war memorial under the portico by the main entrance of the British Museum yesterday, Remembrance Day. The simple words, that we know so well, were ones written by Laurence Binyon, a member of staff in the museum’s Department of Prints and Drawings.

Later in the day we reflected on the students of the British School at Athens who lost their lives in the Great War.

We will remember them.

Using Drones in Archaeology

Gail Boyle from Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery presented her work with drones to explore archaeological sites at the Society of Museum Archaeology conference yesterday. They had been used to explore prehistoric long-barrows as well as a small Roman town.

Her presentation coincided with the publication of the new guide to the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) by the Archaeology Data Service [details]. Further information appears on the JISC digital media website.

Heritage Seminar: Dr Liz Hide on University Museums

Fitzwilliam Museum
The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge © David Gill

Dr Liz Hide, University of Cambridge Museums Officer, presents ‘University Museums: who cares? What can a 21st century University Museum contribute to society’

Dr Liz Hide is leading the development of the University of Cambridge Museums consortium and the delivery of the UCM’s Major Partner Museum programme Connecting Collections. Her background is in geology and palaeontology and previous roles include Curator of Invertebrate Palaeontology at the National Museum of Scotland. In Cambridge she chairs the county-wide Cambridgeshire Museums Advisory Partnership, and is a founding member of the Cambridge Arts Leaders group. In 2012 she prepared ‘Impact and Engagement University Museums for the 21st Century’ on behalf of the University Museums Group, and is currently leading on the development of short film promoting the work of University Museums in the UK. 

University Museums are a diverse species. Large, multi-themed institutions such as The Manchester Museum, The Ashmolean in Oxford and The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge are the main cultural providers in their region, contrasting strongly with specialist collections embedded within research departments. Their collections may form the backbone of research activity, or be sidelined to an awkward corner as research trends move on. Gallery spaces may hum with new ideas and debate, or bristle with resistance to change. In this seminar Liz will explore what it is that University Museums do, and demonstrate why, in changing times, she thinks University Museums lie at the heart of the wider museums sector. She will discuss the role they play within their parent Universities, the many impacts they have on audiences, and their potential for the future. There will also be an opportunity to share your experiences with university museums and collections – please do feel free to share them!

This event is open to all UCS staff, students and visitors.


To book your place, please contact Julie Barber:

E- Julie.barber@ucs.ac.uk

T- 01473 338181

Nestor’s Guide


One of my favourite sites is the Late Bronze ‘Palace of Nestor’ near Pylos in the Peloponnese. I first explored the site with a copy of the guide prepared by Carl W. Blegen and Marion Rawson in my hands: A Guide to the Palace of Nestor (The University of Cincinnati, 1967). There are 32 pages of text with 34 images along with an extremely helpful numbered plan printed inside the back cover. Among the illustrations are (black and white) reconstructions by Piet de Jong (see a review of his work here). The sections are:

a. Foreword. This has the helpful statement: ‘The purpose of this Guide is to help interested visitors to find their way about the Palace of Nestor’. (Writers of guides need to remember this!)

b. History of the excavations.

c. The site.

d. The palace.

e. Architecture.

f. Main building.

g. Southwestern building.

h. Northeastern building.

i. Wine magazine.

j. Northeastern part of citadel.

k. Tholos tombs.

l. Identification and date of the Palace.

The guide has now been updated with additions by Jack L. Davis and Cynthia W Shelmerdine, A Guide to the Palace of Nestor, Mycenaean Sites in its Environs and the Chora Museum (Princeton NJ: American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 2001).


The illustrations include some of the colour reconstructions by Piet de Jong. The booklet includes a section ‘Life in Mycenaean Pylos’ based in part on the Linear B tablets. from the palace’s archive. There are helpful plans of the Chora Museum to help visitors around the exhibits.

Alan Sorrell: reconstructing the past


The Sir John Soane’s Museum in London has been hosting an exhibition Alan Sorrell – A Life Reconstructed (ed. Sacha Llewellyn and Richard Sorrell; Sansom & Company, 2013). The excellent illustrated catalogue contains a number of essays:

  • Richard Sorrell: Introduction: a portrait of my father
  • Peyton Skipwith, The Royal College of Art & the 1930s: developing a sense of design and form
  • Sacha Llewellyn, The British School at Rome 1928-1930: ‘The stirring up process’
  • Brian Foss: Alan Sorrell’s war, 1939-46: a view from above
  • Alan Powers, Murals and public paintings: ‘community service’
  • Sara Perry and Matthew Johnson, Alan Sorrell as reconstruction artist: making ‘dry bones live’
  • Richard Sorrell, Travels and direct-observational painting
  • Ian Sanders, Chronology

There are some unexpected images: Sudanese Express Passing Abu Simbel (1961), Construction of a Runway at an Aerodrome (1946), Istanbul: the wall of Manuel Comnenus (1954). The final section showing covers from his volumes of reconstructions reminds us of the legacy of Sorrell.

%d bloggers like this: