Iona and the public display of early Christian art

© David Gill
Replica of St John’s Cross, Iona © David Gill

The great replica of St John’s Cross dominates the western end of the Abbey on Iona. It has a span of some 2.2 m. (The original is in the site museum.) It appears to date from the 700s or 800s. The original cross was made from stone brought from Loch Sween in Argyll.

A cast of St John’s Cross features in the newly opened The ‘Celts: Art and Identity’ exhibition that has opened at The British Museum.

2001 [rev. ed. 2011]
2001 [rev. ed. 2011]
2011 [rev. 2014]
2011 [rev. 2014]
How far are these early Christian images ‘Celtic’? I find it interesting that the Historic Scotland guidebooks to Iona Abbey and Nunnery by Anna Ritchie and Ian Fisher (2001, rev. ed. 2011) and by Peter Yeoman and Nicki Scott (2011) appear to avoid the use of the word ‘Celtic’.

Exhibiting the Celts

1980
1980

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?

Kelten_ticket

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.

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