I am East Anglian and proud of it and have always believed the Celts are completely different as they come from the opposite part of the country to me. Turns out I’m wrong and that I may well be every bit as Celtic as my Cornish friends. The term Celt was first used by the Greeks to mean anybody that didn’t share their Mediterranean culture and later the Romans adopted the term. Celts were never a tribe just a collection of peoples who didn’t toe the dominant culture of the time.
All those swirly lines that are an integral part of Celtic Art in popular imagination have their roots in the stylised depictions of birds and animals that the ancient Celts saw around them. Early in the exhibition we see an exquisite flesh hook, that would have been used for extracting hunks of meat from cooking cauldrons, adorned with a string of swans. Quite how the flesh hook would have worked stumps me but as an object of beauty it is stunning.
Back to East Anglia …… in 1948 a farmer was blamelessly ploughing his north Norfolk field when he struck gold. Further investigations have revealed many stashes of Celtic jewellery in the Snettisham area dating back to 150-50BC, some are mangled fragments and others magnificent torcs. Six cases of treasure are on display at the British Museum. We East Anglian Celts plainly liked our bling, indeed it was with extreme reluctance that I left a rather fine reproduction necklace behind in the shop for somebody else to buy.
Back to the swirly lines ….. as the Celts embraced Christianity they deployed their distinctive decoration onto copies of the Bible. The St Chad Gospel is on display: the fine and intricate pattern must have taken the monk who drew them many, many hours. These gospels were made between about 700AD and 1000AD. They have been in Lichfield Cathedral and are still used today in some services. The early Victorian era saw a Celtic revival with the resurgence of both nationalist feelings and the desire for swirly lines and the exhibition ends with a Celtic football shirt to bring things bang up to date.
On the bright sunny Autumn morning that I visited Celts: Art and Identity, I met Mr CW for a late coffee, early lunch sort of a meal. Café Paradiso on Store Street, just behind the British Museum, was our chosen destination for tasty paninis, coffee and sneaky cake.
CELTS: ART AND IDENTITY 24 September 2015 – 31 January 2016
Opening times: Daily 10am- 5.30pm (8.30pm on Fridays)
Admission: Adults £16.50, under 16’s free