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Hundert Meisterwerke keltischer Kunst: Schmuck und Kunsthandwerk zwischen Rhein und Mosel. (Schriftreihe des Rheinischen Landesmuseums Tier 7).

'What! will the line stretch out to the crack of doom?' Shakespeare's Macbeth offers a not entirely unsuitable introductory text. There seems to be no end to the number of major exhibitions devoted mainly to the finer products of the European Iron Age, here firmly labelled 'Celtic'. Such terminology is in stark contrast to an increasing ground-swell of opinion amongst predominantly English prehistorians. These call into question a view of Iron Age Europe centred on what has been termed by another reviewer 'the apparent familiarity of the Celts and the Celtic way of life |which~ has led to approaches to some aspects of Iron Age social and economic organization being formulated within very modern conceptual frameworks' (Champion 1992). The present reviewers perceive a less than thorough theoretical, historical and linguistic foundation to those who would argue that, because over-rigid modern concepts of nationalism cannot be shown to apply to protohistoric people, prehistoric Celts could not have existed, and that they cannot be equated by and large with the material culture of the La Tene phase of the European Iron Age, archaeological construct though the latter may be.

Superficially, these weighty and lavishly illustrated catalogues of exhibitions organized in 1992-3 by two of the main repositories of Iron Age material in Germany appear very similar regional surveys. One deals with material from the Rhineland, the other with Bavaria, the area of Germany through which that major east-west conduit of culture, the Danube, flows. In the best sense, a regional approach should result in less emphasis on over-generalized aspects of the past than is often generated by the grand design of many international exhibition projects. In fact, as the sub-title of Hundert Meisterwerke makes clear, this indeed is a specialized review, which focuses on the fine metalwork and metal-working traditions of the Middle Rhine and contains only local material from the major museums of the region. It opens with a sober, if conventional, introduction to the art of the La Tene period, provided by Otto-Herman Frey, when seems to be an obligatory contributor to any contemporary exhibition of Iron Age art. This is followed by an overview of the rich La Tene graves of the Rhineland down to the coming of the Romans by Alfred Haffner, based largely on his own major excavations of the last 25 years.

Notwithstanding, at first glance this might seem to be yet another 'Treasures of ...' display, and there is a certain element of repetition in some of the texts. In fact, after these introductory essays, the volume intersperses the catalogue entries proper with stylistic discussion of individual pieces and with examination of production techniques; examples are summaries of Etruscan and Celtic flagons (Hermann Born), fibulae (Andrei Miron), or the gold arm- and neck-rings from the area (by Hans-Eckart Joachim, drawing on the work still in progress on the Waldalgesheim find, and that of Rudolf Echt on the grave of the Reinheim 'princess'), drinking-horns (Dirk Krausse-Steinberge), cups, bowls, stamnoi and sieves (Angelika Wigg and Regina Geiss-Dreier) or costume and ornaments (Rosemarie Cordie-Hackenberg). General texts and catalogue entries alike provided with full documentation and the illustrations, both photographic and line, are an invaluable adjunct, though one does wonder why three identical illustrations of one of the Basse-Yutz flagons were thought necessary.

The message, to those who were fortunate enough to see the exhibition in any of its five regional locations, is clear from the catalogue -- progress is at last being made on the thorny questions of regional development, interaction and workshop traditions in early Celtic art, through the detailed stylistic examination not only of individual pieces and classes of objects, but also of their associations and technology. Sadly, the price of major publicity is eternal vigilance. Just before Hundert Meisterwerke opened in the Fachbereich Edelstein und Schmuckdesign of the Fachhochschule in Idar-Oberstein, a town long famous for its manufacture of jewellery, and while the catalogue was in press, a large number of pieces of La Tene fine metalwork were stolen from the Museum at Birkenfeld. Among these were the originally coral-inlaid and bronze mounted iron scabbard and sword from Ameis-Siesbach, a key piece of early Celtic art found in 1841 which had been used for the catalogue cover as well as for the exhibition poster and other publicity.

Das keltische Jahrtausend, organized by the Prahistorische Staatssammlung in Munich and shown at the Lokschuppen Rosenheim, is altogether a much larger and more diverse enterprise. This latest overview has the Manching oppidum as a central focus, and it can most readily be compared with two other major exhibitions previously reviewed in ANTIQUITY, the 1991 Europe-wide Venice spectacular I Celti (Moscati 1991; Megaw & Megaw 1992) and more particularly the 1980 Die Kelten in Mitteleuropa exbibition in Hallein (Pauli 1980; Megaw 1981). This centred on the near-by ancient salt-working centre of the Durrnberg, just on the border between Bavaria and Austria, but, like Rosenheim, it included material from other areas of Europe as well. In Das keltischer Jahrtausend the famous head from Msecke Zehrovice makes yet another appearance, both in the exbibition itself and as a not entirely appropriate catalogue cover subject -- in the former role surely only as a replica, as has prudently been the case since its discovery in 1943 for every public showing at home and abroad until Venice in 1991. The Bavarian survey ranges back in time to the Urnfield period, claiming what Hans Peter Uenze sees as a basic cultural continuity without intrusive population movements from then until at least the middle of the La Tene period, and any external influences as emanating from the 'eastern La Tene zone' (not really defined), a Drang aus dem Osten, rather than a Drang nach Osten. The contemporary message of a common Europe -- what has been claimed as not so much a hidden agenda as a blatantly obvious aim -- is rather less to the fore in both volumes than at Venice; not so obvious are the politics of block-buster exhibition management which has resulted in key material from the Durrnberg being made available at Rosenheim as it was not in Venice. The Bavarian catalogue has a number of introductory essays of varying value -- including Frey once more, this time on imagery in Celtic art, leaving Georg Kossack to deal with the development of Hallstatt and La Tene ornamental style. Most useful to the scholar are those texts dealing specifically with southern Germany, since many of the more general short treatments of Europe-wide themes have been at least as well done elsewhere, though there are some interesting if tantalisingly brief essays on aspects of continuity and acculturation, as well as valuable summaries on Celtic coinage (including the way in which Roman coinage may be used to illustrate Celtic society).

The bulk of the 520 catalogue entries (there are far more objects involved in total) come from southern Germany, and there are some fine and little-known pieces among them. However, it is a little difficult to see the reason for some of the thematic divisions; 'Druids and bards', for example, are illustrated by only one object, a replica of the 2nd-century BC stone statue of a lyre-player from a settlement at Paule-Saint-Symphorien in northwestern France, while 'Cult, magic and religion' are entirely separate, with a large number of objects including stone statues of cross-legged males from the south of France and the so-far little-known and much earlier 5th-century BC group recently found at Vix. It is noticeable, however, that the bibliographies have very little material in any language other that German, and that the statuary from the Rhone valley in France is questioningly presented as cult figures of deities when the more recent French literature suggests it is more likely to represent the local aristocracy. On the whole, this is a much more uneven collection than that organized by Trier, but one which nonetheless attracted some 200,000 visitors, bearing witness to the continued contemporary fascination of continental Europe with ancient Celtic culture -- whatever that may actually have been. As Macbeth put it, 'Hang out our banners on the outward walls; The cry is still "They come"'.


CHAMPION, S. 1992. |Review of six titles on Iron Age themes including Moscati 1991~, Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 58: 437-41.

MEGAW, J.V.S. 1981. Kelti kommt!, Antiquity 55: 125-7.

MEGAW, J.V.S. & M.R. MEGAW. 1992. The Celts: the first Europeans? |review of Moscati 1991~, Antiquity 66: 254-60.

MOSCATI, S.O.-H. FREY, V. KRUTA, B. RAFTERY & M. SZABO (ed.), 1991. The Celts. London: Thames & Hudson.

PAULI, L. (ed.). 1980. Die Kolten in Mitteleuropa: Kultur, Kunst, Wirtschaft, Salzburger Landesausstellung 1 Mai-30 September 1980 in Keltenmuseum, Hallein, Osterreich. Salzburg: Salzburger Landesregierung.
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Author:Megaw, Ruth; Megaw, Vincent
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1994
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