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Studio: international art — 14.1898

Seite: 163
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Celtic Sculpture

Celtic sculpture, by


Ancient buildings and monuments
often share with prophets the mis-
fortune of receiving the least possible amount
of honour in their own country. Pausanias
plaintively remarks of his own countrymen, “ The
Greeks are great hands at admiring things abroad
in preference to those at home; thus eminent
writers have seen fit to describe minutely the
Pyramids of Egypt while they have not a word to
say of the Treasury of Minyas and the Walls of
Tiryns, though these are not a whit less wonder-
ful.” As an instance of the truth of this nearer
home, I was not long ago talking to an artist friend
about the beautiful little Norman church at Adel,
near Leeds, and he said, “ Yes, it is quite an
architectural gem, and if it was in Italy all the
guide-books would ‘ enthuse ’ over it and tourists
would go miles out of their way to see it, but
being in England probably nobody except a few
local antiquaries are aware of its existence.”
This observation applies with equal force to the
sculptured monuments of the pre-Norman period,
which are even less appreciated than the speci-
mens of ecclesiastical art in the Romanesque
and Gothic styles. What makes it all the more
extraordinary is that, although the mediaeval
remains of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries
on the Continent are more numerous and in-
dividually finer than anything to be found in
Great Britain, there is no country in Europe
which possesses such a splendid series of early
Christian sculptured monuments as our own,
dating from, say, a.d. 700 to 1000. During
these three centuries, when the art of the stone-
carver was almost- extinct in other parts of
Europe, it was in so flourishing a condition here
that our Celtic and Anglo-Saxon ancestors seem
to have experienced but little difficulty in repro-
ducing in stone the decorative effects of the
illuminated MSS. of the same period. It is
perhaps not over-stating the case to say that,
when the history of European sculpture comes
to be written, practically the whole of the mate-
rials for the period between a.d. 700 to 1000
will have to be collected in Great Britain.

It would be thought that a nation which
possesses such an unique series of art treasures,
as these early Christian monuments undoubtedly
are, would take some care to preserve them
from injury and make them available for pur-
poses of study; but it is a melancholy fact

that a large proportion of the stones are being
rapidly destroyed by exposure to the weather,
and none of our own museums consider it worth
while getting casts or photographs made of the
whole of them. If these crosses had the good
fortune to be buried beneath the sands of Egypt
or concealed in the depths of the tropical forests
of Central America, we should have long ago
sent out expeditions to bring them over here and
set them out in the chief place of honour in
our museums. Being, however, so near home, it
is difficult to excite much interest in them. It is
a curious fact, also, that although the value of the
early Saxon and Irish MSS. and metal work is
fully recognised, as shown by the large prices they
fetch when sold, the sculptured stonework of the
same date is comparatively neglected. From an
artistic or an archaeological point of view a piece
of decoration is equally useful for purposes of
study whether it is drawn on vellum, executed in
metal, or carved on stone.

(From a drawing by the late G. V. du Noyen)

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