‘They cut off the heads of enemies slain in battle
and attach them to the necks of their horses ……..’
Diodorus Siculus (90-30 B.C.)
STONE MALE HEAD
CELTIC, PROBABLY NORTHERN BRITISH, FIRST-SECOND CENTURY A.D.
With moustaches and large almond-shaped eyes and prominent nose.
Height 28 cm.
Bruce Chatwin (1940-89), Oxfordshire
Simon Sainsbury (1930-2006), London
Bruce Chatwin, the renowned journalist and travel writer, worked in the Antiquities and Impressionist departments at Sotheby’s from 1958-1966, leaving to read Archaeology at Edinburgh University. His literary career started at the Sunday Times Magazine and he went on to write prize-winning books including In Patagonia, On The Black Hill and Songlines. During his time at Sotheby’s he was greatly influenced by the dealer K. John Hewett (1919-94) and his enthusiasm and fascination with objects never left him; he continued to buy and sell for the rest of his life.
The Celts worshipped the ‘head’; they decapitated them, they preserved them, they collected them as well as carving them out of stone. The scholar, Paul Jacobsthal, wrote in his book Early Celtic Art (1944), ‘Amongst the Celts the human head was venerated above all else, since the head was to the Celt the soul, centre of the emotions as well as of life itself, a symbol of divinity and of the powers of the other-world.’ The cult of the ‘severed head’ in Britain can be supported by the many examples of stone heads that survive which may have been viewed in niches in sanctuaries with or without human heads, if none were available. Celtic mythology up to the Middle Ages resonates with tales of heroes and saints who carry their own severed head as in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight with the Green Knight picking up his head after it has been struck off by Sir Gawain.
For examples found at Corbridge, Northumberland and Appleby, Cumbria see A. Ross, Pagan Celtic Britain, 1967, pls. 21 and 27.
Price on request