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The Art of the Picts

Sculpture and Metalwork in Early Medieval Scotland

George Henderson, Isabel Henderson

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The definitive book on Pictish art by two of the world’s leading authorities on medieval art


Using art-historical tools and drawing upon two lifetimes' experience and expertise in the field, George and Isabel Henderson dissect and scrutinize one of the great genuine enigmas of early medieval art: the sculpture and metalwork of the Picts, inhabitants of north-east Britain.

Marginalized and dismissed for many years by art historians as inchoate and provincial, the large surviving Pictish corpus of cross-slabs, incised stones and metalwork remained until recently the territory of archaeologists and those bewitched by the mysterious, unfathomable symbols found in so much of the art. Through the careful comparison and skilful observations, however, the authors show how the art of the Picts both interacted with the currents of 'Insular' art, and - contrary to received wisdom - was produced by a sophisticated society capable of sustaining large-scale art programmes.

A masterpiece of scholarship and deduction, the book is organized around eight thematic chapters dealing with the characteristics of Insular art, the 'Pictishness' of Pictish art, Pictish metalwork, themes and programmes in Pictish art, the form and function of the sculpture and a discussion of the impact of losses, illustrated with over three hundred photographs, six maps and specially commissioned line drawings. Throughout, the Hendersons give strong consideration to the formal qualities and the iconography of the works, throwing new light onto some of the more intractable problems associated with the Picts - not least the meaning of the supposedly 'pagan' symbols.

In its acute analysis of Insular art, and its relentless questioning of the function and meaning of Pictish art, this book will be of great value to art historians, archaeologists, those interested in the history of the early Church, and medievalists of all disciplines, and is arguably the most important publication on this subject for over a century.

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'It is certainly the most important publication on its subject, and is moreover a huge pleasure to read: erudite, engaging, a beautifully written celebration of Pictish art'
Times Literary Supplement

'It is a work of immense and generous scholarship'
History Scotland

'The best set of portraits ever made of Pictish art … a benchmark in Pictish studies'
Antiquaries Journal

'Fascinating … in-depth and intelligent … a beautiful book, and would make a wonderful gift for someone interested in the Picts'

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Paperback with flaps

Size: 28.0 x 21.8 cm

Extent: 256 pp

Illustrations: 326

Publication date: 30 August 2011

ISBN: 9780500289631

Contents List

Introduction: The Criticism of Pictish Art: from ‘insular’ to Insular • 1. Diagnostic Features on Insular Art: A General Review • 2. Pictish Participation in Insular Art • 3. The Pictishness of Pictish Art • 4. Reassessing Pictish Metalwork • 5. Pictish Figurative Art • 6. Form and Function of Pictish Sculpture • 7. Form and Function of Pictish Sculpture II • 8. Losses

About the Author

Dr Isabel Henderson is a Fellow and Tutor at Newnham College, Cambridge. Working with her husband Geroge Henderson they have written numerous books between them, including Durrow to Kells (George Henderson) and The Picts (Isabel Henderson).