Picts Wrongly Painted As A Race Of Barbarians

Stephen Stewart, The Herald (Glasgow), 20 Sept. 2004

The Picts, who have been depicted as archetypal barbarians for centuries, were actually a highly sophisticated people with an intimate knowledge of the Bible and Roman classical literature, according to new research.

Since they were first described by the Romans, the ancient inhabitants of Scotland have been depicted as illiterate, uncivilised, scantily-clad, promiscuous heathens.

However, work by world-renowned art historians has revealed the mysterious people, who occupied north-eastern Scotland between the sixth and ninth centuries, were far more culturally developed than was previously thought and are highly likely to have developed the decorative manuscript art of the time.

George Henderson, emeritus professor of medieval art at Cambridge University, and his wife Isabel Henderson, one of the world's leading authorities on the Picts, have discovered the tattooed tribes were not bloodthirsty butchers, but instead members of a cultured society capable of sustaining large-scale art programmes.

Their findings are detailed in The Art of the Picts, Sculpture and Metalwork in Early Medieval Scotland, which is something of a magnum opus on Pictish art.

Professor Henderson, who co-wrote the book with his wife, said:"We analysed the metalwork and sculpture which has been found in the north-east of Scotland from Orkney to Angus, dating from AD 600 to AD 850.

"The sculpture, in both incised and high relief, shows a flowing style of decoration.

"It is the same style as the Book of Kells, produced in Iona."

He said:"The Picts were very original and right on the cutting edge of creativity in the period. They are leading the arts in Britain. Their art is so sophisticated and distinguished.

"They are not derivative at all. It was thought that the Picts were copying the art from elsewhere but that is clearly nonsense.

"The sculpture and metalwork displays an authoritative handling and leaves little doubt that the Picts were the originators of the manuscript art of the period, such as the Book of Lindisfarne."

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