The Art of the Picts

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The Art of the Picts: Sculpture and Metalwork in Early Medieval Scotland - George Henderson and Isabel Henderson, book reviewThe Art of the Picts by George Henderson and Isabel Henderson is an in-depth look at the art of the Pictish peoples, who lived in Scotland in the 6th to 9th centuries. Both authors are renowned experts in the field, so we can be assured that we are in good hands.

First published in hardback form in 2004, The Art of the Picts is now being published in a more manageable paperback format. I have been reading the paperback edition, due for publication in August 2011, and given the weight of it I am glad I didn’t attempt the hardback.

At first glance The Art of the Picts appears to be a coffee table book, with plenty of images of said art. Take a closer look, however, and you will soon realise that it is a big read, with lots of text and plenty of information packed into that text. There are, of course, plenty of images of the art being discussed, but this is not a lightweight book.

The subtitle of the book is Sculpture and Metalwork in Early Medieval Scotland, and that is exactly what The Art of The Picts covers. The Picts left behind many examples of cross stone slabs and metalwork, which have been the subject of much study over the years. The Art of the Picts studies these objects as part of the Insular style found in Britain at the time, and also examines the art-historical impact of the Pictish works.

The Art of the Picts is a fascinating book, and despite its subject matters, quite easy to follow.”

The Art of the Picts is not a light read. It is in depth and intelligent, and can be difficult going for the layperson, as I would count myself while reading this. I have some prior knowledge of Pictish art, having visited some of the sites discussed in this book such as Birsay on Orkney, but that knowledge is limited to having admired the art and the remains of Pictish structures. Having visited these sites I have an interest in knowing more, which is why I was attracted to The Art of the Picts.

The authors examine hundreds of examples of Pictish art, a surprising number of which can be found in Aberdeenshire, where I grew up – despite having not been aware of this, I found this local connection meant I was more interested in these areas than in others, except those I have visited. There are maps in each section showing where in Scotland the objects have been found, which does help give a context to the text. The text is full of images, all of which are numbered and referred to in the text, and also cross referenced throughout the book.

The Art of the Picts is a fascinating book, and despite its subject matters and authors, quite easy to follow. The style is clear and straightforward, and although the sheer volume of information makes it difficult to absorb, the writing is easy to follow.

Having read The Art of the Picts I do feel more knowledgeable about the subject, and this book has given me a thorough introduction to the subject, but given the in-depth nature of this text I would suggest that it is essential to have a prior interest in the subject before reading. The Art of the Picts is a beautiful book, and would make a wonderful gift for someone interested in the Picts.

The Art of the Picts by George Henderson and Isabel Henderson
Published by Thames Hudson, paperback, August 2011
Many thanks to Thames Hudson for providing a review copy of The Art of the Picts.

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The Art of the Picts
by George Henderson and Isabel Henderson

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Written by eilidhcatriona
eilidhcatriona

A Scottish lass in her late twenties living in London. A prolific reader always interested in something new.

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