Unique Celtic head sculpture goes on display in Olomouc

Photo: ČTK/Jaroslav Svoboda

One of the most precious items from the archives of the National Museum, a sculpted Celtic head dating back to the Iron Age, is currently on display at the Regional Museum in Olomouc. The valuable sculpture, which was transported to the museum under heavy security, is the highlight of a two-week exhibition of Celtic art.

Photo: ČTK/Jaroslav Svoboda

The male head sculpted in limestone was unearthed in the village of Mšecké Žehrovice, some 65 kilometres north-west of Prague, in 1943. It was discovered by chance by a local man, Josef Šlajchrt, as he was making terrain adjustments in his sand quarry.

The sculpture was probably created at the end of the third or at the beginning of the second century BC and it is one of the best known works of Celtic art from Iron Age Europe. Michal Lukeš is the director of the National Museum in Prague:

“What makes it really unique is that it is the only sculpture of its kind dating back to the 2nd or 3rd centuries BC outside of the territory of Ancient Greece and Rome.

Zdeněk Lukeš,  photo: ČTK/Ondřej Hájek
“The insurance value of the sculpture has been estimated at dozens or hundreds of millions of crowns, but it is just a number. What is unique can hardly be replaced.”

With its iconic moustache, bulging eyes, neck-ring and unique hairstyle, the limestone head has become one of the symbols of Celtic art and one the most photographed Celtic monuments in the world.

Pavel Sankot is the National Museum’s curator:

“The s-shaped motives in the face, on the moustache and the eyebrows, are really unique. There were several dozen similar sculptures found in Western Europe, but their features are depicted very roughly.”

The torque or neck-ring suggests the statue might be a representation of a nobleman or perhaps a member of a religious hierarchy.

The unusual hair-style with a tonsure also points to the social status of the depicted man. According to experts, this kind of hairstyle was most likely worn by the Druids.

These priests were active not only in religious circles, but also in the area of law, and enjoyed great esteem.

Photo: ČTK/Jaroslav Svoboda
The transport of the Celtic head from the National Museum’s depository in Terezín to the museum in Olomouc on Monday was complicated by the windstorm Sabine.

The valuable artefact was to be flown in on a helicopter, but in the end it had to be transported by car, accompanied by a police escort.

Strict security measures will also remain in place during the exhibition itself, explains Michal Lukeš.

“We insist on strict security measures during the exhibition. As you can see, it’s a safe display case, which has to be connected to a security system and the room has to be under constant camera surveillance.”

The precious Celtic head, which only rarely goes on display, can be seen in Olomouc until February 25.