'A masterly production. An enormous amount of documentary evidence shown very successfully.' UNESCO
CreditsDirectors: Max-Pol Fouchet: Jean L'Hote Narration: Max-Pol Fouchet
Catalog number # 20
38 minutes Monochrome
Age Range: 12 to Adult
Closed Captions and Interactive Transcript
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A statue in a modern city square? The brain-child of some avant-garde artist? Guess again. These figures so marvelously in tune with our modern age are 2,000 years old: they are tiny statues created by the Gauls. The art of the Gauls, or rather of the Celts, for the Gauls were of Celtic origin, fits in perfectly with our twentieth century ideals.
Do we really know the men who created these objects? In their works, the Romans describe them as they would describe their enemies, which they were. The real faces of the Gauls are often shrouded in mystery. Can this bronze ring which adorned the trappings of a Gaulish steed 3 or 4 centuries before our era help us reconstitute the features of its owner? Bulging, oval eyes, arched eyebrows, a broad nose, full lips; these are the common traits of Celtic statuary. But how unlike a portrait! A few rough-hewn traits are often enough to evoke great nobility. Yet these other masterpieces, unearthed in Provence, Entremont and Roqueperthus, show grave miens and lofty ideals. Individual details are banned. Heroes are evoked in their eternity, beyond death. This art, which would not have been disavowed by the cubists, reduces forms to essentials. These other faces seemingly belong to the same clan. Yet they come from a foreign land: Denmark! The great silver vase discovered in that country, with its striking imagery, brings to mind the vast civilization spreading over the West.
The Gauls were Celts, who had migrated from Central Europe along with many others. Divided into a number of tribes, they were united in spirit, a spirit of fantasy, dreams, legend and love of the supernatural. That is what the Celts learned from their priests, the Druids, and from their poets. They sensed that one had to look beyond mere appearances to reach truth. It's easy to imagine. The Druids led these people towards the Breton land, to the West, on the threshold of the setting sun, symbol of LIFE. There, according to ancient legend, boats of crystal plied the waters to a transparent tower. There were orchards with silver trees and golden fruit, apples that swayed to a gentle, lilting air that banished man's troubles.
But the tall stone guardians dotting the islands and the heaths attested to other civilizations which had preceded the Celts. A thousand years previously men had lifted, transported and aligned these mysterious rocks. Astronomical sanctuaries? Barriers sheltering Holy Ground? Symbols dedicated to the sun? What chiefs, what Gods did they honor, what forces? Mute witnesses. They have been gauged by centuries of wind and rain. They bear no symbols, for they themselves are symbols. But the huge task of planting raw matter denotes a struggle against the laws of nature, a will which is the source of all art. 'Here', said the sculptor Rodin, 'are man's first cathedrals!'
Dolmens and menhirs aligned in neat rows. Man erects monuments to Death, to Life, to the secret forces that govern his existence. Man's first architectural marvels. A whisper from the shadowy depths. A sunken, inviolable burial-place, a precursor of the monumental tombs erected in honor of the kings. The walls of the cave speak, but we know not what they say. On the rounded, ogival menhir, the sculptures in relief depict funerary idols, their arms bent, their legs askew, with tattooed faces. Strange divinities, from the depths of time, when man discovered metals. On the rock is the outline of the triangular axe, perhaps the symbol of a goddess who presided over both death and fertility. It is no wonder that the Bretons considered these constructions as lairs for all sorts of spirits, gremlins and fairies. The masterpiece of this megalithic art is deep in the Morbihan Gulf, on the Isle of Gavr'inis; a long underground hallway, bordered by 29 menhirs, 23 of which are covered with sculptures. Twelve of them support the flagstones of the roof. Why did men, 3,500 years ago, build this sanctuary on a deserted island? Stele lead to the death chamber. The wall-stones are covered with abstract motifs forming harmonious compositions. The whole of the rock seems to move, as if ruffled by currents, like the sea which laps at the shores of Gavr'inis. What is the meaning of this linear spirit, these endless engravings leading nowhere, these graphic symbols coming together? Are they expressions of our distant ancestors' attainment? Of ancient rites? The rock of Gavr'inis is living matter. It mirrors the secret movements of our universe.
And yet, on this earth where men had erected menhirs and sculpted dolmens, other men, thousands of years before, had already attempted to depict the world they lived in, a world over which hovered two major obsessions: first of all animals, without which they could not live. They engraved their hunting hounds on reindeer antlers. Shooting forth, a horse. There is not yet any definite dividing line between man and beast. The form, and the line were traps, magic nets to aid in the hunt, but also pictures born of desire. Here, the hunter depicts his prey as if he were stalking. Which leads us to prehistoric man's second major obsession: WOMAN! This statuette with the well set-up torso evokes a dance at least 30,000 years old! A prehistoric hairdo! This young lady was sleeping in a cavern in the flatlands of Western France. She is living proof that for thousands of years Paleolithic artists were past masters at portraying feminine beauty. She is as captivating as Mona Lisa. But first and foremost, woman is the symbol of fertility. Like the animals, her role is to give life. She is a mother with nourishing breasts. Sexual characteristics are magnified, for this object was gifted with magic powers. Without doubt, the paintings of Lascaux Grotto made for a fruitful hunt. But the noble attitudes of the animal paintings of prehistoric man prove that he considered them his equals. These figures are perhaps the incantations of blood-thirsty hunters, but they are nonetheless extremely moving. For the very first time, man depicts himself. He outlines his hand on the walls of his cave. The Celts also tried to sculpt animals, for they had the same preoccupations as their distant ancestors. They first scratched out awkward graffiti. But with time, the same steeds become elegant and noble.
The Celts, through art, conveyed their mysticism and their conception of death. They believed the great beyond was always present. But death and rebirth were linked, like day and night. The Druids taught them the notion of an immortal soul. They knew how to sculpt human skulls and sometimes incorporated real skulls in their monuments. They decorated the porticos sheltering the statues of their heroes. Striking works, worthy of ancient Egyptian or Oriental art.The soul and the head were inseparable, held in by these eyes, these tight lips. The power of an oracle. This religion is one of spiritual energy. Enemy chieftains' heads were severed and hung on the walls or over the altars. Hero worship has not waned. He was the keeper of the tribal arms. The champion who fought for all. Here there is a definite foreign influence. But there is eternity in the gaze, the radiance of mysterious powers. This is the precursor of the recumbent tomb figures of Medieval Christendom. In depicting real life, the Celts often surpass reality. Their art is then a reflection of faith in things beyond our control. It reflects their spirit of transcendancy. Sometimes, as in Constantine, in Provence, the Gauls chose sites to satisfy their taste for legend. Here, they built their strongholds, or oppidums. Beyond these walls, there were no palaces, but ramparts of dried rock reinforced with beams, erected in inaccessible places. Often the Gaulish oppidum served simply as a refuge, but it was especially a place of pilgrimage, a center of the cult. And within the oppidum, there were tombs. This Gaulish chieftain is cradled in the earth between the two wheels of his chariot, a chariot not built for war, but to whisk the deceased off to the Great Beyond. Each tomb is a museum. Even the rust has not succeeded in destroying the iron funeral masks. The helmet is not a winged helmet, as seen on the French 'Gauloise' cigarette packs. Its cleverly arranged motifs are of iron, copper and gold.
The traditional taste for ornaments is brought out by this simple string of stones. This massive bronze bracelet, spiral pendants or finely perforated motifs for harnesses. These artisans were artists. 'Souvenirs of Lutetia', that's what they were, just as today we say 'souvenirs of Paris'. The Gauls were masters at making trinkets and jewels. They gave wide scope to their creative imagination, distending, dilating, and giving rhythm to movement or simply respecting purity of line. These necklaces and torques could well serve as inspiration for our modern gold and silversmiths.
The Celts undoubtedly held their taste for geometrical design from their distant Oriental ancestors. But they did not separate the figurative from the non-figurative; mixing them and sometimes even associating them. Look at this striking little bestiary . . . First, these fantastic animals, which probably brought a tolerant smile to the lips of the Latins, but which we find later sculpted in the stone of French churches. Why not a Chinese motif for a horse? The Gauls tilled the soil and bred stock. They lived in the midst of their animals. Here, the Gallic artist brought together the visible and the invisible, for the boar, among the Celts, was believed to be in close communication with the other world.
In this art, the human face is more schematic. The Gauls, the ancestors of the highly individualistic Frenchmen, paid little attention to individual characteristics. This of course shocked the Romans, who passively copied their models. The Celts were seeking to reproduce an idea. The story goes that one of them, invited by the Greeks, burst into laughter upon seeing the effigies of their gods. 'How can one possibly', said he, 'represent Gods as men'? But the Celts could also give way to tenderness, or to graceful attitudes. Using the traditional elements of their style, they evoked humans through caricature. The Latin Poet Lucan claimed that the Gauls were unable to sculpt rock or metal. These 'barbarians', according to him, could only make rough-hewn shapes out of tree-trunks. Opinions are still divided on the subject. Judge for yourself!
Yes. Judge for yourself! As before you see this young dancer with raised arms and flowing hair, a real masterpiece of suppleness, grace and harmony, distant precursor of Henri Matisse's dancers. Judge again with this figure of a man. The Celtic art of Gaul, which was long considered nil, is now being rediscovered. Like Romanesque and Gothic, it was misunderstood. It has now finally been acknowledged. But meanwhile, the civilization which it pictured was threatened in its very spirit. Caesar came, and conquered! And other Caesars followed, with graceful divinities emblazoned on their breast-plates. The Romans brought with them the law, and the divine right of the conqueror. To the spiral lovers, they brought columns aligned like Roman legions, right angles, discipline, and respect for war veterans. And they taught the virtues of the straight line to these naive people who believed that the curve was the shortest way from one dream to another. On their monuments, they glorified the conquests and exploits of the new order. Pictures illustrating the right of peoples of self determination! On the arch of triumph, on either side of a trophy, chained captives, and even the symbol of a barbarian, an animal-skin. And French schoolchildren recite: 'The Romans conquered because they were the stronger, with their iron discipline and their catapults'. The Roman shields cast a pall over conquered Gaul.
The Gauls were loath to picture the Gods, which by definition were infinite. A few rough hewn features sufficed. But Roman order gradually crept into their art: little by little, timidly and awkwardly, divinities became human. Wedding announcement: Mercury the Roman, weds the Gallic Goddess Rosmerta, a shapely Artemis. She's obviously giving him the old 'come-on'! Lucky Mercury! An allegory of the blessings of colonization! Here's a nice little statue, at Alesia, where the celebrated Gaulish Chieftain Vercingetorix met his match, a Priapus hitches up his tunic. That's a Gaulish cat. In Roman Gaul, styles mixed. This hunter with a rabbit is in the Gaulish tradition, but the artist has attempted to give our woodsman the elegant stance of Roman or Greek statues. Between a poplar and a pine, Attis the shepherd, with his pipes close by, and the wind lifting his cloak. On this marble bas-relief, the Greek influence, which we find again in Igia, Goddess of health. Epona, the Gallic Goddess of the country, now knows that all roads lead to Rome. A few Olympus V.I.P.'s, Jupiter, among others, were undressed by Gaulish hands. On the other hand, ancient Celtic Gods have Peplums not made to order. The scarf is sticking out. The Romans joked about the Gaulish custom of wearing trousers. On this stele, we can see that they are going out. Sucellus, the Celtic God with a mallet, is draped in a mantle with clever folds, fanned by the palms. If we would better know these mixtures and combinations, let us follow Psyche. A sarcophagus? No, a television screen, why not? Land of the Arts: the Art of the Gallo-Romans! A new series starring a galaxy of divinities! including 'The Great Adventure', 'Mister Everybody', 'The Torrid Years of Mount Parnassus'. And that brings our program to a close, midst the plaudits of the public, so it seems. But the ancient Gods are not dead. Cerlunos, the Stag God gazes upon the Roman Carnival from his hideout. The great Celtic symbols still wield their magic! Hewn from the rock, the 3 faces of the 3-headed divinity, bringing to mind the sacred character of number 3. In the legendary forests, the stone breasts are on the watch, protecting fountains and springs. Many were the Celts who relied on their traditional genii, such as this monster we call the Tarasque de Noves: from his maw dangles the arm of a man, and his clawed feet rest on two severed heads. Was he the fearsome protector of some stronghold? Or is this an allegory of Hell, where sinners are devoured? We come upon this sculpture again, among the gargoyles of French cathedrals. The human heads under the claws have the same expressions as the heads of Chartres Cathedral. A boar, a creature of another world! On this massive statuette discovered in the Haute-Marne Department, the idol sports a Gaulish necklace, the torque. Is this a personification of the Boar God?
The art of Gaul mixes nature and dreams, creating what one might still call surrealist works. This God discovered in Bouret is proof of the nobleness of Gallic art. It is a forerunner of the reliquary busts of the Middle Ages. Proof also of the proficiency of Gaulish artisans in the technique of enamel. Under the Celtic countenance, the body ends with stag's feet. But these persistent deities did not seem to trouble the Roman peace. The conquerors sought justification of their conquests by embarking on huge projects. Wounded Gaulish pride was somewhat tempered by new aqueducts, roads and bridges. In return, Gaulish artisans taught the Romans a great deal. The Conquerors knew nothing about preserving wine, which they kept in earthen amphora. The Gauls invented the cask to age wine. We can get a good picture of Gaul at work through art. Dominus, dominum, domino, and so forth. The benefits of proper instruction. Gaul was a hairy nation. So they go to the hairdresser's for shearing and combing.
Even then, the long-haired romantics were frowned upon: here are the new hairdos: curls and ringlets. Beauty will be beautiful! The beauty parlor type of beauty. Some people like it. Faces are copies of the fashion. Let us leave character and personality for the perfect polished marble, expressionless dummies. The Romans had copied the Greek models, and the Gallo-Romans copied the Roman. Copies of copies.
Fortunately, there were the local workshops, where the artisans created their marvelous statuettes. The Celts were a chaste people. Nudity, for them, was sacred. The Romans turned it into something profane. Silenius is not a paragon of chastity or temperance. It's the Romans who added the words 'risque' to the Gallic vocabulary. Let us not forget that it's in Italy that Ovid wrote 'The Art of Loving'. The joys of motherhood. These little terra-cotta items were made from moulds and mass produced. Business was prosperous, even the undertaker's. You ordered your tomb-stone before passing away, and left for the Great Beyond with your food rations; you took your money with you. The last voyage started midst garlands and flowers. Suddenly, the theatres reared their empty walls. The sword of the gladiator was shattered and the haughty emperor no longer lorded it over the cheering multitudes. The Roman arenas were turned into so many derelict hulls. Here, in the vales of Provence, at Glanum, the healing water-deities once attracted the rich Gallo-Romans, the sick and the pilgrims. They are now empty shells. The Roman Empire, conqueror of Gaul, yielded to the Barbarian hordes. A new conquest, destroying the first. Force is turned into a bitter grin. The cities were dismembered, the stone transported elsewhere to build ramparts and bastions against other invasions. The Teutons are about to overrun Gaul. But even before the Germanic wave breaks over the country, the Gallo-Roman cities crumbled, as if eaten away from the inside. Former prestige has turned to broken vestiges. What is left?
The Coins of Gaul There is no doubt that the model is Greek: the gold piece represents Apollo. It will be transformed by the Gauls. The metamorphosis begins. The first step is schematizing the carefully drawn hair. Formal beauty is replaced by spiritual energy. Among the swirls, the stiff gaze broadens out into an expression revealing the soul. The undulating lines become spirals imbued with life. The thin crescent of the profile is the very image of night, surrounded by stars. The Greek God, representing light on earth, is devoured by a light from within. From a simple relief, a dynamic composition emerges. Were the Gauls incapable of exact reproductions, blundering and awkward? Not at all! They wanted to picture the obscure proliferating forces of the world, the rhythm of the universe, not creatures, but Creation. On the other face of the coin, the chariot undergoes the same transformation, from a simple copy to something expressing the Celtic spirit. The horse was the symbol of Existence. It has a human head. The chariot and its driver have disappeared. They are replaced by signals, the signature of Gaul. For the Celts, beauty of design was not enough. They sought something more: the essence of things. The horse has become an arabesque, an allegory. The disembodied form materializes into a dream. Perpetual motion. The last image is like the stars in the heavens: This is where the drudgery of mere semblance disappears; this is where the poetry of fantasy begins.
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