Musée d’Angoulême

Angoulême, France | C.1920

Photo Credit: Accidentally Wes Anderson


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A hero has just come home from battle. It is ~ 350 B.C.E. and the Celts are celebrating their recent military win. The high ranking leader wears a helmet too precious for battle. Now known as the Casque d’Agris, its iron base is covered with Bronze, Gold Leaf and adorned with delicate decorations. Twenty-four centuries later, it now resides in the Musée d’Angoulême as one of the oldest refined gold objects of Western Europe.

The museum’s roots date back to when the city was gifted ten paintings by local amateur painter Ringuet François, who dreamt of establishing a museum in his beloved hometown. In 1869 that institution was opened in Angoulême’s city hall, where François was unfortunately described as a “very mediocre painter.” (Sorry François) In 1920 the museum moved to its current location, but the Casque d’Agris wouldn’t arrive for another six decades.

Discovered in a cave near Angoulême in 1981, it is presumed to have been deliberately broken and buried as an offering to the Celtic gods. Hundreds and hundreds of years had taken their toll, and burrowing badgers played their part disrupting the helmet’s secluded location even more.

After careful restoration, the Casque d’Agris sits in the Musée d’Angoulême, but … sometimes it does not. The relic has made its rounds to other museums around the world, so a replica was created. But to ensure the safety of the original, the museum keeps hush hush as to which is the replica and which is the real relic.

There is still some debate over the exact origins of the helmet due to the size of the Celtic world at the time. Some scholars argue that it was likely made elsewhere and brought to France due to Etruscan and Greek influences that can be seen in the piece, while others say that those influences were brought in and the helmet was in fact made in France. The piece, being the masterpiece that it is, can often be seen in international exhibitions of Celtic art.

In the last two decades, the museum has renovated its space to bring itself into modernity. In their newly rehabilitated space, they have taken stock of their collections and suggested a new radical way of looking at a thing and asking what can be learned about creativity and beauty when looking at objects from times separated by decades or centuries and creating what they call “original encounters.” What was it that motivated our ancient Celtic artisans to make a helmet that could not be worn in battle? What moved in an untalented man that led him to lobby for a museum to showcase beautiful objects? Is it the reason that we still love and adore these objects? And is it that that makes us human?

Written By: Chris Gilson

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