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As discussed before on the Inquisition, votive offerings were a prevalent feature of the largely animistic, pre-christian belief systems of early Europe. They could be anything from great artistic treasures to simple clay renderings of your diseased private parts. These were usually deposited in deep water, with, you would imagine, great ceremony. So, when a cauldron was hauled up from the depths of Bavarian Lake Chiemsee by an amateur diver in 2001, it was unusual but not a huge surprise.
The cauldron is decorated with heavily stylised figures, such as horned deities and trumpeting hunters, that would seem to derive from central indo-european, and in particular Celtic, art. Such is the quality of its craftsmanship that were it to be an authentic celtic votive artwork its value is estimated to be between 100,000 and 1,000,000,000 euro. The exquisite piece weighs 11kg, and although labelled a cauldron could just as easily be a funerary urn or the world’s most lavish chamberpot. In fact, the Inquisition, would challenge even the world’s cackliest hag to hubble, bubble, toil and trouble even a simple soup from this unwieldy saucepan.
The pre-Chiemseean provenance of the artifact is a mystery. It has been variously associated with Nazi groups, the afore-mentioned Celtic rituals, black magic, and even state complicity with a catholic conspiracy to keep coded messages within the vessel’s golden reliefs hidden. Its attributions read like plotlines even Dan Brown would baulk at. An abortive attempt was made to purchase it by wealthy Kazakh collectors, through a Swiss bank account, but the cauldron remains, for the time being in Switzerland, as evidence in a fraud case.
Soon after the cauldron’s emergence, a team comprised of the original diver, a professional artifact hunter and an art dealer presented it to the Bavarian State Archaeological Collection in Munich for analysis. While the motifs appear to be consistent with artistic practice and style from 2000 years ago, the construction does not. In particular, it appears the kettle was soldered, which would strongly suggest a twentieth century origin.
Add to this, the fact that Bavaria does not have laws of compulsory purchase in relation to historical finds, means the cauldron was about to become the centre of much (legal) debate. The leading professor from the Archaeological Collection went on record to seemingly compare it to the Gundestrop Cauldron, but at the last moment revealed the more recent artifact to be a forgery. He alleged it was made from looted gold, and bizarrely hinted it may have been used in initiation rites. Rumours of esoteric Nazi obsessions with the Holy Grail began to abound.
Its origins have never been cleared up officially, but it is almost certainly a much later piece than it contrives to be.
The most exciting suggestion relates to a senior director of a long-established Munich jewelers. Theodor Heiden claims to have been told by the company’s goldsmith, Alfred Notz, prior to his death, about a “golden cauldron weighing more than 10 kilograms (22 lbs.), with a figurative ornament and manufactured by means of the paddle and anvil technique.” Commisioned by a muncich-based company, Elektrochemische Werke Munchen, in 1925, it took 14 years to make. This company’s director, Albert Pietzsch, was a very high ranking non-military Nazi party member. Which in essence is a whole lot of, he-said, she-said.
Consequently, the Bavarians decided to wash their hands of the proverbially poisoned chalice. It has since been sold in ever more underhand ways, before winding up in its current legal limbo.
This article was posted by Ronan McDonnell on
Friday, September 18th, 2009 at
It is archived in Art, Deepsea, History and tagged Art, bavaria, celts, diver, germany, gold, loot, Nazis, plunder, treasure.
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