Monday, 16 September 2013

Important new example of British early Celtic art. 13. Conclusions

In part two, I quoted Martyn Jope's conclusion that imports could not explain the appearance of early Celtic art in Britain -- that the concepts and know-how arrived with people trained in the continental workshops. The finial proves this point as the metal is distinctly British, and although the exact locations of the Plastic Style workshops are unknown, it is understood that the style mostly appears from Bavaria to Bohemia. More importantly, the main centres of Celtic art in Germany and Champagne did not show the strong influences of the style that are exhibited in Britain. Furthermore, the part of the Plastic Style spectrum that is marked by complicated casts fully "in the round" appears to have been some sort of "trade secret" as might be expected and it died out as quickly as it had appeared.

I would go even further and say that the finial, with its complex shape and small size, was a particularly advanced form of the type. We might wonder if some early form of centrifugal or pressure casting was developed by someone and shared with only a few. Unfortunately, but likely necessary, the original cast surfaces were subsequently worked through filing and either chasing or engraving into the surface, and the piece does not exhibit the soapy feel of poor quality casts that is caused by minute raised bubbling of the surface. In  a modern pressure cast, these tiny bubbles are only found within very small raised divisions of the surface design. For example, in modern pressure cast forgeries of ancient coins, they are found within some of the letters of only the very small legends.

When I first looked at the finial, I saw that it contained some design and compositional elements that defined it to me as British work. Now, of course, I realize that these elements are actually prototypical of the British forms. We saw in the "exploded" design I constructed of the three dimensional surface by translating it to a two dimensional schematic in part three, that the simple triskele motif in the Tarn armring had additional elements between the terminal bosses -- most importantly, the trumpet -- which is a very common later element in British early Celtic art and which lasted well into the Roman period.

As to what made a continental workshop move to Britain, nothing can be said with much certainty. Perhaps the style had started to fall out of fashion, and the craftsmen decided to seek a remote market less susceptible to fashion whims. This was certainly the case with the Thracian craftsmen who made the Gundestrup cauldron, as many of the motifs were copied from Italian models that do not show up at all in native Thracian art (Hooker forthcoming). However, there is another possibility that was presented to me by Raimund Karl and, in my opinion, has great merit: the known Celtic custom of fosterage might well have included apprenticeships in continental workshops. The original contacts could well have been made between British and Boii warriors serving in northern Italy in the 4th century BC. This connection  finds some evidence, in Britain, with finds of early copies of the gold stater of Philip II. These coins were paid to troops serving in the Italian campaigns. In any case, the philippus had served as a prototype for all of the earlier British gold staters, and this appears to have started prior to Caesar's visits to Britain -- even though perhaps by only a few years. The designs held special significance and were not just "mindless copying" as I explain here.

The pattern of influence of the Plastic Style on British early Celtic art seems clear to me now: the forms, such as the mask on the long Wandsworth shield boss shown in part five did not have the impact that the linear decoration within the repoussé cells of the round Wandsworth boss (part six) had to later art in Britain. This decoration first emulated three dimensional subjects in two dimensions.

The next stage for the linear decoration was that only the outlines of these three dimensional objects were retained. sometimes, the interior was taken up with two dimensional fill patterns. The final stage was where the shapes of the spaces between the elements became elements in their own right, giving an "M.C. Escher effect" as can be seen in the British Mirror Style (part nine).

Meanwhile, other artists had not engaged in this linear decoration but, instead, had emulated the complex casting of the finial sort with the extreme and very skillful use of repoussé as a means to this end.

Because of the lack of surviving examples, the cause of which is also explained in part nine, and because of the abysmal lack of metallurgical analyses of the few surviving examples, we cannot localize the production of these objects as high status warrior objects are often found far from their point of origin. Hopefully, museums will now follow my lead and get these things properly analysed down to the smallest elements. The cobalt to nickel ratios being especially important.

Finally, and importantly, we must not restrict ourselves to "frontal" views of these things as their hidden designs can only be seen from the eccentric viewpoint (part ten).

I had said that I would include "the way forward" in this part  (in more detail and covering more topics than I have done in the previous two paragraphs), but as there is a lot to cover that does not directly impact the study of the finial, these topics will be covered in the final installment (part 14). Consider it an appendix.

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