Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Important new example of British early Celtic art. 4. Oblique anamorphosis

The illustration on the left shows two overlays drawn to clarify the oblique anamorphosis. The left side reveals the typical "monster" face -- in this example, a bug-eyed goldfish; the right side showing a Celtic two-dimensional composition with elements previously used in early Celtic art. Above the yin/yang boss, is a palmette derivative and a cusp outside of that, at the 2 o'clock position. No other example is recorded of such a case of  the transformation of three dimensions into two in early Celtic art.

The illustration on the right shows a different face of the finial where one can see the "monster" as having two eyes, or a combination of the "monster" and the linear pattern. Both of these views are dependent on the viewpoint of the observer. For example, the cusp is actually the upper surface of the trumpet, its mouth being transformed into the lower leaf of the palmette.  in the case of the view of the "monster" with both eyes, the left eye is the snail-coil boss of the top of the finial, while the right eye is one of the yin/yang bosses of the side of the finial.

Oblique anamorphosis has been thought to be an artistic creation of the early 15th. Cent. AD. Modern artistic use of the phenomenon has yet to produce a truly sculptural example like this one where an actual object (the finial) can be transformed by the mind into something very different. The fact that the transformations are both from 3D to 3D and from 3d to 2D is unrecorded at any period, to the best of my knowledge.

The various "monster" faces which peer out at the observer on some examples of the Plastic Style on the Continent have been designated the 'Walt Disney' style by Ruth and Vincent Megaw in Celtic Art -- From its Beginnings to the Book of Kells, Thames and Hudson, 2001, p. 139ff. where they say of the examples cited: "All demonstrate a particular type of abstraction of human and animal heads which, since it shares with modern cartoonists the ability to produce immediately recognizable forms by the economical use of pattern, may be dubbed the 'Walt Disney' style".

Yet, all of these Continental designs consist of deliberately created and detailed faces -- they are not solely a phenomenon of observation as is the face on this finial. The work of this master had an influence on British early Celtic art right down to the 1st Cent AD, and Chris Rudd points out some hidden faces in the abstract design on a gold coin of Tasciovanus.

We should also ponder the nature of this metamorphosis in the minds of the creators of this British development to the Plastic Style and their clients. Although focused, of course, on later art, this paper by Dan Collins, Associate Professor of Art, Arizona State University, investigates the compositional and psychological meanings behind the applied phenomenon. 


  1. The illustration on the right, where the petal like shape seems to have some sort of oxidation/mineral reaction, makes the piece appear incomplete. Is it possible that the outer material worn down enough to break off? Were these pieces molded similar to clay/glass art (at much higher temperatures mind you), or are they believed to be "dipped" in each proceeding allow? Looking at another blog post, their elemental compositon in layered, as one would layer lasagna until the finished product became the masterpiece that one had desired to create.

    1. Hey, Julie, It is so difficult to show the three dimensional shape in a two dimensional representation. Using your lasagna analogy, imagine that we start with a plain blob on which to build up the design where that blob is shaped very much like a berry and the mount where a tang was inserted being equivalent to the remains of the flower head from which the berry grew, then that petal shape (being the central one of the three implied shapes around the Yin Yang symbol) is part of the original berry and everything else are the raised shapes that rise from that original blob. Being based on the triskele, there are three examples of this same shape. Or we can understand it as that I have shown only one of the three views of these shapes that can be seen when the object is rotated to be held at exactly the same angle again for each of the three views. So nothing is missing and everything else you see has been added (literally or figuratively as the original shape or model might have been made).

      Before this time, in early Celtic art, no one was able to make such a complex shape "in the round" through casting. This master had taken the design much further than the Tarn armlet where the design, although of high relief was still a bas-relief and had made the triskele fully three dimensional so that it could not even be seen without movement.

      It had such a profound effect on the development of British early Celtic art, partly because after this master, he manufacturing technique was lost.

      They tried high relief repousee and drawing three dimensional shapes in two dimensional lines (which later became the "mirror style") in attempts to convey this sort of artistic style. even the famous "British trumpet" shape maintains a boss at each end which are taken from the bosses you see here rising above the flat-truncated end of the triskele.

      I didn't understand this shape at all until I had it in my hand. The only way it could be seen properly on a screen would be in a three dimensional interactive model that could be turned around to any angle. Vincent Megaw wondered why I had sent so many different photos to him just about from every possible angle. He had never seen any Celtic art so photographed. I was hoping that the shape might be appreciated thus.

      You'll get to see it as I saw it!

      Today, it would be made by centrifugal casting, but back then...?