Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Important new example of British early Celtic art. 5. Influences - Wandsworth long shield boss

 Although there had been no discovery of any object in the Plastic Style in Britain prior to the find of the finial, we can see the influence of the style in some of the earlier British examples of early Celtic art. To start this series of examples, I have chosen those objects which display the snail coil which I illustrated in part three. The element of the armring from the Tarn displayed only very simple bosses with a central bead and the masses which lead to each boss became very narrow at the point which they met the boss. The snail coil is a later development where the boss absorbs the mass which connects to it making for a smoother transformation between the two elements.

The clearest influence from the Continental Plastic Style is the long shield boss from Wandsworth displayed below.

Wandsworth long shield boss© Trustees of the British Museum 
© Trustees of the British Museum 

The detail on the left shows the mask at the top of the shield boss. The repoussé work showing the snail coil eyes is mostly missing because the metal had to be raised so high that it became very thin and thus too susceptible to destruction through corrosion. The shield, originally, would have such thin areas backed with pitch to protect them from accident. As this was found in the bed of the river Thames and was most likely a votive offering, it was perhaps just the bronze covering, stripped from the shield, that was offered.

A very close parallel to this detail can be found in the masks on five Plastic Style terret rings from Mal Tepe, Mezek, Bulgaria. The similarity is uncanny: the shield and the terrets even have the slight linear detailing of the tip of the nose.
Dating systems vary. Jope, op. cit. places the Wandsworth boss in the mid 2nd. century BC, but the Megaws, op. cit. dates it to "?2nd/1st c. BC." and the Mal Tepe terrets to "earlier 3rd c. BC." I think it most likely that both objects date to within a single generation and think that the dating of the terrets might be pushed forward a bit and the shield boss backwards from Jope's estimate. This would place both objects in the second quarter of the 3rd century BC. The shape of the nose on the Wandsworth mask can also be compared to the shape of the mass that connects the two simpler bosses on each element of the Tarn armring, so it would seem that this object might well be somewhat earlier than the both the mask and the terrets. The Megaws, ibid., however, give "?LT B2/C1, late 3rd c. BC" for the armring.

In the light of the knowledge provided us from the British Plastic Style finial, I can propose a new theory about the blossoming use of extreme repoussé in Britain. Consider this view of the Wandsworth shield boss:

Side view.  © Trustees of the British Museum 

We can favorably compare the raised details above the domed shape of the boss with the raised masses and the negative spaces between them on the finial. At the bottom of the photo, a damaged boss -- likely a snail coil, has a trumpet-like mass curving off to the left where it terminates in a leaf-shape. This is similar in its arrangement to the simple connection of the two bosses in the element of the Tarn armring and closer still, to the elaboration of the same on the finial between the top snail coil within the triskele shape, and the side yin/yang bosses. Complex masses on the Plastic Style are cast and not worked up in repoussé. Of course, with such a large object as a shield boss, these details could hardly be cast, and so repoussé was used in a more extreme manner than it had been used before in British early Celtic art. This impetus was, in my opinion, a way to mimic the complex casting technique using extreme repoussé work; to translate the fully third dimensional space, by necessity, to the more two dimensional space of masses raised above the background "canvas". But this is not the only type of example of this urge as we will see in the next object to be discussed.

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