Thursday, 5 September 2013

Important new example of British early Celtic art. 6. Influences - Another shield boss from Wandsworth

Wandsworth round shield boss
Although this second Wandsworth shield boss does not contain a cast or repoussé snail coil it is included here because of its importance for this part of the discussion. The repoussé work is not saved for the high relief area as was accomplished on the long shield boss, instead, it is used mainly to outline the decoration. The design focuses on two opposed water-birds in flight and the more ambitious repoussé work is saved for the bird heads. We can assume that the large central umbo presented far less of a challenge than the rest of the design -- which is in low relief.

The important details, for our discussion, are the linear decorations which can be seen within some of the repoussé shapes, including on the umbo. I believe that these decorations are used to translate designs seen in the Plastic Style casts onto a two dimensional "canvas".  It would seem most likely that the workshop which produced the finial was no longer in operation when this shield boss was made. However, large objects in the Plastic Style are unknown -- even on the Continent, so such an ambitious project as a shield boss was most likely impossible any way. Thus, on the complete shield, cast details in the Plastic Style could have existed. They certainly existed on the Witham shield (including snail coils) -- the object we will cover in the next post.

Linear decoration within the bird motif
© Trustees of the British Museum 
The linear decoration shown on the right is contained within two cels of the bird's body. At the top, two opposed sets of what appear to be linear representations of relief trumpet fluting are brought together within a composition that shows some influences from the earlier Celtic split palmette designs. Below, and to the left, we see these double trumpets used throughout the three part composition which would only need a boss at each end to imitate the composition of the finial.

"Seeing horses in the clouds" is a common malady among those with an interest in early Celtic art, and it was something of which the artists working in the Plastic Style took full advantage. But this is not proof of intent, so we need another example on this same piece to demonstrate such proof in a clearer manner. Now, I would not be mentioning any of this if I did not already know of the existence of such proof, would I?

Linear design around the umbo
© Trustees of the British Museum 
The diagram on the left, from the linear design around the umbo shows a double motif which also incorporates the paired trumpet flutes, but the proof that this is a two dimensional representation of a three dimensional object is provided by the small circles, each of which encloses diamond shapes with recessed curved sides. This design is mostly encountered with only three sides, as a boss decoration (as will be in the the Witham shield decoration), but a four-sided variety is to be found on a bone slip from Lough Crewe, Co.Meath, Ireland (Jope Plate 364,o).

Another detail is shown on the right. While the left-side motif might be considered rather clumsy in its composition in the centre area, this problem is resolved by imagining it to be a two dimensional planar representation of the type of 90 degree shifts in the spatial alignment as is seen on the finial. It also incorporates elements of the low-relief repoussé bird, so it is clearly using a two dimensional schematic to represent three dimensional subjects. The right side motif appears to show how space can become twisted in an almost M. C. Escher manner!

In the next installment, we will compare instances where linear designs are used which do not represent the three dimensional, and where the composition does not also exhibit the apparent clumsiness necessary for such a task. After looking at such examples, the differences between the two purposes will become obvious.

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