Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Rethinking? -- part three

Narcissus. Follower of Leonardo da Vinci, ca. 1490
National Gallery, London
One of the first things I noticed when reading the introductory chapter of Rethinking Celtic Art, was how the authors found evidence to support their theories while apparently not noticing that which did not. This is a common problem in theory-laden archaeology -- the evidence seems to reflect the idea. I read, once, that archaeologists always find what they are looking for, but I don't recall who said it. Over the years, I have had the greatest success by keeping my expectations to a minimum.

When I started my research into Coriosolite coinage, my premise was that, because of the large number of varieties in their design, there might be some sort of evolution in their creation which could "fine-tune" the chronology. The evidence that I discovered soon expanded the work into quite a number of different topics and the subsequent publisher's blurb said:
This study is based around a hoard of more than 11,000 coins found at La Marquanderie on Jersey, but it is also broader in its discussion of the Coriosolite and their coinage. More than a mere catalogue of coins, Hooker's study looks at the design, symbolism, imagery and aesthetics of the coins and the social, cultural and religious traditions that influenced designs.
Actually, I had set out only to write "a mere catalogue of coins"! when I realized that its scope would have to be greatly expanded, I told my wife what I wanted to do with the project. Her eyes widened with incredulity, and she exclaimed, "Oh! You want it to be interesting?" I teased her about that for years.

When researching anything, the best results will be had by constantly alternating between three methods: inductive reasoning, deductive reasoning (in that order), and intuition and apply these methods to the primary material. The absolutely worst way to go is to first read everything that others had written about the subject. I call that the academic method  and you should do it only after the design of the study has been thoroughly mapped out. If you can follow these methods, you will not only produce a valuable study of a subject, but the number of discoveries you make will proliferate. You will never become a "one-trick pony". Remember this advice and read all of the links I give here -- they have been specially selected.

So, let's get back to the subject at hand. In reading the introductory chapter, I lit (pun intended) upon the following:
The term 'Celtic' helps imply that this material has a link to, or possible origin in, the European continent.While links there certainly are, there is no reason to believe, on the basis of present evidence, that Celtic art was introduced to Britain from the outside. Had this been the case we might have expected to see a horizon of imports into Britain followed by by obvious British imitations, although we have to admit that the lack of imports might be partly due to the overall rarity of deposition of fine metalwork. ... For other periods of the Iron Age, such as its very beginning, it has been realized that artifact types once thought to have continental derivation, such as Gündlingen swords, may in fact have a derivation either within the Thames region or within Britain and Europe jointly (O'Connor 2007). Hill (2007): 25) has hinted that a similar situation may pertain for so-called Gallo-Belgic coins; the name hinting at external origins when a shared genesis may be more likely.
With regard to the first part, what is not mentioned is that in the current standard work on British Early Celtic art, and on page one, no less, Martyn Jope says:
Chapter 3 shows something of the genesis of insular Celtic art*. We give an extensive survey of early iron weapons (mainly daggers and swords, with their bronze fittings) and also of brooches, from the sixth century on into the first century B.C., less for their art (often stiff or halting) than for their clear demonstration of a steady continuity in distinctive insular workshop practice from the sixth century onwards, at least in southern Britain -- substantial craft traditions within which an insular Celtic art could be developed. The initiating stimuli for this rise evidently came from Europe, yet at the crucial time, the fourth-third centuries B.C.,  we can point to practically no imported pieces that might have served as potential exemplars; the new ideas and skills must have come largely in the minds and hands of men with a considerable experience in distant ateliers.
* (actually footnote 2) It now seems possible, more than it did in 1944 (ECA, pp. xi 156-7), to show in a similar way how this genesis came about in Celtic Europe also, for we can see mid-fifth-century craftsmen in central and western Europe using primarily Greek or other southerly themes to fashion their own designs and details, or taking over the Etruscan bulging physiognomy to create their own counterpart (review of J. V. S. Megaw, Ulster J. Archaeol., 34 (1971), 116).
You will notice that "we" instead of "I" is being used in the above passage. This is because the work started out as a collaboration between Martyn Jope and Paul Jacobsthal (the latter died in 1957). Martyn Jope, himself, died in 1996 only weeks after finishing the writing, but not subsequent editing of the work, and the task of bringing it to a publishable state was carried out by I. M. Stead  who describes the situation in great detail in his Preface. It seems to me, from all of this, that the source of Jope's use of "we" was not entirely an example of joint authorship of the final MS, but had been copied from their notes by Jope alone. Jope, as Stead reveals, wanted Jacobsthal listed as joint author, but Stead had decided to publish the book under Jope's name alone as no MS of the work was in existence before the death of Jacobsthal.

Because of both the importance and relevance of Jope's statement on page one of his work to the quoted passage in the introductory chapter in Rethinking, I find the fact that there is no reference to it more than an oversight. It also seems to me to be disrespectful of these two giants in the subject. I was happy, and proud, to give further weight to what Martyn Jope writes in my discovery and analysis of an important example of British early Celtic art that was undoubtedly made by one of those "men with a considerable experience in distant ateliers"

Another chapter  to the saga was written (pers. comm.) by Raimund Karl, who suggested to me the possibility that metalsmiths might have apprenticed in distant workshops under the attested Celtic practice of fosterage. I replied stating that I thought the idea was brilliant! Of course, and applied in this case, it still firmly gives credit to the continental origins for the art as the piece in question is the only British example of Jacobsthal's Plastic Style and is of developed style. Its British elements, in turn, could have been either an evolved development there, or from the influence of another craftsman who, in turn, might also have apprenticed on the continent. As the British element is not attested prior to that piece, I cannot define it any further than that. As the piece also appears to have influenced slightly later British work, we can also give good reason for an ultimate continental influence for the styles of those pieces, as well. Joint development of British and continental early Celtic art cannot be supported (and is not, in the text) by any actual demonstrable mechanism and is, at the very least, a confusing and misleading statement.

As the second part of my critique of the quoted passage in Rethinking will require considerable space, I will continue with it tomorrow.

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