Monday, 4 January 2016

Understanding the ancient Celts and their art: part two, conclusion (British trumpet motif)

The earliest example of the trumpet motif in British early Celtic art.
Sword pommel in the Plastic Style, bronze with remains of iron tang.
height: 23 mm., late 3rd cent. BC. found in Oxfordshire. At first widely
believed to have been an import, XRF testing confirmed the presence
of a high Co to low Ni impurity ratio definitive of south western British
La Tène 1 bronze. The high Sn content (av. 12.09%) is higher than most
so-called "potin" coins of the Sequani (1st cent BC). The place of
manufacture of the pommel would have been within Dobunni territory.

Key to drawn overlay:
A: trumpet motif open at top left corner which fades into top motif
around B: "snaky-coil" boss. The lower end of the trumpet is wrapped
around C: "Yin-Yang" boss.
In my collection. 
"The motif is easily distinguishable, because its thinner end is always partly (not wholly) curved around a small boss. For this reason it is often confused with the cable motif. This trumpet motif had already had about 400 years behind it when, for the first time in Britain, it appeared on a bronze armlet found at Plunton Castle, Borgue, Kirkcudbright. Here it makes up one half of a design which Leeds has termed a 'swash N'."

H. E. Kilbride-Jones, Celtic Craftsmanship in Bronze, London, 1980, p. 49.

The continental origin is disputed today as the precursors are not exactly trumpets. The example cited by Kilibride-Jones (a crescent- shaped mount from Brunn-am-Steinfeld, Austria - Jacobsthal 377) is the result of a pattern-ground reversal of a palmette motif. The other example cited by Kilbride-Jones only: "The same form can be seen also on the Waldalgesheim torcs" refers to shapes that are similar, but are not wrapped around the small boss at the thin end, and are all parts of a continuous design which on Jacobsthal 43 (PP. 353) descend from a palmette-derivative. This, at any rate, is my interpretation of why the trumpet design is currently thought to be entirely British.

Classifications, anyway, are fraught with problems (as anyone familiar with Foucault's The Order of Things will easily understand). Too often, classifications are specifically tailored to pet theories or political ideologies. This extends, even, to the classification of Celtic culture, itself! Most drastically (or should I say blatantly?) is the strange idea that cultures cannot be defined through language and art but can, apparently, by burial practises, house designs, agricultural practices, geographical locations and dna. These various explanations including those that scoff at historical information and religious-syncretism data are only believed because of the supposed authority of those uttering them and would not be believed, for a second, by any average person who was presented with the data without any authoritative source attached to it. It says something about the gullibility of the human mind that common-sense can be so easily overturned.

The Plunton Castle armlet. Late 1st cent AD
To better understand the later evolution of British early Celtic art as evidenced by this sword pommel My series on it (Important new example of British early Celtic art) is essential reading (in full). It is of thirteen parts and a couple of supplemental articles. Click on the above link and continue to read later posts until the subject changes to Japanese history. Pay particular attention to the post on oblique anamorphosis for further connections with the palmette motif as this motif will have an important role to play in tomorrow's post.

The trumpet design is due to a "dimensional break" in the arms of a triskele. The centre of the triskele is the snaky coil at the top of the pommel and the arms suddenly are pointed downward for the length of the pommel decoration above its socket. Before the Plastic Style, very detailed casting was limited to bas-relief. The technology of such detailed casting was  trade secret to connected workshops between Bavaria and Bohmia and was probably centred in what is now the Czech Republic. One of its craftsmen moved to Britain and started a workshop within the Dobunni territory. All later British Celtic art is the result of that move and the styles and techniques (especially extreme repoussé) reflect ways to circumvent the loss of the casting technology after the death of those who brought it to Britain at the end of its currency.

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