Friday, 22 January 2016

Understanding the ancient Celts and their art: the psychology of early Celtic art, part twelve

Stone heads from Roquepertuse  (Bouches-du-Rhône), north of Marseille,
3rd cent BC, Jacobsthal 3.
photo: Robert Valette
"Paul Jacobsthal's Early Celtic Art, first published half-a-century ago this year, is a work which, irrespective of any shortcomings which may now be perceived, remains of such quality that he 'made his successors all his commentators' (Hawkes 1963: 12)."

Ruth and Vincent Megaw, Through a Window on the European Iron Age Darkly: Fifty Years of Reading Early Celtic Art, World Archaeology, Vol. 25, No. 3, Reading Art (Feb., 1994), pp. 287-303

The Megaws, in a nutshell, sum up the impact of Jacobsthal's work on the study of early Celtic art. The book's shortcomings lie in its organization. If you look at the table of contents I posted yesterday, you will see that Chapter One is "The Image of Man", yet in his Epilogue on p. 161 he says "Early Celtic art is an art of ornament, masks, and beasts, without the image of Man".  However, in that first chapter, he wastes no time in telling the reader how the image of Man is restricted to areas with foreign influence. I think we have a clue here to Jacobsthal's psychology in this matter: coming from a background of Greek art where the image of Man dominates, he draws his previous followers toward a new paradigm.

A modern reader, new to early Celtic art might expect, after a brief introduction, a key to the various periods of the art, but in Jacobsthal, that key (one of the best and most informative I have seen) is to be found at the start of his "Addenda and Corrigenda" in pp. 206-8. He rightly gives precedent to D. Viollier's dates for the range of La Tène 2 as 250 - 50 BC based on Viollier's Les sépultures du second âge de fer sur le plateau suisse, Genève, 1916 (a book I have found most useful for its brooch and bracelet types) over Joseph Déchelette's  300 - 100 BC. (Manuel d'archéologie préhistorique, celtique et gallo-romaine, Paris, 1908-1914). Of course, Jacobsthal is dealing with the continental and La Tène 2 in Britain cannot be put further back than about 210 BC although its closing date remains about 50 BC (Jope, 2000).

The age of using patterns to clarify early Celtic art is drawing to a close, although I could come up with a better system using my "elements" and "motifs" but another organizational problem in Jacobsthal is that while his catalogue (pp 165-205) refers to the pattern numbers in the second volume, there is no index to the patterns themselves. All he gives are references to patterns elsewhere in the text. Martyn Jope, in Early Celtic Art in the British Isles, the successor that Jacobsthal had planned and that was published posthumously in 2000, does include such an index. I might provide the like for Jacobsthal as a stand alone blog post or series here, but I am not making any promises!

Jacobsthal arranges the main text of the first volume along themes with some attention to chronology while his catalogue follows the second volume plates mainly in types of objects. Jope follows suit but gives more attention to the chronology. The Megaws, Celtic art from its beginnings to the Book of Kells, 2001 is far better organized giving priority (as the title implies) to chronological factors. How their supplement to Jacobsthal will be arranged remains to be seen, but it will not include patterns (pers. corr.).

That some objects which were above ground in Jacobsthal's time but are not included in the work cannot be blamed on Jacobsthal. As a Jewish refugee from Germany, losing his seat at Marburg University the production of his book was a remarkable feat in itself and any help given him from Germany carried with it the risk of death and those brave souls in Germany who assisted him were obviously not named in the text. You can read the whole story for yourself, online,  in: S. Crawford:
Paul Jacobsthal's Early Celtic Art, his anonymous co-author, and National Socialism: new evidence from the archives, 2011, Antiquity, Vol. 85, Issue 327, January 2011, pp 129-141.

There is a difference in the way that Jacobsthal worked with his research and the way it was presented. His methods show within his descriptions how comparison of exact design elements and motifs are essential for coming to even a basic understanding of this art. It is a necessary book to this day.

On Monday, why the archaeological perspective on early Celtic art is so flawed. Have an organized weekend.

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