Thursday, 10 March 2016

Another step in the evolution of the British Celtic sword pommel: part three

Yesterday, I illustrated an example of the Plastic Style found at the River Tarn in France. My main comparison lay not just in the style but in the development of the three-part (triskele) composition from the Alveston pommel to the Oxfordshire pommel. However, there is another "gene" in the Oxfordshire pommel which combines with the three side knobs and the top knob of the Alveston pommel and this "genetic" mix brings about the British trumpet motif.The origin of this "gene" is not in France but in Bavaria and is in the use of the flat plates in the knob decoration you see in the anklet illustrated here. The River Tarn example contains a different gene, more eastern; the sort of thing more commonly seen in Bohemia (Czech Republic).

We really should be more careful with geographical matters: so much written about early Celtic art unduly depends on proximity. The classical example, for me, is the inappropriate connection to the Scordisci with the Gundestrup cauldron. It is, unconsciously imagined that Thracian craftsmen are tied to the land and cannot venture much further than Thrace. Thus as the Scordisci are close to Thrace, the connection is made. Yet the Classical depictions on the cauldron use models from Italy, and the Celtic components are distinctly French. We are thus left with a situation of Thracian craftsmen, in Italy working for Gaulish patrons. History backs this hypothesis. The later, Classical art in Thrace is always called "Thracian" yet its craftsmen are from Magna Graecia (Southern Italy and Sicily). Modern nationalism is the source of this aberration which focuses only on find spots and not cultural factors and the term "cultural property" belongs in the realms of political control over people. Extreme examples of this control are discussed in Archaeology Under Dictatorship, Michael L. Galaty and Charles Watkinson, eds, New York, 2004. This phenomenon, as explained in that work, is not restricted to dictatorships but is a psychological spectrum extending through all nationalistic politics.

The regional aspect of the Alveston pommel and the Tarn anklet expressed in the implied triskele surrounding a central knob hearkens to the greater use of the triskele in the workshops in France, while the German and Bohemian workshops favour more of the palmette and lotus motifs. All of these motifs can be tracked much earlier and originate in the motifs of craftsmen from Asia Minor who moved to Italy when their homeland was being threatened by Persian rule. Just as native Thracian style craftsmen moved to Italy where their styles found favour with the Celts, the eastern Greek craftsmen moved to Italy to find favour with the Etruscans. In turn, Etruscan craftsmen brought their skills and styles to the Celts along the Rhine and influenced Celtic styles as far away as Gaul. The tracks of all of this highly complex and its study is further complicated by the rarity of early Celtic art.

In addition to artistic styles, the native technologies of these craftsmen also travelled with them so we see localized use of various technologies within the greater spectra of early Celtic art (are we confused yet?). The death of craftsmen with specific technologies is answered by early Celtic art "workarounds". The Dobunni Master (who might well have come from Bohemia) led to the development of not only the British trumpet motif created by the juxtaposition of Bohemian flat plates with French triskeles (the use of a boss at the ends of the British trumpet also reveals its ancestry with the Plastic Style as the boss is placed on the flat plates in the latter style), but also the further development of the British highly detailed high-relief repouss├ę work which sometimes used chased ornament in the negative spaces (both inspired by the Plastic Style). Eventually, the British Mirror Style became a flattened expression of what had come before.

The failure to understand the "genetics" of early Celtic art has resulted in a misconception of isolated regional styles and a denial of the unification of early Celtic art. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Tomorrow, the detective work will continue with the questions of what was going on around Alveston and how does this fit into the overall picture?

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