(BEING CONTINUED FROM 11/12/15)
CELTS AND THRACIANS
The style of the reliefs of the cauldron also provides abundant information about their
links with Thrace. Naturally, the stylistic characteristics and the ethnic belonging of the art of the Late Hellenistic Age constitute a big topic that is yet to be resolved (Mordvintseva 1999;Treister 1999). Above all, it is necessary to focus our attention on the symmetrical composition in some of the reliefs: a deity flanked by animals. Although this composition is transferred to that plane, it repeats the pattern used for creating the images decorating Thracian jugs. Most of the busts of deities are rendered de face. This frontal depicting is particularly characteristic of the images of goddesses and heroes in Thracian toreutics from that same period (cf. the phalerae from Ravnogor (Kitov 1988) and Galiche, the emblems from Yakimovo and Herastrau (Marazov 1978), the bowls from Yakimovo and from some unknown place (on the market : Haskovo), the fibulae from Transylvania (Popescu 1971-1972), the silver frontlet from the Bozhkov Collection (Marazov 2005), the bronze bust of “Bendis” from Piatra Roşie and the bronze “mask” from Ocniţa : Sîrbu, Florea 2000). A diagnostic feature for the Thracian Late Hellenistic production is the background filled with dots, on which floral and geometric ornaments are placed (cf. the new phalerae from the Bozhkov Collection: Marazov 2005a). The use of rows of dots or hatches not only as a background but also to depict the texture of a garment or the hair of various animals is also a familiar technique in Thracian toreutics, which may have been inherited from ancient Iranian art (Venedikov 1969). The plastic rendering of the human and animal figures in the reliefs of the cauldron is just as amorphous and unarticulated as in the toreutics from the Thracian lands.
The figure of the centaur became very popular in Celtic art (fig. 5; Duval 1977)
precisely at the time when the cauldron from Gundestrup was made. One could argue where that mythical figure was taken from: whether it came directly from Greece or whether it nevertheless passed through Thrace. In my opinion, the second hypothesis is more plausible.
This is suggested by the structure of the fantastic creature: in Celtic art it has the same
enormous human head and equine body, but the arms are missing, and they are so
characteristics of the profoundly anthropomorphic Greek image (fig. 6; Marazov 1996).
Allow me now to dwell on several new finds from Thrace, which allow tracing for the
first time the beginning of the process of mixing between the Thracian and the Celtic art
Silver horse-trappings were added to the Vassil Bozhkov Collection in the summer of
2004. Naturally, there are no indications about the place of origin of the find or when it was
discovered. It consists of nine objects : one frontlet, four phalerae, two cheek-pieces and two rings (Marazov 2005a).
The frontlet (fig. 7) possesses the specificities of the “Thracian type“ – a flat part
resembling a labrys and a voluminous part shaped like a human head (Marazov 1981). A scene from the “animal style” is depicted on the front field of the plaque. As it often happens in the iconography of that art, the craftsman used the pars pro toto principle, i.e., instead of the entire bodies of the animals, the composition comprises only their heads – an approach more inherent to the Thracian “animal style” than to the other ethnic traditions of Eurasian art (Bunker 1997).
This pictorial approach is based on the deep conviction of the archaic mind that the head is the most identifying organ of the individual (Onians 1989; Vernant 1990). The open muzzle of a predator is depicted in profile on the left, ready to swallow the head of a stag on a tall neck and with an antler twisting forward and an ear sticking back. Above these two heads there are two lion’s muzzles en face, viewed from above – a motif characteristic of Thracian toreutics (Venedikov, Gerassimov 1973). The combination of the rendering in full face and in profile,i.e., the mixing of the points of view, is inherent to the art of the “animal style” (cf. the cheekpieces from Oguz: Malkina 1928; Marazov 1975; Mantsevitch 1980; Boltrik, Fialko 1991;Fialko 1993; 2003). This is also manifested in the way in which the actual object form of the frontlet was constructed.
The stylisation of the images is confident, which betrays the hand of an experienced
and trained craftsman. Above all, it should be noted that the entire field is surrounded by a
band of large hatches, which is a distinctive feature precisely of the Thracian “animal style”.
However, it is not merely a decorative motif or merely an element separating the parts of the scene. The open muzzle of the predator is framed by a thin plastic arch-shaped band that twists in its lower part. The predator is probably a griffin, because immediately behind the eye the head passes into a horn that twists forward. The eye is ellipsoid and features very prominently as a separate plastic unit on the profile of the head. The stag’s protome is also extremely schematic: a long head in which a horizontal line shows the closed mouth and the circle of the posterior part is occupied by a large and wide open round eye. The horn starts immediately behind the volume of the oblong ear that is pointing backwards. It curves above the head and twists as a volute at its very end. The head comes out of a long neck rendered as a series of vertebrae. The lion’s heads depicted de face are extremely schematic. They are simply an aggregate of separate volumes dividing the muzzle into three parts: the nostrils with the wrinkles, the eyes with the arches around them, and the ears with the mane between them.
Leaving aside the pictorial values of the plastic decoration, the entire scene is interpreted as a definite rhythm of individual volumes, and not as parts of one whole organism. This is a manifestation of the mechanical nature of the “animal style”. It allows the artists to apply separate cliché elements from which to create the next image. It is interesting to note that straight lines are totally absent in the entire scene, which imparts certain dynamism of the pattern. The cast image is rendered lighter by the apertures left mainly around the stag’s head.
The open-work technique enhances the clearer emphasis on the main protagonist: the victim.
(TO BE CONTINUED)