“Celtic” and Mediterranean Interaction-(ΚΕΛΗΤΕΣ-CELTS AND THRACIANS-PART IB)


(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).

image

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
traditions.
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.

image

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)

Ivan MARAZOV

About sooteris kyritsis

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