THE ART OF REJECTION *

 

 

 

 

The Celtic coinage based on the Philip II model raises a number of fundamental questions about our perception of non-classical European coinage and art in the pre-Roman period. It has hitherto been believed that the first Celtic coinage was produced in central Europe, based on Philip II coins brought there by Celtic mercenaries fighting for the Macedonian king. However, recent evidence from southeastern Europe (in particular Romania and Bulgaria**) throws serious doubt on this assumption.

 

 

 

 

 

Classical portrait of Philip II of Macedonia (left –  Glyptotek Collection of classical and modern art –Copenhagen) and portrait reconstruction by the University of Manchester (right – after Prag J., 2003)

 

 

 

 

Fig. 1 – Original Philip II tetradrachma (Le Rider 44.20)

 

 

 

 

The Celtic coins based on the Philip II model, and the images portrayed on them, have variously been defined as ‘illiterate copies of Hellenistic models’ or ‘barbarian attempts to produce classical images’. However, as illustrated below, when these ‘barbarian’ images are put into their proper historical and artistic context, a different picture begins to emerge.

Тhe artistic processes visible on Celtic coins from the Balkans during this period clearly illustrate that the abstract/surrealist images that developed were the result of a conscious and deliberate rejection of Greco-Roman art and experimentation with alternative artistic ideas that would not resurface in European art until the modern era.

 

 

 

  Some of the early Celtic imitations (Fig. 2), as in the case of the Thasos and Philip III models (see relevant sections), remain fairly close to the Hellenistic originals, even copying the Greek inscription. These coins clearly illustrate that Celtic craftsmen were perfectly capable of reproducing both classical images and inscriptions in the Greek alphabet, if they so desired. From the end of the 3rd c. BC, however, we witness a movement into ‘uncharted waters’ and the emergence of ‘barbarized’ images which marked Celtic coinage and numismatic art in the centuries that followed:

 

 

 

 

                           Fig. 2 – Early Celtic imitation (3rd c. BC) (Göbl 14/2)

 

 

 

 

Artistic evolution of Celtic (Philip II model) coinage from Romania / Bulgaria (3rd – 1st c. BC):

 

 

 

Process 1 (Lateral Vision):

 

                              Phase 1

 

 

Phase 2

 

Phase 3

 

 

 

 

 

Process 2 (Moonhead):

 

 

 

          Phase 1

 

 

            Phase 2 

 

 

       Phase 3

 

 

 

      Phase 4

 

 

 

 

Process 3 (The Butterfly):

 

 

 

 

                              Phase 1

 

 

 

   Phase 2

 

 

   Phase 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

Process 4 (The Fat Man):

 

 

 

Phase  1

              

 

                                                                                                                                                                                      

  Phase 2

 

 

   Phase 3

 

 

Phase 4

 

 

 

 

Process 5 (Snakehead):

 

 

  Phase 1

 

 

  Phase 2

 

 

Phase 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

Process 6 – (Deus ex Machina):

 

 

 

   Phase 1

 

 

 

Phase 2

 

 

  Phase 3

 

 

 

Phase 4

 

 

 

Phase 5

 

 

 

 

 

 

Process 7 – (The Harprider):

 

 

 

Phase 1

 

 

    Phase 2

 

 

 

       Phase 3/a

 

 

Phase 3/b

 

 

 

    Phase 4

 

 

 

 

   Phase 5

 

 

 

 

The above images give us a unique insight into one of the most significant periods in European history – the twilight of the barbarian world. Most striking about them is the freedom of artistic expression that they portray. Artistic movements that we today call abstractionism, surrealism, and even post-modernism, are to be clearly recognized in these late Iron Age images.

 In the dogmatic political and cultural structures of the Roman and early-Christian periods such freedom of expression became unthinkable and, like the people who had created them, the artistic ideas born of the ‘barbarian’ imagination were swallowed up in the tide of history. However, in these coins we get a fleeting glance into a period when, for the first time, European art had entered the dark sphere of the human imagination, moving the focus from the superficiality of classical art to a deeper perception of reality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

* Illustrations and text after Mac Congail/Krusseva 2010 = Мак Конгал Б., Крусева Б. Хората, които се превърнаха в слънце – Ваpварските изкуство и религия на Балканите. Пловдив 2010. (The Men Who Became The Sun – Barbarian Art and Religion on the Balkans. Plovdiv 2010)

** On the distribution of these Philip II model Celtic coins in Bulgaria see Numismatic section 4.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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