UD: April 2016
One of the most interesting Celtic artifacts to have recently ‘wandered’ into the Varna Museum in northeastern Bulgaria is a bronze zoomorphic head, executed in the Celtic ‘Plastic Metamorphosis’ style common across Europe in the La Têne B1 – C2 period*.
The head is a fragment of a bronze mount, in all probability cast by the cire perdue method. Triangular in form, the face, probably of a bull judging by the fragment of a horn on the left side, consists of two almond-shaped eyes and a muzzle of 2 spirals. The patina, quite well preserved, indicates that the bronze head had been preserved in an enclosed atmosphere, i.e. a Celtic tomb, prior to being plundered by local ‘treasure hunters’.
The Bronze Celtic Zoomorphic head from Varna
(After Anastassov J., Megaw V., Megaw R., Mircheva E. Walt Disney Comes to Bulgaria. In: L’âge du Fer en Europe: mélanges offerts à Olivier Buchsenschutz. Bordeaux : Ausonius, 2013, p. 551-565)
The plastic metamorphosis style in Celtic art is characterized by the blending of human, animal, plant, and abstract forms; complex compositions incorporating various forms of symmetry, resulting in stylized, often grotesque, images.
Bronze Bird of Prey heads (with traces of red enamel) from the linchpins of a Celtic chariot at Manching, Germany. Executed in the Plastic Metamorphosis style
(2nd century BC)
Linchpins (Iron/Bronze) executed in the Plastic Metamorphosis style, from a Celtic chariot burial at Orval, Normandy. ( 300-250 BC)
The forms appear more three-dimensional than earlier incised works and illustrate the ability of the Celtic artisan to sculpt high relief decorative objects. A highpoint of this “plastic” style is marked by numerous höhlbuckelringe / anklets found in flat graves ranging from Bavaria and Moravia to the Balkans and Asia-Minor. All of the anklets are dated to the third century BC.
Detail of a bronze Celtic hohlbuckelring executed in the ‘plastic’ style – from Plaňany (Kolín District), Czech Republic (3rd c. BC)
Such anklets first appear among the Celtic tribes in the early 3rd c. BC, and include both plain and richly decorated examples. They first emerge in the area of today’s southern Germany and the historically identified territory of the Boii tribe – roughly the area of the present-day Czech Republic, and spread eastwards during the Celtic expansion of this period.
Among the Balkan Celts, one of the largest groups of objects executed in the ‘Plastic Metamorphosis’ style are the chariot fittings discovered in a Celtic chieftains burial at the tholos tomb of Mal Tepe, Mezek (Haskovo reg.) in southern Bulgaria. Other notable examples of this Celtic art style come from sites such as Roissy-en-France (France), Manching (Germany) and Brno (Czech Republic).
Bronze terret /rein-ring, executed in the ‘plastic’ style – from a Celtic chariot burial at Mezek, Southern Bulgaria (3rd c. BC)
Bronze disc executed in the Plastic Metamorphosis style (3 c. BC). From a Celtic chariot burial at Roissy-en-France (Val-d’Oise), France
Bronze open-work mount from a wooden pitcher found at Brno-Malomerice, Czech Republic (3rd c. BC)
*While the publication of the bronze mount from Varna is an important step forward, a large number of Celtic artifacts still remain unpublished in Varna museum. These include a Celtic chariot mount whose spiral ornamentation and domed form have parallels in decorative roundels on shields and spears dated to the La Têne B2 and found in warrior graves in France and the Czech Republic, and examples of Celtic artifacts executed in the so-called ‘false filigree technique’ which have parallels among the Celts of Central Europe, particularly from Bohemia to Hungary. Also in the Varna museum, again unpublished, is a Celtic zoomorphic brooch with a foot in the form of a curved-beaked monster, a specifically Hungarian form of the La Têne B1 Münsingen-Duchov horizon (Megaw et al, op cit). Publication of these, and hundreds of other Celtic artifacts gathering dust in museums across the country, will undoubtedly shed further light on the significant Celtic presence on the territory of modern Bulgaria.