THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY – Celtic Plastic Metamorphosis Art

UD: May 2019

 

 

brno fix

 

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*.

 

Var 1

 

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’.

 Var 2

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)

 

 

 

PLASTIC METAMORPHOSIS

 

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 linch-pins of a Celtic chariot at Manching, Germany. 2 c. BC Celtic Plastic Metamorphosis style.

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)

 

Lynchpin gaul double post rest

inchpin from the Celtic chariot burial at Orval, Normandy. - 300-250 BC post rest

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 hohlbucklering from Plaňany (Kolín District), Czech Republic (3rd c. 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.

 

https://www.academia.edu/7212191/On_Hohlbuckelringe_as_a_Marker_of_Celtic_Eastwards_Expansion

 

 

Bronze linchpin, executed in the “Plastic Metamorphosis” style, from a Celtic chariot burial at Roissy (Val-d’Oise), France

(3rd c. BC)

 

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).

 

Mezek plastic 3 c. BC chariot

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

(3rd c. BC)

 

brno fix 2

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Congail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SONS OF MOCCOS – The Cult of the Wild Boar in Celtic Europe

UD: March 2020

 

Neu bo

 

Extensive archaeological data clearly indicates that the wild boar had a special significance in Bronze and Iron Age European society, and the importance of the animal in Iron Age society and religion is well attested to by numerous depictions in Celtic works of art from across the continent.

 

60-worked-bones-and-boar-tusks-from-the-garment-of-a-shaman-chieftain-burial-at-upton-lovell-wiltshire-england-the-grave-goods-included-four-axeheads-inca-prestigious-battle-axe-made-of-black

60 worked bones and boar tusks from the garment of a shaman-chieftain, discovered in a  burial at Upton Lovell (Wiltshire), England. Other grave goods included four axe-heads and a prestigious battle-axe made of black dolerite.

(ca. 1,800 BC)

 

bronze-pendants-mounted-on-boar-tusks-grave-of-woman-and-child-hueneburg-s-germany-583-bce

Bronze pendants mounted on decorated boar tusks, discovered in the double burial of a Celtic woman and child at the Heuneburg (Baden-Württemberg), Germany

(583 BC)

 

lictt - cluj

Celtic bronze boar figurines from (left) the Gutenberg Votive Deposit, Lichtenstein (2-1 c. BC), and (right) Luncani (Cluj), Romania (1st c. BC)

 

2-1-jh-v-chr-wurde-in-den-1970er-jahren-bei-altenburg-rheinau-an-der-deutsch-schweizerischen-grenze

Bronze boar figurine from the Celtic settlement at Altenburg-Rheinau, on the German/Swiss border

(2/1 c. BC)

 

Rothwell Boar

Bronze boar figurine from Rothwell (Lincolnshire), England. Corieltavi tribe / 1 c. BC

 

Bronze figurine of a wild boar, from the Celtic oppidum town at Bibracte (Burgundy), France 1. C bc

Bronze figurine of a wild boar, from the Celtic oppidum / town at Bibracte (Burgundy), France (1 c. BC)

 

Boars occur everywhere in Celtic Europe – as figurines, helmet crests, on war trumpets (carnyxs) and on coins, confirming their particular association with power and warfare.

 

gund houn

Bronze boar attachments from Celtic helmets from Hounslow, England (left), and (right) warrrior helmet with boar attachment depicted on the Gundestrup cauldron (both late 2nd/early 1st c. BC).

 

Obverse of a Celtic silver coin from Esztergom, Hungary (early 1st c. BC)

Celtic helmet with boar attachment depicted on the obverse of a Celtic silver coin from Esztergom, Hungary (early 1st c. BC)

 

Iron Ring – wild boar over Celtic oval shield motif, discovered by ‘treasure hunters’ in southern Germany. Such a ring would have belonged to a high ranking member of society, probably a chieftain.

(1 c. BC)

 

Preserved Elements of a boar statue discovered near the village of illonse (Alpes-Maritimes)

Bronze boar statue discovered near the village of illonse (Alpes-Maritimes), France

(1 c. BC)

 

On that most distinctive of Celtic musical instruments, the Carnyx (war trumpet), it is once again the boar that is the most frequently portrayed animal (see ‘The Boar Headed Carnyx’ article). Also particularly impressive are a number of life-sized bronze statues of boars discovered in Celtic burial contexts and sanctuaries such as that from the Celtic chariot burial at Mezek, Bulgaria, or those found in the sanctuary at Neuvy-en-Sullias (Loiret) France.

 

Neu bo

Bronze boar statue from the Celtic sanctuary at Neuvy-en-Sullias (1st c. BC)

 

mezek j

Bronze boar statue from the Celtic chariot burial at Mezek, Bulgaria (3rd c. BC)

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2017/05/31/the-mezek-syndrome-bogdan-filov-and-the-celtic-chariot-burial-from-mezek-in-southern-bulgaria/

 

 

While the pig is the most common animal placed in Iron Age burials as food for the afterlife, the remains of boars are rarely found in such contexts, indicating that the wild boar, as opposed to domestic pigs, was not viewed solely as a food source. The religious significance of the animal is confirmed by its portrayal on artifacts such as the Celtiberian cult-vehicle from Mérida (Spain), or the ‘Boar Warrior’ statue from Euffigneix, (Haute-Marne) France, the latter probably a representation of the Celtic boar god Moccos.

 

Limestone pillar statue from Euffigneix, (Haute-Marne) France (1st c. BC)

 

merida-cult-add

‘The Boar Hunt’ – Bronze Celtiberian cult-vehicle from Mérida (Spain) (1st c. BC)

 

Bronze statue of a Goddess riding a Wild Boar, from the Jura area of northwestern Switzerland. (1 c. BC/ 1c. AD)

 

 

The fact that the wild boar is, besides birds of prey, the most frequently depicted animal in Celtic art, logically indicates that it had a special significance in society. The available archaeological and numismatic evidence also strongly suggests that boar hunts may have played an important role in Iron Age warrior initiations, forming part of the ‘rite of passage’ rituals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Congail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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