Conclusion

The purpose of this review has been not just to seek stylistic antecedents for any specific motifs or stylistic traits within early La Tene art, but to consider technological, economic, ritual and social contexts within which such a development in art might have come about. While it true that individual motifs within the widespread and longstanding tradition of geometric ornament on both metal-work and pottery might be regarded as an antecedent of simple geometric designs on pottery and metal-work in the La Tene phase, that alone does not embody the totality or even the principal essence of the early La Tene style, and cannot be regarded as a catalyst for its striking fifth-century developments.

If art is an expression of society, then it is the antecedent societies and their attributes that we must examine for the genesis of La Tene art. There can be little doubt from archaeological and historical evidence that Celtic society was hierarchically stratified, yet most commentators are more circumspect when considering Urnfield society or late Bronze Age society as a whole. It is widely accepted, if only by default (Harding, A., 1994, 304), that the Urnfield culture was probably already 'Celtic', yet an examination of the burial evidence shows little evidence, apart from the tumulus and pyre burials of Bronze D and some burials of the late Urnfield phase (Hallstatt B2 and B3), of social differentiation in the great majority of Urnfield cemeteries. We have already noted, however, that even in the Furstengraber of the Hallstatt D Iron Age, generally regarded as the epitome of an hierarchical social order, there are individual graves that, outside the context of the tumulus group, would occasion no great interest on account of their associated grave assemblage. So seemingly the tumulus is an expression of monumentality in the landscape on behalf of the community or its ruling elite, rather than a mark of rank of any one individual buried within it. Once we abandon any simplistic equation that requires social rank to be expressed in archaeologically distinctive burial structures, and examine instead the full spectrum of the material assemblage, it is hard to resist the conclusion that Urnfield society was a stratified order in which political and social control was exercised by powerful aristocratic and martial elites.

What is quite clear is that most of the advanced technological skills in bronze-working that would have been a prerequisite to the La Tene artist were already available from the early Urnfield period. Long-distance contacts, essential for obtaining the raw materials of production, would hardly have presented any obstacle to a society that not only had trans-alpine connections but also far-flung contacts with Northern and Western Europe on a scale unprecedented in pre-Roman Europe since the Beaker period. The objective of this technological endeavour was evidently focused especially upon three objectives: (1) feasting and drinking, witnessed by the sheet-bronze containers and serving vessels; (2) warfare and the martial arts, witnessed by the range of weapons and defensive armour; and (3) personal aggrandizement and display, witnessed by an extravagant range of personal ornaments. These are precisely the focus of artistic endeavour and accomplishment in the Celtic society of early La Tene art. An underlying but potent spiritual or ritual element is a further bonding link between the Urnfield, Hallstatt and La Tene worlds.

It is important to recognize nevertheless that these attributes are not exclusive to the Urnfield culture of the late Bronze Age, nor to the Hallstatt Iron Age areas of north-alpine Europe or the south-eastern Alps. They are attributes that in differing ways and in differing degrees are common across Mediterranean, Central, Northern and Atlantic Europe. That fact does not detract from the importance of their presence in the regions which, in the mid-fifth century bc, saw the genesis of early La Tene art. The fact that art styles as distinctive as La Tene did not develop in other regions simultaneously or independently was presumably because those other regions lacked the particular catalyst that triggered its inception in Central Europe, which must have been trans-alpine contacts between specialist craftsmen and intermediaries with the expanding Greek world. But our real quarrel with Jacobsthal's dictum must be with his exclusive equation of Celtic art and the La Tene styles. If Urnfield Europe was already Celtic ethnically or linguistically, then Celtic art is already abundantly represented in the profusion of Urnfield metal-work. As for the La Tene styles, all the technological, political and social requirements for their emergence were in place; only the catalyst was required. In effect, La Tene art, as the supreme manifestation of Celtic art, was not so much an art with no genesis, as an art just waiting to happen.

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