Late Bronze Age and Hallstatt ornamental styles

Late Bronze Age ornamental styles, as exemplified on bronzes, could be regarded as essentially geometric. Two techniques are particularly in evidence on metal-work, engraved and repoussé. From Northern Europe, through Central Europe and including parts of the Mediterranean, geometric curvilinear and linear motifs are widespread and recurrent, so that it would be difficult to assign these styles expressly or diagnostically to any one regional or chronological grouping. Within the Urnfield culture, sword-hilts and pommels exemplify the range of combinations of lozenges, zig-zags, triangles, stars, circles, arcs, running spirals or linked S-motifs (Figure 2.5). The style is also characteristic of bracelets and related ornaments, and is particularly well exemplified on the annular arm or leg-rings of the Hallstatt B1 phase in a hoard from the Wasserburg, Buchau, settlement, which included a complex if repetitive composition comprising concentric engraved circles, semi-circles and linear panels. To see any of these, or the designs on other items of Urnfield metal-work, as antecedents of later La Tène styles (Sprockhoff, 1955) is unnecessary, but that is not to say that Urnfield art did not fulfil a role analogous to that of later Celtic art styles. The use of curvilinear designs is in fact not nearly so prominent an element in Urnfield metal-work as it is on the swords and shaft-hole axes of the Tumulus culture in eastern Central Europe, or in the middle Bronze Age of Northern Europe and southern Scandinavia. Geometric compositions can also be rendered in repoussé, on beaten bronze armour such as greaves, on beaten bronze vessels, or on belt-plates. By the Hallstatt Iron Age, cummerbund-like belt-plates are elaborately ornamented with geometric designs in this fashion. To describe these ornamental designs as an early 'geometric' Celtic style might be unwarranted, but they are part of a widespread tradition of fairly simple and repetitive geometric art, involving the use of rectilinear and curvilinear motifs, which characterizes especially the Urnfield late Bronze Age and the Hallstatt Iron Age. In fact, it continues into the La Tène period, even though eclipsed by the more dominant curvilinear styles.

Pottery, too, can bear simple geometric ornament, though as with metal-work not nearly as elaborate as some eastern Central European Tumulus culture ceramics, on which curvilinear motifs can be highly developed. Horizontal rilling and vertical or diagonal fluting are characteristic of Urnfield pottery, as is the geometric style of Kerbschnitt ornament, excised from the clay like chip-carving in woodwork, a technique that again distinguishes the open dishes and globular jars of the Hallstatt C Iron Age in southern and south-western Germany.

In addition to this geometric style, however, there is the stylized representational art that includes the bird and sun symbolism, most frequently rendered, as we have seen, in repoussé on sheet bronze, or in the form of cast pendants, protomes or finials. These too continue in fashion in the Hallstatt Iron Age, with the cast versions surviving into La Tène Celtic art. Figural art, on the other hand, is not a characteristic of the Urnfield zone, unless it was deployed on perishable organic materials, though it is an element in the rock art of Northern Europe and the Italian Alps. From the Hallstatt Iron Age, however, a striking example of figural art in highly stylized form can be seen on funerary pottery from Sopron in western Hungary (Figure 2.7). Here a variety of activities is depicted, both domestic, such as spinning and weaving, and recreational or ceremonial, such as playing the harp and boxing, dancing or praying.

Late Urnfield Sword
Figure 2.7 Images from decorated pottery from Sopron district, Hungary. 1, 2, figures dancing or 'boxing'; 3, 'matchstick' quadrupeds; 4, spinning; 5, weaving at a loom; 6, playing the harp; 7, horse riding; 8, dancing or praying. Adapted from Gallus (1934).
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