Orientalizing influences in the Early Styles

For Jacobsthal, Oriental influences were one of the three roots of early Celtic Art. Yet he was acutely aware that it was 'as easy to see the East behind the Celtic designs ... as it was difficult to define precisely country and date of the prototypes' (1944, 156). The literature is strewn with parallels for individual traits, sometimes from Scythian art (itself largely the product of Greek craftsmen working for native patrons), sometimes from Luristan art of Persia, sometimes from the earlier Urartian style of Anatolia. Almost invariably it amounts to a single element within an artefact or assemblage that is otherwise wholly alien to anything that can be found in Celtic art, and in no instance does it point unequivocally to a single region or period from which a consistent pattern of influences might be derived. As to dating, exotic influences are not an innovation of early La Tene, but are already in evidence in the late Hallstatt period if not earlier.

The case for direct contacts with eastern artistic traditions was based largely upon the historical record of Persians in the sixth and early fifth centuries in Thrace, Macedonia and the Black Sea regions, notably under Darius and Xerxes (Sandars, 1971). Contemporary opinion tends to favour the view that orientalizing elements in early La Tene art derive instead through Graeco-Etruscan intermediaries, perhaps not least because simplistic diffusionism is very much out of favour as an agency of innovation. The first question to consider is whether there are any actual imports of oriental artefacts themselves, as opposed to nebulous 'influences', in Central or Western Europe at this period. The consensus is that there are not. Though outlying Scythian burials are known, like Vettersfelde in Berlin, even Sandars (1971, 103) conceded that 'there is no single undoubted oriental object in a celtic grave of the early period'. Imports from sources beyond Graeco-Etruscan centres are virtually non-existent - the leaf-gold drinking-horn mount dating from around 500 bc, from barrow 2 at Weiskirchen with its row of sphinxes has been cited as a possible product of an east Greek workshop (Frey in Sandars, 1976, 59-60; Frey, 1980, 78).

Much the same is true of the preceding late Hallstatt phase. From the Grafenbühl burial, for example, the two carved sphinxes (Figure 3.9, 2), one of ivory and the other of bone and amber with gilt-bronze rivets, are the work of Greek craftsmen in southern Italy; two bronze clawed feet, from a tripod for holding a cauldron, were of actual Greek manufacture, and an ivory plaque, possibly a mirror handle, could have been an import from the eastern Mediterranean. The same route is clearly a strong contender for the means of transmission of eastern images into the repertory of the early La Tene artist (Megaw, 1975). The gold torc from the princess's tomb at Vix presents a more complex case. The depiction of the winged horse (Figure 3.9, 1) is plainly exotic in late Hallstatt art, as are the quasi-filigree plinths on which the horses stand. Various sources have been suggested over the years, from Scythian to Iberian. It is now generally agreed that the torc itself is of native Hallstatt manufacture, which is not, of course, to minimize the exotic influences in its ornament, doubtless transmitted via the Mediterranean.

If individual imports are lacking, could the occurrence in early La Tene graves of a novel class of artefact, like the drinking horn, be regarded as a direct introduction from the east? This question has never satisfactorily been resolved. It is recognized that the drinking horn is not a Greek or Etruscan type, and that it cannot therefore readily be explained as an oriental idea brought in through Italic intermediaries

Vix Tomb Princess

Figure 3.9 Exotic influences in late Hallstatt grave-goods. 1, Vix gold diadem, Burgundy;

2, Grafenbühl, Asperg, sphinx, Baden-Württemberg. Adapted from Rolley (2003) and various sources.

Figure 3.9 Exotic influences in late Hallstatt grave-goods. 1, Vix gold diadem, Burgundy;

2, Grafenbühl, Asperg, sphinx, Baden-Württemberg. Adapted from Rolley (2003) and various sources.

(Sandars, 1976, 42, 60). Again there is evidence from the late Hallstatt princely tomb at Hochdorf, which contained no less than nine drinking-horns, that the practice was already well established in north-alpine Europe before the early La Tene period. It is increasingly clear that a number of elements that come to prominence with the burgeoning of early La Tene art were already rooted in the antecedent Hallstatt culture, and borrowings from the east were not least among them. The mechanism for such introductions remains elusive, but the paucity of actual imports certainly suggests an indirect, rather than direct agency.

It is very largely upon the rendering of exotic beasts that claims of orientalizing influences have been based, one instance of which is the pairing of backward-looking beasts. A fine example is the belt-clasp (Figure 3.10A) from Weiskirchen barrow 1, where two pairs of backward-looking griffon-sphinx hybrids flank a humanoid head in a balanced, but not identical composition. Each pair of beasts meets at the breast, but they are not true Siamese twins in the sense of sharing common limbs, as in the Erstfeld hoard. The central head displays the usual features of bulbous eyes, twirly

Ring Weiskirchen
Figure 3.10 Belt attachments from north and south of the Alps. A: Weiskirchen, photo: Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Trier. B: 1, Somme-Bionne 'L'Homme Mort', Marne; 2, Este, Fondo Rebato gr. 152. Adapted from Megaw (1975) and Stead and Rigby (1999).

eyebrows, straight hair and neat moustache, with a leaf-crown comprising a splayed S-scroll lyre that rests on the rumps of the inner pair of beasts. The significance of this imagery is unclear, but a comparison with the trio of figures on the rim of the Glauberg beaked flagon perhaps affords a clue. Here a human figure is depicted with Mediterranean body-armour in cross-legged seated posture, flanked by two sphinxes on their haunches, with heads turned back in a bemused rather than menacing pose. Frey (1998) suggested that the scene might embody a Celtic version of the 'master of the beasts' theme, and that by extension a similar theme might be implicit in the Weiskirchen belt-clasp, the central figure being characteristically encapsulated in the Celtic head rather than the depiction of the body in full. The crossbar of the Weiskirchen belt-clasp is inlaid with coral, emphasizing the Mediterranean associations of the piece.

From the second (cremation) grave at the Glauberg the lid of a spouted flagon bears a backward-looking winged exotic beast (Pl. 4b). But even this was hardly as bizarre as a bronze brooch from the first (inhumation) grave depicting a backward-looking winged beast carrying a human head on its rump, the symbolism of which is quite opaque. Winged griffons are also depicted in engravings on the bronze plaque from Stupava, Slovakia, in a free-hand technique also exemplified on the fragmentary rim of a wire sieve from Hoppstadten in the Hunsruck-Eifel. The technique of engraving, particularly the use of stabbing and of hatched shading, suggests that these pieces could be from the same or a related group of workshops in the middle Rhine. Even if the theme of the fantastic beast is eastern, both interpretation and associations of the Stupava plaque are plainly Celtic. As Megaw has convincingly argued (1975, 22), the 'sickle' wings of all these beasts are much closer to Graeco-Etruscan models or even those on situla art than they are to the fully-stretched wings of Scythian or Persian art.

One example for which Jacobsthal saw both Persian and Scythian models was the gold arm-ring from Rodenbach (Pl. 5a), part of the rich furnishings of a warrior-grave from the Rhineland, dating to the later fifth century, which included Greek and Etruscan imports among its drinking service. The ornament comprises two pairs of backward-looking crouched animals on either side of a central face-mask, and with further faces between each pair. The central pair are rams or ibexes, the outer pair are hybrid beasts with rams' horns and predatory birds' or griffons' beaks. Along the backs of the beasts are soldered balusters, with four larger balusters over the central head. Balusters also play a prominent role in the gold torc from Besseringen in which five slender balusters are flanked by backward-looking birds. The two are not necessarily from the same workshop, but with others they suggest the existence of regional traditions manifesting themselves in specialist techniques and themes (Megaw, 1972).

Perhaps the clearest indication of the likely source of the backward-looking exotic beast theme is provided by Frey's (1995b) studies of trans-alpine connections in the early La Tene period. The belt-hook with open-work backward-looking griffons from the late fifth century Somme-Bionne chariot-burial in the Marne is almost exactly matched by one from Este (Figure 3.10B). Indeed, the distribution of belt-hooks has been taken as one possible indicator of an early phase of settlement of northern Italy that would have brought Celtic craftsmen into contact with situla art and orientalizing themes through Graeco-Etruscan intermediaries.

Most exotic of all the orientalizing personal ornaments of the early La Tene phase is the gold hoard from Erstfeld in Switzerland (Pl. 6a; Wyss, 1975), containing four torcs and three bracelets. Three of the torcs are ornamented in an elaborate scheme of openwork, two forming an almost identical pair. On these, the central device is a small, abstract bird flanked by a pair of balusters. On either side of these, symmetrically disposed, are pairs of Siamese twins, the inner facing twin wholly human, the outer-facing having human arms and hands but with animal's ears or horns (Pl. 6b). The pair stands upon backward-looking creatures, half human, half griffon, which in turn lead to the end of the open-work and the decorative panel. The human figures wear shoes with upturned toe-caps in the style depicted in situla art, but also seen on bronze brooches from the Dürrnberg and from Manetrn-Hradek in Bohemia. If the interpretation of the pieces of gold-leaf from the Hochdorf burial as embellishment for shoes is correct, then this fashion was possibly in vogue north of the Alps already in late Hallstatt times. More puzzling is the use of cross-hatching on the trunk of the Siamese twins, in a chequer-pattern that Sandars (1971, 109) paralleled in the Ziwiyeh ivories. As with most of such attempts to establish direct oriental links, no single eastern source can be determined that consistently manifests a number of common motifs or techniques. One smaller bracelet from the Erstfeld group, which is generally assumed to have been the product of a single workshop, shows a series of distinctive ornamental devices that convinced Megaw (1972) that they were the work of the same Rhenish school of craftsmen that was responsible for the Bad Durkheim gold bracelet, and perhaps those from Rodenbach and Reinheim too. Why the hoard was buried at Erstfeld is unclear. Switzerland is marginal to the main distribution of Early Style artefacts. Furthermore, though trans-alpine links between the goldsmiths of the middle Rhine and their north Italian neighbours are well attested, the find-spot, just north of the St Gothard Pass, is on a route that was not extensively exploited until the Middle Ages (Pauli, 1991).

Another class of artefact upon which orientalizing themes are displayed are flagons from the aristocratic wine service. One of the more tantalizing examples of the oriental connection is the animal on the lid of the Waldalgesheim flagon (Figure 3.4, 2), which Fischer (1988), following Jacobsthal, compared to the golden deer from the Oxus treasure. The rendering of ribs and spiral accentuation of the rear pelvic joint of the Waldalgesheim beast unmistakably mirrors the features of the model, even if the latter's noble posture is translated into a dejected and wooden imitation. Among earlier flagons, the Basse-Yutz pair might be regarded prima facie as displaying oriental features in the pack of pointed-eared dogs that guard their lids, and warrant closer examination (Megaw and Megaw, 1990). The first thing to be remarked is that the Basse-Yutz flagons depart from the standard, rounded body-profile of their Etruscan models in favour of a much more slender, almost concave form, matched most closely among Celtic flagons by the example from the Dürrnberg, or by the more recent example from the Glauberg. It need not follow that these were the products of the same craftsman or a single workshop, but they are at any rate among the more innovative pieces of early Celtic metal-work. Particularly innovative on the Basse-Yutz flagons is the extensive use of coral inlay, on the ornamental plates around the base, at the throat and around the rim and spout of the flagons. Mediterranean coral was extensively in use in north-alpine Europe from Hallstatt C until middle La Tene, and from its distribution (Champion, 1976) appears to have been imported via trans-alpine routes from the late Hallstatt period, pre-empting the intensification of reciprocal connections of the early La Tene phase. Its use on the Basse-Yutz flagons transcends the simple application of studs for eyes to include the more unusual use of oblong setttings, the comparanda for which has led to suggestions that a middle Rhenish workshop could have been responsible for the flagons. The Basse-Yutz flagons also testify to the early use of red glass inlay, commonly but erroneously referred to as red 'enamel', here used in the stopper and as filling in grooves of rim and the handle animal's mane. It is, in fact, the animals that have prompted debate regarding orientalizing influences. In particular, a succession of scholars since Jacobsthal have detected oriental influence in the stabbed rendering of the animals' pelts and in the spiral device depicting the shoulder joint of the fore-limbs, which has its closest parallel on the pair of backward-facing beasts on the Parsberg brooch. In fact, close parallels from Scythian art are hardly abundant, and even if they were, it remains in dispute whether such influences were transmitted directly via the Danube route or indirectly through Graeco-Etruscan intermediaries. The closest parallel for the shoulder-spiral as well as the stabbed pelts on early La Tene metal-work is in fact the winged beast on the terminals of the Vix torc, so that these techniques were already present in Western Europe in late Hallstatt times.

One further element of the Basse-Yutz handles should be considered. Fischer (1988) pointed out that the animal-handles of the Basse-Yutz, Borsch and Dürrnberg flagons all rose above the rim of the vessel, rather than resting directly upon it in the Etruscan manner. For this variation he cited Achaemenid sources, a comparison that might carry greater conviction if any other element from these exotic vessels had been imitated by the Celtic flagons. In the case of the Dürrnberg flagon, the swollen-cheeked and goggly-eyed handle-beast rests its chin directly upon a human head. Jacobsthal took this, and the representations on the rim of the vessel, to be instances of the 'voracious beast' theme. Whether or not these examples are persuasive, the voracious beast was evidently part of the Celtic artistic nightmare, as other examples in metal-working and sculpture indicate. Foremost among these is the fragmentary torc from the Glauberg (Figure 3.11). It features three Janus heads, two standing above the third, which is clasped by the wide-open jaws of two flanking lions, stretched at full length with their hind quarters extending along the torc. The faces themselves are readily paralleled among Celtic faces, though their flat caps are certainly unusual, and have been taken as an indication that they were intended to retain balusters (Rolley, C. (ed.), 2003, Fig. 139b). Jacobsthal was tempted by the possibility that this was the work of an eastern artist employed by the Celts. He also cited, however, the parallel of an Etruscan flagon from Perugia (1944, Pl. 223) in which the handle-beast is plainly grasping a severed human head, so that voracious beast imagery was certainly part of the repertory of the Etruscan artist. Equally at the head of the Adriatic, situla art by the fifth century could have provided a rich source of fantastic beasts, like that on the lowest panel of the Vace situla, or the winged lion on the lowest panel of the Certosa situla from Bologna, both of which are depicted devouring a well-shaped human leg.

In sum, the imagery of early La Tene art certainly includes exotic elements for which the term 'orientalizing' is not inappropriate. The balance of evidence, however, argues that this derived from the pool of Graeco-Etruscan imagery that was available to north-alpine Celtic artists at least from the late Hallstatt phase, even if their aristocratic or warrior patrons were familiar with its significance from longer-distance political or diplomatic contacts. That these Mediterranean and further contacts continued to influence La Tene art in north-alpine Europe will become apparent in the next phase of development.

Etruscan Jewelry Techniques
Figure 3.11 The Glauberg bronze tore. Interpretative drawing adapted from various photographic sources.
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