The Bohemian Plastic Style

The importance of the Plastic Style in Bohemia and Moravia has largely been established through the analytical research of Kruta (1975), whose sub-divisions have been widely adopted by other scholars. He demonstrated that the first phase of the Bohemian Plastic Style developed from types associated with the Duchcov horizon of the later fourth century. Two principal artefactual types were represented. Numerically most significant are a series of bronze penannular bracelets with buffer terminals, the decoration on which is divided into three sectors, two flanking the terminals and the third diametrically opposite the opening (Figure 6.1, 2). A few of these display vegetal-derived designs, though executed in a relief technique that is accentuated beyond the low relief of the preceding style. The majority, however, employ S-motifs in simple or compound form, for which the ultimate antecedents lie within the Early Style. The more complex examples include linked S-motifs and comma-leaves, rather than fully-integrated S-chains, together with triskeles and pseudo-triskeles, especially at the terminals. A notable aspect of the ornament, partly induced by the layout of the composition, is its symmetry, the design being balanced about the central element of the central panel. The second principal type of this early phase of the Plastic Style is a Munsingen-derivative type of brooch, with sloping foot and large foot-disc, the bow of which is also ornamented with S-motifs in heavy relief style (Figure 6.1, 1). Given the limited variation in types, and the limited range of ornamental motifs, it would be surprising if groups of artefacts could not be potentially assigned to the same

Bohemian Totem

Figure 6.1 La Tene 'Plastic Style' ornament in Bohemia and Moravia. 1, Pecky 2; 2, Sulejovice 1;

3, Pecky 2; 4, Hostomice 1; 5, Telce 1; 6, Nehvizdky 1; 7, Novy Bydzov 9; 8, Stankovice 2; 9, Horesovice 1; 10, Podlesin 1 (all Bohemia); 11, Mistrin, Moravia. 1-10 adapted from Kruta (1975), 11 adapted from Filip (1956).

Figure 6.1 La Tene 'Plastic Style' ornament in Bohemia and Moravia. 1, Pecky 2; 2, Sulejovice 1;

3, Pecky 2; 4, Hostomice 1; 5, Telce 1; 6, Nehvizdky 1; 7, Novy Bydzov 9; 8, Stankovice 2; 9, Horesovice 1; 10, Podlesin 1 (all Bohemia); 11, Mistrin, Moravia. 1-10 adapted from Kruta (1975), 11 adapted from Filip (1956).

workshops. Though concentrating in Bohemia, similar examples are found in a wider distribution in eastern Central Europe, in Moravia, Slovakia, Austria and Hungary. A variant of this brooch type was associated in grave 40 of the Piskolt cemetery in Romania with a warrior's equipment comprising a shield, represented by its handle and shield-boss, and a sword in an ornamented scabbard, with traces of a Type I dragon-pair (Szabo and Petres, 1992, Pl. 96).

The second phase of the Bohemian Plastic Style, starting around the second quarter of the third century bc, is represented by a wider range of types, though they are still generally regarded as essentially female costume accessories. The brooches are of two broad types. One is still within the La Tene 1 tradition, but with a large globular knob on the foot in place of the flat, circular disc of the preceding phase (Figure 6.1, 3). Ornamentation is still commonly of relief S-motifs in a chain. A variant of this type, with S-motifs winding into tight spirals, was among several globular-footed La Tene 1 brooches from grave 31 at Kosd in Hungary, in association with a scabbard with engraved ornament and chagrinage. Several other graves in the Kosd cemetery contained similar brooches, together with an example in which the foot attaches to the bow in the diagnostic manner of La Tene 2 brooches. The second brooch variant representative of the second phase of the Bohemian Plastic Style is in fact a La Tene 2 type with foot attached to the bow. It is embellished, however, with two large globular knobs, one on the foot and the other on the bow at the point of junction with the foot (Figure 6.1, 4). In one variant the moulded, relief design of the knobs is comparable; in another the bow moulding bears a transverse S-motif in contrast to the diagonal design on the foot.

Bracelets, supplemented now by ankle-rings, also develop an even more heavily three-dimensional quality, being composed of a ring of hollow-cast hemispheres or ovoids, linked together with narrower moulded bridges. Decoration of the hemispheres includes S-motifs, triskeles and the yin-yang in relief. Among the variant forms of bracelet, Kruta (1975, 80) pointed to one group from eastern Bohemia, together with an example from Brno-Malomerice in Moravia, which, on metrical as well as stylistic grounds, he argued convincingly were the product of the same workshop. Though not identical, the similarities stylistically between the bracelets from Nehvizdky 1 and Novy Bydzov (Figure 6.1, 6 and 7), for example, certainly support this contention.

Ankle-rings of this series are particularly distinctive, commonly having a hinged opening between their six or eight hollow-cast hemispherical elements. They occur in graves in association with late La Tene 1c brooches and with La Tene 2 types, and must therefore have been in circulation from the later fourth or early third centuries bc. Once again, the similarities between individual examples from Bohemia and Moravia have led to the suggestion that they were the output of specific workshops (Kruta, 1975, 83). The dominant ornamental motifs in bold relief are again based on S-motifs, either single or paired in a chain, and sometimes linked with triskeles or an interlocking yin-yang. The spiral terminals of S-motifs and triskeles invariably are emphasized by a relief boss. Stankovice grave 2 (Figure 6.1, 8) illustrates these motifs in alternating pairs of ovoid bosses. A relatively rare elaboration of these motifs, illustrated by an example from Horesovice (Figure 6.1, 9), is a design with four arms, either a double-S or a curving-armed swastika. Very occasionally the designs may alternate, as on an example from Stankovice, where two versions of a triskele, one simple and tight, the other revolving in looser motion around a fourth, central boss, occupy alternate hemispherical elements, on which the relief designs are further reinforced with beaded dotting.

Though hollow-cast anklets of this class are especially well represented in Bohemia, there are certainly cognate groups in Moravia and Slovakia, with some outliers further west. The example from Klettham in Bavaria (Figure 6.2A) has six hemispherical elements in four plus two combination (the two forming the opening), each ornamented with a four-sided sub-swastika around a central triskele, the terminals of which are exaggerated into pronounced bosses. Another Bavarian example, from Aholming, has much more angular facetting to its relief ornament than the majority of examples, but nevertheless would qualify as Plastic Style in the Continental definition. The most westerly of the distribution, indeed the only example from west of the Rhine, and undoubtedly an export from Eastern Europe, is the example from the Tarn in south-western France (Figure 6.2B). With eight hollow-cast hemispheres, its ornament alternates between two linked S-motifs on the four smaller hemispheres, with pronounced boss at their junction, and two linked triskeles on the four larger, both with bosses accentuating their terminals. The relief designs rise from a background that has been pecked with a punch, the whole design being outlined with a ribbed border.

A distinctive aspect of the eastern Central European Plastic style ornament is the use of pseudo-filigree and pastillage. Pseudo-filigree is the term given to the cast relief ornament of thin wire-like scrolls or rosettes, creating an effect that is similar in superficial appearance, though quite different in technique, to the filigree work of gold and silver smiths, using droplets of precious metals to create a fine applied design. A particularly exotic example is the bracelet from a warrior's grave at Chotin in Slovakia, dating to the beginning of the third century, or on a brooch from Mistnn in Moravia (Figure 6.1, 11). In some cases the effect is not dissimilar to the relief moulding of glass bracelets, which also make their appearance at broadly this time. The technique of pseudo-filigree was used by both Greeks and Etruscans, and doubtless was introduced into Slovakia and Moravia and thence to Bohemia from the south. It is known on a range of bracelets of various types, but is almost unknown outside Bohemia.

The technique described by Kruta as pastillage refers to clusters of small, truncated conical discs, most commonly applied to penannular bronze bracelets (Figure 6.1, 10). Its distribution is quite wide across eastern Central Europe, extending from Bohemia and Moravia into Romania and Hungary, including an example from the cemetery at Kosd. Once again, stylistic and metrical similarities have suggested production in specialist workshops, while associations include La Tene 2 brooches, indicating that the currency of the technique continued into the developed stages of the Plastic Style. Bracelets may combine pastillage with pseudo-filigree ornament, the threads of the filigree work snaking around the body of the bracelet and its pastilles. In some cases the pastilles themselves are more like small, globular bosses, resembling droplets of metal in the style of gold or silver smiths. The summit of achievement of this series of Plastic Style ornaments in Bohemia are those that display an open-work structure, often adapted for the purposes of the opening and closing mechanism of the bracelet. Associations of this group include late La Tene 1 and La Tene 2 brooches and hollow-cast anklets, indicating a currency in the second phase of the Bohemian Plastic Style. Kruta argued from associations of an example in the rich grave at Blucina, Moravia, however, that the style may have its origins somewhat earlier.

Brno Bronze MalomericeCeltic Art Plastic Style
Figure 6.2 Relief style arm- and ankle-rings. A: Klettham, Bavaria. Photo: Archäologische Staatssammlung, Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte, Munich. B: Tarn, southern France. Museé des Antiquités Nationales. Photo: RMN, Paris © René-Gabriel Ojéda.

A distinctive component of the female grave assemblages of this second phase of the Bohemian Plastic Style is the inclusion of bronze and iron belt-chains. Belt-hooks and attachments are known from the Hallstatt Iron Age, but the latter must have been part of a perishable belt, made, for example, of leather. The Bohemian La Tene belts are more elaborately constructed of plates and rings, linked in a symmetrical series, with the hook itself cast in the shape of an animal's head (Figure 6.1, 5). The belt was fastened by inserting the hook into whichever of the rings in the series afforded the correct tension around the wearer's waist. The penultimate ring and its terminal pendants were suspended from the third plate back from the belt-hook, so that the surplus chain hung ornamentally at the waist. The zoomorphic terminals are typically of two varieties. Both display rather stylized, rounded ears projecting upwards from the hookend, but one variant has a roundly-modelled muzzle with straight mouth, the other has a simpler muzzle, curving and plain. On some of the more elaborate examples the more visible front plates are embellished with red enamel in champleve settings. The use of enamel is evidently a fashion of the later La Tene in eastern Central Europe, since examples, together with evidence of enamel working itself, have been found from the Bohemian oppida horizon. A particularly fine belt-chain, with exceptionally virtually all its plates enamelled, was found at the oppidum of Stradonice. This and allied examples from the Carpathian Basin are unlikely to date much earlier than the beginning of the second century bc, and hence represent the later period of currency of Plastic Style ornament.

In Kruta's analysis, the Bohemian Plastic Style comes to an end in the second century bc, its decline being part of a profound social change that sees the rise of the late La Tene oppida. He particularly remarked the spatial displacement reflected in the distribution of early La Tene material in the southern highlands and that of the Plastic Style, which occupies the lowlands of the north and north-east, and the fact that the oppida are located broadly within the zone of the former rather than the latter. The immediate reason for this is that the Plastic Style artefacts come from the flat grave cemeteries of the north and north-east, whereas the southern highlands are characterized by small tumulus burials, but the distributional contrast is significant nevertheless. Trying to interpret these regional patterns is not easy, and we should certainly avoid simplistic equations based upon historical accounts of population migrations that were fashionable half a century ago. Plainly dynamic processes of interaction, including invasions and mercenary activity, could have been factors in the creation of the artistic achievements of the Bohemian and middle Danubian workshops, and the novel types and styles that characterized their output. But there remain many unresolved questions regarding the relationships between and within those various regional groups, as well as questions regarding their relationship with the Hellenistic and outside world.

The three-dimensional moulded quality of the Plastic Style lends itself particularly well to the casting of zoomorphic heads of animals or birds, a theme in Celtic art that has a long pedigree. Megaw's 'Disney Style', reducing an image to its simple essentials, and exaggerating features such as the eyes, conveys an expression of humour or gloom, benign or malevolent, in much the same way that a cartoonist creates his caricatures. There are few better examples of this than the open-work mounts from the Malomerice cemetery at Brno in Moravia (Figure 6.3), a find which unfortunately lacks proper context, having been recovered in 1941 during construction work on the site of a flat,

Figure 6.3 Open-work mounts from Brno-Malomerice, with details enlarged. Adapted from Kruta (2004).

inhumation cemetery of the early to middle La Tene transition. The mounts are generally interpreted as belonging to a wooden spouted flagon, one component seemingly designed to enclose the spout itself, another most probably surmounting the lid, and others perhaps riveted to the body and the pedestal base. The spout element is distinguished by a central bull's head, its sinister expression created by lentoid eyes and heavy, grooved brows above softly-modelled muzzle and nostrils. From its head beaded branches sweep upwards as if to represent horns, more antler-like than bovine. The reverse side of the same piece, facing upwards, depicts a horned beast with gaping jaws, again with sinister lentoid eyes. Both lentoid eyes and ridged brows are reflected in the rendering of the eyes and crown of the griffon or predatory bird that dominates the lid-mount. The ring forms the creature's body and tail, linked to a backward trailing 'crest' adorned with knobbed bosses. The last of these leads into a secondary, reversed bird's head. The largest of the body panels is in many respects archetypical of the Plastic Style, asymmetric yet controlled in its balance, and composed of elements that hint at birds' heads but defy strict definition. The centre appears to embody a multiple-beaked bird, with curving arms swirling in rotation outwards. Particularly noteworthy on a cast mount on the foot of the vase is a pair of human faces in which the depiction of eyes, brows, nose, mouth and even chin is far more naturalistic than is usual in La Tene art hitherto, opposing each other in a composition that Megaw saw as a contrast of 'the sardonic and the genial' (1970a, 108).

A prime example of representation of the human head from the eastern Celtic world, conventionally dated to the third or second century bc, is the marlstone carved head found in 1943 in a pit just outside the Viereckschanze at Msecke Zehrovice in Bohemia (Figure 6.4; Venclova, 1998). The features are depicted in a style reminiscent of earlier La Tene face-masks, though rendered in fuller detail. The lentoid eyes are outlined by eyelids, over which the eyebrows extend sideways to end in a pronounced twirl in the manner of earlier face-masks. Below the stubby nose, a florid moustache is similarly twirled at its ends. The hair is depicted only on the forward edge of the crown, and hence we may infer that, unlike Janus heads of the Heidelberg kind, this sculpture was intended to be viewed only from the front. The hair itself is rendered in a series of deep grooves, reflecting in sculpted form the fringes that were fashionable in earlier representations. The ears, not commonly drawn in Celtic faces, are portrayed as stylized lotuses, again a throw-back to earlier fashions. Around the neck of the head is a bufferterminalled torc of a kind well known in the archaeological inventory, but insufficient in itself to date the sculpture closely. The appeal to modern, western audiences of the sculpture is perhaps its inadvertent parody of a dyspeptic colonel, with its bulging eyes, square-set jaw and down-turned mouth, and though plainly the analogy is anachronistic, the Celtic artist has undoubtedly once again created an image through the means of selective caricature.

The Msecke Zehrovice head had been broken into at least five pieces when it was deposited in its pit. It was found together with burned animal bones, scraps of sapro-pelite, a piece of iron wire and several sherds of pottery, including graphite-coated wares of the late second or first centuries bc, broadly contemporary with the use of the Viereckschanze itself. If this provides us with a terminus ante quem, the assumption must be that the head itself was carved and used some time before that, possibly from two or three centuries earlier. Stylistically it is hard to pin-point its likely origin, though the Megaws are surely justified in seeing analogies for the features of the head

Biskupice Bronzov Plastika Celts
Figure 6.4 The stone sculpted head from Msecke Zehrovice. National Museum, Prague, Department of Prehistory.

in the Early Style rather than later. On the other hand, they rightly observe that torcs in early La Tene seem to come almost exclusively from female burials, and only acquire their warrior associations, so graphically recorded in history and sculpture, with the Celtic migrations. Given the conservatism of some aspects of the arts of the eastern Celtic zone, a dating in the third century bc or thereabouts is not improbable.

The function of the head and the reason for its dispatch deserve consideration. While proximity need not imply association, the possible ritual function of Viereckschanzen might warrant speculation that the head had once surmounted a pillar-stone of ritual importance. Stone stele or statues of funerary or ritual function are familiar from the European Iron Age, and may have had more frequent counterparts in timber. At Libenice (Rybova and Soudsky, 1962), the focus of ritual of an elongated, rectilinear cult enclosure was evidently a series of pits at one end, from which a pair of bronze torcs was recovered. The excavators suggested the possibility that here had stood a timber totem that may have been adorned with torcs as a symbol of deity, parallel to that depicted on the Msecke Zehrovice sculpture. Perhaps the breaking of the latter represented a ritual act itself, a symbolic breach with the past and its spiritual order.

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  • jali
    Are celtic and bohemian the same?
    8 years ago

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