The human image

Among Jacobsthal's initial precepts regarding early Celtic art was that it was not representational, and did not in general represent human or animal forms realistically or naturalistically. Humanoid faces, sometimes described as 'satyr-faces', with exaggerated or demoniac features, however, occur within a larger design in a variety of contexts, such as within the palmette and lotus ornament of the Weiskirchen plaque, or in specific and recurrent locations such as the top and base of flagon handles, as at Basse-Yutz or on the Durrnberg flagon. These faces have typically large rounded eyes, which on the Basse-Yutz flagons once held coral inlay. Or the eyes may be depicted as lentoid, like the face at the base of the Reinheim flagon or that on the Rodenbach gold

Basse Yutz Flagons
Figure 3.6 Dürrnberg bei Hallein, Grave 44/2: principal grave-goods. A: weaponry. B: drinking vessels and related items. Adapted from Penninger (1972).
Urnfield Burial Grave Goods
Figure 3.6 Continued.

finger-ring (Figure 3.7, 1), lending them a decidedly sinister aspect. Bulbous noses and puffy cheeks give these face-masks the appearance of an impish or devilish gargoyle, like the face on the base of the Klein Aspergle flagon, an image that is echoed in the goggly-eyed faces around its rim. It is hard to resist the suspicion in such cartoon-like faces that the craftsman was offering a wry comment on the likely effects of overindulgence on the complexion of his princely patron! Large eyebrows frequently twirl into exaggerated spiral ends. Sometimes a moustache is depicted, as on the Basse-Yutz flagons, or a moustache and beard, like the topmost head on the Reinheim flagon-handle. Frequently the hair-style is depicted as a fringe with vertical combing, well illustrated on the phalera from Hofovicky, Czech Republic, or on the Weiskirchen plaque, which Frey compared with faces from Chiusi. In fact, the models for these Celtic face-masks are both Etruscan, the clean-shaven face with fringe hair-style and the bearded 'Silenus' mask. Trans-alpine connections from at least the beginning of the fifth century bc doubtless account for the concentration of these faces in the Rhineland and southern Germany, while some of the Eastern European examples may have been influenced from these more westerly workshops.

The contexts occupied by these stylized faces tend to be recurrent. Apart from flagon-handles, they regularly are paired back-to-back on bracelets, like those from Schwarzenbach or from Bad Durkheim (Megaw, 1970a, Plates 53, 54); they are matched on the terminals of the Reinheim torc and bracelets; they appear as a central focus flanked by paired beasts on the Rodenbach arm-ring (Pl. 5a) and on the Weiskirchen belt-clasp (Figure 3.10A). On the Glauberg torc (Pl. 4a) no less than ten human face-masks dominate the ring itself, while two grotesque figures with enlarged heads flank the pendant composition. On the slightly later Waldalgesheim bracelet they are more integral and less obtrusive, their twirling eyebrows becoming S-curves within the overall flow of the composition. Face-masks continue to feature in the repertory of the Celtic artist down to the late La Tene phase, in a variety of forms and contexts, sometimes overtly and sometimes more subtly concealed among foliage in a manner which prompted Jacobsthal to refer to the 'Cheshire' style, an allusion to the elusive quality of Lewis Carroll's cat.

The meaning of these faces is not easy to read, though in some instances they could have served as apotropaic symbols. The twin faces of the Rodenbach finger-ring have sometimes been interpreted as a Janus representation, with implications of cultic significance. From the head may protrude horns or large lobes, the so-called leaf-crown, itself possibly a symbol of divinity or regal status, witnessed not only on bronzes like the mount from the Dürrnberg or on the dignified face at the base of the Waldalgesheim flagon-handle, but also rendered in sculpture on the Pfalzfeld pillar and the stone head from Heidelberg. The Pfalzfeld pillar (Figure 3.8A) is not strictly janiform, though a Janus head could have originally capped its now broken shaft, but with lobed heads on each of its four sides it suggests omniscience. Its overtly phallic form implies fertility consistent with a ritual significance. A particularly fine stone-sculpted rendering of a full-length armoured figure sporting a leaf-crown was recovered in recent years from the ditch of the early La Tene princely tomb at the Glauberg, Wetterau (Herrmann and Frey, 1996; Frey and Herrmann, 1997; Bartel et al, 1998; Frey, 1998; Weber, 2002). The warrior is depicted in armour (Figure 3.8B), with a recognizably early La Tene sword (Herrmann, 1998, Abb 19; Frey, 2004), together with miniature shield, and wearing finger, arm and neck ornaments that were presumably symbolic as much as

Weiskirchen Plaque
Figure 3.7 Face masks in early La Tene art. 1, Rodenbach finger-ring. Copyright Historisches Museum der Pfalz, Speyer (Jahr), Photo: Kurt Diehl; 2, Oberwittighausen brooch. Photo: Badisches Landesmuseum, Karlsruhe; 3, Parsberg brooch. Photo: Germanisches Nationalmuseum Nürnberg.
Celtic Janus Figures Jacobsthal
Figure 3.8 Sculpture in early La Tene art. A: the Pfalzfeld pillar. Photo: copyright Landschaftsverband Rheinland/Rheinisches Landesmuseum Bonn. B: the Glauberg stone warrior. Photo: Hessische Landesmuseum, Darmstadt.

ornamental. The neck torc in particular has pendants mirrored in the gold torc from one of the accompanying graves. The warrior's muscular thighs, like those of the Hirschlanden statue, are doubtless intended to represent strength; by comparison, the arms of both figures are relatively puny. The Glauberg warrior has a pronounced jaw, perhaps together with the thickened upper lip originally painted, as Frey (2004)

suggested, to represent beard and moustache. Finally, the figure has a cap and 'leaf-crown' lobes, a symbol of status, whether as ancestral hero or divinity is unclear. Similar figures carved in wood could well have been relatively common, but if so have simply not survived. A timber model seems to be implied in the rendering of the Holzgerlingen stone pillar figure, which is surmounted by a Janus-head, and the Heidelberg head may have been comparable. Janus heads, or more strictly double-heads, are known from the third and second centuries bc in southern Gaul, from the so-called Celto-Ligurian sanctuaries of Entremont and Roquepertuse. In fact, the basic concept, however inexpertly sculpted, has a very long currency. Insular examples include a three-faced head from Sutherland, and another from Corleck in County Cavan, while a later example still is known from Glejbjerg, Denmark, beyond the limits of the Celtic world.

One particular medium in which these stylized faces are found is on brooches, the so-called Maskfibeln, either embellishing the foot or the head of the bow above the spring (Megaw, 1982). Few faces could be more glum than that on the foot of the Parsberg brooch (Figure 3.7, 2), or more sombre than the bearded twins on the brooch from Oberwittighausen (Figure 3.7, 3). Others may simply convey an expression of bemusement. It is a natural inclination of the archaeologist to invoke ritual symbolism for anything that appears to deviate from his own concept of the functional or rational, but it is hard to understand why so seldom are Celtic craftsmen credited with a simple sense of fun or pleasure in evoking caricature, in much the same way that artists throughout the ages have used their art for satire or to lampoon the established order. Some of the faces on linch-pins of the late La Tène are caricatures that might well prompt such an explanation. At the same time we should beware anachronistic readings of early Celtic art: the somewhat later (third- or second-century) stone head from Msecké Zehrovice in Bohemia (Figure 6.4; Venclovâ, 1998), with its bulging eyes, twirled moustache and dyspeptic expression, may remind us of the archetypal Colonel Blimp, but it is unlikely that the artist would have had quite that stereotype in mind! Some images may well have had a mythical, supernatural or apotropaic quality, and the concept of a 'cult of the head', though perhaps overstated in the literature, nevertheless has some basis in the archaeological and documentary record. We should therefore beware of simplistic explanations of human imagery in La Tène art: human representation in different styles may well have had different purposes in different regions at different periods.

It is not just human or humanoid heads that adorn the brooches, bracelets and other artefacts of the early La Tène phase. Animals and birds too are found in profusion, some realistic, like the amusing little ducks that float down the spout of the Basse-Yutz flagons, some more stylized and enigmatic as regards their species, sometimes even, as we shall see, with hints of an oriental origin. A group of torcs from the Marne region (Bretz-Mahler, 1971, Plates 60, 61, torques à décor ornithomorphe) in which pairs of stylized ducks flank or back the central ornamental focus, must be indicative of a local workshop or local tradition of symbolism. Equally stylized birds characterize a series of bird-headed or double-bird-headed brooches (Vogel and Doppelvogelkopffibeln), in which the eyes are sometimes enlarged and highlighted with coral inlay. For the origins of the pairing of birds and animals, Jacobsthal looked to the south and the east. But the use of bird symbolism itself has a long ancestry in north-alpine Europe, as we have seen, going back through the late Hallstatt to Urnfield traditions.

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  • niklas
    Where is the glauberg torc displayed?
    8 years ago

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