The La Tene Later Relief Styles

Broadly contemporary with the Sword Styles, dating from the later fourth or third centuries bc, a range of artefacts, including personal ornaments, especially from the middle La Tene cemeteries of eastern Central Europe, developed a high-relief style of ornament which Jacobsthal defined as the 'Plastic Style'. As its name implies, the Plastic Style is characterized by its three-dimensional, relief form, in English implying a moulded quality, as in modelling in the round with clay, but in the Continental European tradition comprising all forms of relief ornament, including that of more angular profile (Duval and Hawkes, 1976, 181). The fact that the Continental usage embraces both 'soft' and 'sharp' relief modelling does not mean, of course, that the two variants are the same (Jope, in Duval and Hawkes, 1976, 183), nor indeed that the relief technique implies a uniformity or concurrency of fashion. It is true that the preceding Waldalgesheim or Vegetal Style was also a low-relief style, but the later Plastic Style is different in degree, has a marked tendency to exaggerated swelling, and can include quite baroque clusters of relief elements. The crucial difference is that even with Waldalgesheim ornament it is possible to represent the design two-dimensionally. With the Plastic Style, as Jacobsthal observed, there is 'no clear borderline between decoration and what it decorates . . . cut off the spirals and you cut into the flesh' (1944, 97).

In fact, from Jacobsthal's analysis, it is difficult to gain any sense of a coherent style, in terms either of its distribution or of the range of artefactual types represented. The distributional deficiency was in part owing to the constraints of access to museums and collections at the time. As Kruta pointed out (Duval and Hawkes, 1976, 181), a substantial concentration of Plastic Style ornaments in Bohemia and Moravia, numerically greater than those of Hungary or south Germany, had not been examined by Jacobsthal, who perhaps therefore placed undue emphasis upon particularly outstanding examples from the Marne or southern France. As regards the types that were represented, these were principally bracelets, arm- or ankle-rings in Jacobsthal's analysis, to which a wide range of brooches should certainly be added. In its wider sense, however, 'Plastic Style' might include the Torrs pony-cap and insular parade shields, as well as the Irish pin series. It is worth remarking nevertheless that, with a currency in excess of two centuries, the Plastic Style was as long-lived as any of the early La Tene styles that we have considered hitherto.

Whereas in the case of the Hungarian Sword Style the influence of the preceding Waldalgesheim Style was plain, the evolution of the Plastic Style or Styles is harder to trace. In one sense, its swelling relief form might be seen as a natural progression from

Waldalgesheim. Some motifs too might be seen as developments of those current in the Waldalgesheim Style; indeed some might be linked to antecedents in the Early Styles. These include most obviously S-motifs, commonly linking into triskele sequences, but translated into three-dimensional, high-relief form. Perhaps the difficulty in articulating the sequential relationship stems from the fact that there is no obvious debt to or stylistic input from classical prototypes, as was the case with both the principal earlier La Tene styles. To this degree it might be regarded as the culmination of La Tene achievement, but equally we might suspect that to Jacobsthal as a classical archaeologist it was becoming tangential to his primary interests. Szabo, by contrast, has described the output of eastern Central Europe from the third century bc, less in touch at least initially with Mediterranean influences, as the peak of La Tene artistic achievement, reflecting a 'democratization of ornament' in Celtic society (Szabo, 1991, 313), presumably because the media in which the Plastic Style achieves this expression are principally everyday personal ornaments or dress accessories such as bracelets, brooches and belt-hooks. Not all such ornaments, however, are of an everyday kind, and the implications of an increasingly egalitarian society should not pass unchallenged. Gold torcs of an extravagance and stylistic elaboration unsurpassed in Celtic art are also known from this period, and the highly specialized art of contemporary sword scabbards equally testifies to a highly stratified society, sustaining a military and social elite. But the Plastic Style also sees a burgeoning of what Megaw called the 'Disney Style' (1970a, 30; 1970b), the rendering of animal and bird's heads with cartoon-like techniques to emphasize mood, either benign and even comical, or malevolent and ominous. These figures especially embody what Hawkes described as the contrasting 'benign' and 'nightmare' aspects of Celtic art.

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