The Waldalgesheim Style

The Waldalgesheim Style, named by Jacobsthal after a princely burial in the middle Rhine (Aus'm Werth, 1870; Joachim, 1995), notwithstanding its continuing debt to classical plant prototypes, displays an independence of interpretation and confidence in execution that marks the culmination of achievement of the early La Tène period. Modern commentators are divided regarding the regional origins of this developed style, and the Rhineland is not obviously a focal point in its north-alpine distribution. In consequence, the descriptive term 'Vegetal' has been proposed in place ofJacobsthal's type-site to denote the new style, reflecting in particular its use of plant-derived tendril motifs. It should be noted, however, that this label too has its limitations; the new style is not characterized exclusively by vegetal motifs, nor are vegetal motifs exclusive to it,

Celtic Saulces Champenoise
Figure 4.5 Developed Style in the Champagne. 1, Berru helmet; 2, Les Saulces Champenoise dish; 3 and 4, Ecury-sur-Marne phalerae. Not to scale. Adapted from Dechelette (1914) and Jacobsthal (1944).

since vegetal models of classical derivation were plainly an important component of the preceding phase. Accordingly, some scholars have preferred to retain the now-conventional name, while recognizing its limitations. Confusing as this may appear, it signals the significant fact that the new Waldalgesheim or Vegetal Style is in part the product of both continuing and renewed contact with classical artistic impulses from south of the Alps, and should not be regarded as an independent development divorced from the progressive sequence of regional styles that contributed to its genesis, and which it in turn subsequently influenced. Waldalgesheim and Besançon both reveal particular traits or 'facets' (Jope, 1971a, 178 and footnote 51) among various manifestations of the developed phase of early Celtic art, rather than representing a consistent new 'style'. In terms of absolute chronology, these developed styles were the product of the fourth century bc, but their appearance may well have been synchronous with the local or regional continuation of earlier styles. Indeed, Frey (1976) stressed the apparent disparity of distribution between artefacts with Waldagesheim Style ornament and those of the Early Style, the only significant area of overlap between the two being in the Marne region of north-eastern France, so that the later style should not in general be regarded simply as a development of the earlier.

Waldalgesheim lies in the middle Rhine, west of its confluence with the Nahe river. Here a grave, assumed from the rich inventory of grave-goods to have been that of a Celtic princess, was excavated in 1869-70. It comprised a wooden chamber beneath a barrow mound, to one side of which were the fragmentary remains of a two-wheeled chariot. Among the rich and varied artefacts from the tomb were the vehicle fittings, a drinking service and personal ornaments, but no weapons. Finest among the personal ornaments were a gold torc, an arm-ring and two bracelets (Pl. 5b), the torc and bracelets all ornamented with low relief designs in the style that Jacobsthal identified with the site. Harness and belt attachments (Figure 4.6) display a similar style of ornament in open-work, and are a too-often neglected component of the grave-group, indicating that the gold ornaments, however distinctive, cannot be explained in isolation. The drinking service includes two contrasting pieces, the older being a locally-made spouted flagon (Figure 3.4, 2), which has been discussed earlier in the context of the engraved ornament on its body and the emaciated animal on its lid, and a younger import, a Campanian bronze bucket, probably made in or shortly after the second quarter of the fourth century bc, but deposited in the grave a couple of generations later. Both these items were found at a greater depth in the tomb than the torc and bracelets, leading at one point to the suggestion that there may have been two separate and successive burials in the tomb. The grave-goods evidently included items that were made at different times and treasured until buried together in the later fourth century. The spouted flagon is thus an heirloom, the Campanian bucket a more recent acquisition.

An initial problem in discussing the Waldalgesheim Style lies in its definition. We may speak generally of its sinuous, fleshy curvilinear tendrils and scrolls or its asymmetrical plant spirals, or in a more flippant vein we may use evocative terms like 'spaghetti-ornament' or 'sweet-pea ornament' to describe its over-and-under low-relief compositions. In more abstract mode, its vigorous, confident and yet subtly experimental quality is perhaps best summarized by Megaw's allusion (1970a, 89) in the context of another piece to the 'assured irrationality' of its ornamental style. At one level, all these descriptions serve their purpose, but to recognize the style we must

Waldalgesheim Style

Figure 4.6 Ornament from Waldalgesheim, Mainz-Bingen, grave-group. A: 1, design on Campanian bucket handle-attachment; 2, design from arm-ring terminals; 3, design from tore terminals. Not to scale. Adapted from Jope (1971a). B: 4, face-mask 2 from yoke assembly; 5, ornamental yoke mount; 6, design on yoke terminals; 7, ornamental plaque; 8, ornamental belt plate. Adapted from Joachim (1995).

Figure 4.6 Ornament from Waldalgesheim, Mainz-Bingen, grave-group. A: 1, design on Campanian bucket handle-attachment; 2, design from arm-ring terminals; 3, design from tore terminals. Not to scale. Adapted from Jope (1971a). B: 4, face-mask 2 from yoke assembly; 5, ornamental yoke mount; 6, design on yoke terminals; 7, ornamental plaque; 8, ornamental belt plate. Adapted from Joachim (1995).

identify the component motifs and the way they interact within the overall composition, not simply to reduce the style to a series of nuts and bolts, but to understand its dynamics. To begin with, unlike the Early Style, it is a low-relief style, which means that the interplay between foreground and background, latent in the Early Style, no longer pertains, at any rate not in the same way. By contrast, the Waldalgesheim Style comprises a continuous composition of conjoined elements, rather than rows of independent but potentially inter-acting motifs.

For Jacobsthal, a key component of the Waldalgesheim Style was the tendril, which could coalesce with other motifs such as whirligigs or fans. The tendril is essentially a classical motif, and it is not difficult to cite classical prototypes for Celtic tendril designs. Jacobsthal described the classical tendril as having fluid movement, by contrast to the static Celtic version. Frey convincingly showed that by infilling the tendril to create a curved triangle or vortex, the Celtic artist was able to allow the movement of the Celtic tendril to flow both ways, rather than being uni-directional. Martyn Jope (1971a) developed Jacobsthal's analysis of Waldalgesheim motifs in a study that also attempted to establish the existence of a Waldalgesheim 'master' as the principal progenitor of the style. The term was in fact Jacobsthal's (1944, 93), but there is no evidence that in using it he was implying anything more than the existence of one among a number of specialist craftsmen or workshops. Jope's thesis has not been generally adopted, not least because it is by no means certain that any of the grave-goods from the type-site, other than the spouted flagon, were local products. But his analysis of the constituent motifs of the style as exemplified on the torc and bracelets from the type-site, notwithstanding its rather florid articulation, was still among the most perceptive analyses available until Frey's in the definitive republication of the assemblage (Frey, 1995a).

A recurrent theme of the Waldalgesheim Style is a serpentine scroll, which may swell out like a slender leaf in some versions, but which forms the main agent of articulation of the design. This element commonly flows into curved triangles or vortexes from which at least one other corner will continue the flow of the composition. A particular feature of the Waldalgesheim group, noted by Jacobsthal and Jope, is the over-and-under figure-of-eight device forming a kind of interlace pattern that is particularly suitable for use in confined spaces. Further embellishment can be provided by finials, either fanlike peltae or concave-tailed fins. These designs are particularly well illustrated on the wagon accessories from Waldalgesheim, which included a series of yoke-fittings and ornamental embellishments. Two other ornamental plaques employ over-and-under figure-of-eight motifs to conceal elusive 'Cheshire Style' face masks, while figural representations in the yoke fittings include humanoid busts with 'leaf-crown' and a pair of opposed swan-like birds but with large, coral-inlaid eyes in open-work.

A second fundamental theme, illustrated on the Waldalgesheim torc and bracelets by the triangular elements that form the ends of both central and buffer-terminal designs, is a Celtic rendering of the lyre-motif, commonly combined with palmette, but characteristically transformed by the Celtic artist through the extravagant use of over-and-under figures-of-eight or similar devices of non-classical inspiration. The bracelets nevertheless include some repetitive, frieze-like panels of stylized waves or hooks resembling those on the Amfreville helmet. And from between the foliage peer out small stylized faces with bulging eyes and twirly eyebrows, reminiscent of the face-masks of the Early Style. For two other motifs, exemplified on the torc and bracelets, Jope argued a direct derivation from the classical design below the handle-mounts of the Campanian bronze bucket (Figure 4.6, 1). The star-rosette terminals of the torc design certainly mirror the classical model, while the axillar fillings on torc and bracelets (Figure 4.6, 2 and 3) occupy the same relative position in the tendril-design as the convolvulus trumpet-flowers of the bucket cartouches. Whether or not the bucket was the exact model for a Celtic craftsman or school of craftsmen working in the patronage of the Waldalgesheim princess, there is little doubt regarding the authenticity of the derivation of these component elements in the Celtic design from a model that would have looked very much like the bucket cartouches. In the context of trans-alpine activity in the fourth century, there seems no reason to doubt that the model of a lyre-palmette with tendrils could have been available as the inspiration for a Celtic craftsman through a variety of agencies, more especially so if that craftsman had himself operated in Italy. The Waldalgesheim bucket, therefore, is less significant for its impact upon the imagination of a middle Rhenish 'master' (appealing though such a cameo insight might be) than for the fact that it must have been one of the last of the trans-alpine imports to reach that region before links between the Mediterranean world and north-alpine Europe went into decline for a couple of centuries.

One reason for questioning the notion of a single Waldalgesheim 'master' is that close analysis has shown that the ornamented metal-work in the grave was the product of several different hands. This in itself should hardly occasion surprise, however, since the goldsmith responsible for torc and bracelets would surely not have been the same craftsman who ornamented the chariot and its draught-attachments. Jeweller, sword-smith and armourer, brooch-maker and coachbuilder would each have commanded specialist skills, and while all may have been influenced in their luxury products by new ornamental fashions, it is unlikely that individuals would have turned their hands to more than one craft in the Iron Age any more than they would today. The Waldalgesheim princess may indeed have been unusual in the middle Rhine in the fourth century by retaining in her patronage a group of skilled craftsmen whose work so magnificently reflected the new developed art style, but it seems unnecessary to deny that these products could have been made locally, even if as a result of external impulse.

Waldalgesheim Style ornament has a wide distribution, from eastern Central Europe to the Seine, and with a significant trans-alpine component that will be discussed in due course. Among the more westerly group is the helmet from Amfreville-sous-les-Monts (Pl. 7a), an example of the so-called 'jockey-cap' helmets, which, though influenced by Italic models, were undoubtedly produced by Celtic armourers. There are two principal variants of helmet found in north-alpine contexts, a taller conical form best represented at La Gorge Meillet, Berru and the Durrnberg-bei-Hallein, and a lower version like Amfreville or the richly ornamented example from Agris in the Charente region of western France, for which the term 'jockey-cap' has been prompted by its shape, notwithstanding that the 'peak' is in fact a neck-guard. Amfreville is plainly a high-status piece of parade armour. Made of bronze, it is ornamented with iron open-work on its crown and lower panel, with gold leaf over bronze forming the ornament of the central panel between. Top knob and ear-guards are missing. The design of the central panel immediately recalls the experimental attempts to create a flowing, continuous design discussed earlier. Alternate upright and pendant triskeles are simply joined up to create a continuous chain, bordered above and below with a frieze of wave-hooks like those already remarked on the

Waldalgesheim bracelets. The lower panel, however, originally embellished with enamel infilling, is of a new order altogether, its low-relief, sinuous wave-tendril owing much more to the assured, mature Waldalgesheim tradition. Not all such helmets translate classical themes into Celtic with this degree of confidence. Indeed, for all its splendour, the Agris helmet still retains a formal series of palmettes as its principal ornamental theme.

The Agris helmet (Pl. 7b), discovered in 1981 in a cave near Angoulême (Gomez de Soto, 1996) is a truly remarkable piece, not simply because it is one of the most westerly outliers among high-status La Tène metal-work. Its context appears not to have been funerary, and the excavators have suggested instead that the helmet was a ritual deposit to the spirits of the underworld. Despite its superficial formality of its palmette-dominated design, which might be thought to proclaim its indebtedness to the Early Style, its association with a Dux brooch of La Tène B seems to confirm the conclusion from closer analysis that the helmet belongs to the later fourth century. Its construction is based upon an iron crown, with bronze appliqué strips and gold-leaf plating. Coral is used extensively as infilling of palmettes and studs. Subsequent to the initial discovery, the top-knob and one cheek-guard of the helmet were recovered from the disturbed deposit.

Like Amfreville, the Agris helmet is divided for purposes of decoration into several panels. Lower and upper panels are dominated by a series of palmettes, arranged in a formal, unconnected frieze. The central panel likewise includes a formal arrangement of S-curves, with swelling-leaf terminals, but otherwise not linked into a continuous sequence. In fact, it is the infilling between these elements that affords the closest links with Waldalgesheim. Though the palmette is still prominent, the filler motifs combine palmettes with over-and-under tendrils that are not so far removed from those of the Waldalgesheim bracelets. On the central panel the infilling devices of palmette and comma-leaf also include hatching not unlike that used in the Waldalgesheim repertory. This is even more apparent on the upper panel, where the detail of hatched elements is very close to the style of axillar filling on the Waldalgesheim torc itself. The ornament of the neck-guard comes closest to experimentation towards a freer and more sinuous composition, with swelling leaves interlocking with a typical yin-yang. One final detail has attracted comment, the delicate curled serpent, apparently horned, lurking within the palmette design of the cheek-guard. Horned serpents have a well-documented significance in the Romano-Celtic iconography of Gaul and Britain, and of course are depicted no less than three times on the Gundestrup cauldron. Snakes also figure in various guises on the coinage of the later Iron Age in North-Western Europe. But there are hardly any representations in early La Tène art, even though snake-imagery was part of the Greek and Etruscan repertory. Its presence on the Agris helmet may be assumed to have had some special significance, if not as a signature of the artist, then perhaps as a symbol of its owner. In sum, the Agris helmet, like Amfreville, is a remarkable demonstration of the independence and creativity of the Celtic artists of this vibrant, transitional phase.

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