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The Paradox of Celtic Art

  • R. E. M. Wheeler

In the June number of ANTIQUITY, Mr T. D. Kendrick sketched what in another sphere of art might be called a Conversation Piece. His subject was the family of hanging-bowls, and he assembled it with skill and daring in a new setting. His method was frankly impressionistic, and was proportionately stimulating. With the aid of a partly theoretical chronology, he inferred ‘that in origin these bowls are really Romano-British; that many of them had been made and were in use before the Romans left this country; that others were made after the Romans had gone, and belong to the almost unknown archaeology of the Arthurian period’. To these conclusions it might at once be objected that, amongst the bowls, no dated example is of Romano-British period, and that they hardly occur in Arthurian Britain. But rather than press these objections, let us explore an alternative interpretation. Let us first state the problems and the relevant facts; then attempt to reconcile the latter with the former.

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1 For the pelta-pattern, see Clapham, A.W. Archueologia, 77, 227; and Wheeler, Lydney Repmt (Society of Antiquaries), p. 66.

2 Archueologia, 80, 37.

3 Smith, Reginald A. Archaeologia, 61, 329.

4 Dunning, G.C. Archaeological Journal, 85, 69.

5 In the very interesting and important paper cited above, Mr Collingwood, discussing this northern Celtic art, over-emphasizes, I think, the significance of the supposed aesthetic factors and underrates the economic ones. He regards the znd-century Celtic trumpet-brooch of the north as ‘a result of the stimulus given by classical art, even in a debased and mechanical form, to the British artist’s mind’. This does not seem to me to fill the picture. As I state in the text, I prefer to look for the primary stimulus to a land flowing for the first time with police and money, but not yet flooded with intrusive mass-production. As soon as the northern countryside was organized and supplied by Roman mass-production, the native initiative lapsed. It is perhaps rather to this than (as Mr Collingwood suggests) to a hypothetical massacre of the Brigantes about A.D. 158 that the initial decline of northern Celtic art should be ascribed in the middle of the 2nd century; although a period of unrest, such as that which Mr Collingwood has in mind, would of course be equally destructive.

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  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
  • URL: /core/journals/antiquity
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