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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Art and Celtic Dolls

A very good Article:
Celtic Art
History, Designs, Crafts of Celts: Hallstatt, La Tene, Hiberno-Saxon Insular Style: Illuminated Manuscripts, Celtic Metalwork, High Cross Sculpture.
A-Z of ART: Browse Our 500 Most Popular Articles - Celtic Culture & History - Timeline: History of Art


La Tene Style Metal Figurine
Dating from the 1st century BCE
(Museum of Brittany, Rennes).
Celtic Art (1,000 BCE onwards)

• When Did Celtic Art Begin?
• What Were the Early Influences on Celtic Art?
• What Was the First Style of Celtic Art?
• What Were the Main Characteristics of Hallstatt Arts and Crafts?
• What Style of Celtic Art Came After Hallstatt?
• What Were the Main Characteristics of La Tene Arts and Crafts?
• Are There Any Examples of La Tene Painting or Sculpture?
• Did the Celts Make Pottery?
• What Happened to the History of Celtic Art After La Tene?
• What Happened to Celtic Art in Ireland After the Fall of Rome?
• Was the Christian Celtic Renaissance Caused Solely by the Church?
• How Did the Church Help Irish Celtic Art?
• How Did Christian Celtic Metalwork Develop?
• How Did Illuminated Manuscripts Develop?
• How and When Did Celtic High Cross Sculpture Develop in Ireland?
• Was There a Continuous Tradition of Celtic Designwork in Ireland?


St John from the Book of Mulling (c.790)
An illuminated gospel text with
portraits bordered by interlaced
animals and knotwork. Even St John's
hair and clothing is interlaced.
(Trinity College, Dublin)

The Broighter Boat (1st century BCE)
La Tene Style Celtic Gold Metalwork
(National Museum of Ireland) When Did Celtic Art Begin?

Broadly speaking, the earliest Celtic arts and crafts appeared in Iron Age Europe with the first migrations of Celts coming from the steppes of Southern Russia, from about 1000 BCE onwards. Any European art, craftwork or architecture before this date derives from earlier Bronze Age societies of the Urnfield culture (1200-750 BCE), or the Tumulus (1600-1200 BCE), Unetice (2300-1600 BCE) or Beaker (2800–1900 BCE) cultures.
See also: Irish Bronze Age and Irish Iron Age.

The Eagle Symbol of St Mark
from The Book of Durrow (c.670)
Showing complex knotwork.
(Trinity College, Dublin)
What Were the Early Influences on Celtic Art?

The first Celts brought their own cultural styles, derived from the Caucasian Bronze Age, as well as a knowledge of Mediterranean and Etruscan styles, derived from maritime trading contacts through the Bosporus between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean basin. Settling in the area of the Upper Danube, the Celts duly absorbed motifs of the ancient Danubian tradition.

They also brought with them a knowledge of iron-making, possibly developed from the Bronze-making Maikop culture of the Russia Caucasus, or contacts with the Levant. (The later La Tene silver masterpiece, known as the "Gundestrup cauldron" is believed to have been made in the Black Sea region.)

For facts about the evolution of
metalwork, sculpture, ceramics
and illuminated manuscripts, see:
Celtic Art, Early Style
Celtic Coins Art
Celtic Art, Wadalgesheim Style
Celtic Art, Late European Style
Celtic Art in Britain and Ireland
Celtic Style Christian Art

For facts about the craftsmanship,
artistry and artisanship for which
the Celts were justly famous, see:
Celtic Weapons Art
Celtic Jewellery Art
Celtic Sculpture.

A Link

Celtic Dolls 1

See Below, this excellent beginning article on Celtic figural objects. Also, see Nora Chadwick's book, The Celts, and Jean Markale, The Celts. Antoni Fraser's The Warrior Queens is fantastic, as is Joy Chant's, The Warrior King's. Fraser also writes books about dolls.



(a) Shercock (Cavan) Ireland
(b) Dagenham (Essex) England [45 cms high]
(c) Ballachulish (Argyll) Scotland
(d) Teigngrace (Devon) England
(e) Montbouy (Loiret) France

All these figures are stiffly upright with none of the lewdness of the sheela-na-gigs and none of the earthy and often witty plasticity of the Romanesque carvings.

It was originally thought that the holes in the Shercock and Dagenham figures might have been sockets for penises or even dildoes, but this has by no means been established. Hundreds of wooden figures (including representations of animals and internal organs) have been found in France, notably at the source of the river Seine.

drawings by Dr Morna Simpson

Halloween and The Church, Samhain, Celts Next

I recommend Ray Bradbury's The Halloween Tree, book and Film, narrated by RB himself. I'm back, after two weeks of not being able to type due to a hand injury that a physician's assistant made much worse. It is my favorite week and time of year, and it is cool, a little gloomy, and drenched in fall colors outside. There are a canopies of red and gold everywhere, and my tittle terrariums are ready for fall. We went to the pumpkin patch, and I'm even painting a few, where hand allows me. Most of all, I love Halloween for the family memories, my dad taking us out to trick or treat, my mom making fantastic costumes, for me and my dolls. My grandma sending boxes of goodies, and my babysitter taking lots of pictures andhaving mini parties ready for me after school.

Of course I knew the spooks weren't real, but who wouldn't want to be on The Jack the Ripper Tour, at Countess Bathory's castle, or at Disney's Haunted Mansion on Halloween night [all on my bucket list]? There is a rich cultural tradition for this holiday gone back to the Celts, even earlier, and there were spiritual people, rich in tradition and family virtue, courage, many good things. My here Boudicca was one of them, and really, so was St. Patrick, Arthur and his nights, Braveheart!

Below is a freely shared essay that I happen to like. Enjoy; forgive typos, more later when I'm completetly healed:

I have a confession to make. And it’s a bad one ….

When I was a kid … I used to get dressed up for Halloween! And it was not always something innocent either, like an astronaut or a cowboy. Once I was even a ghost! Worse yet, I would go door-to-door with my brothers and say “Trick or treat!” Idolatrous! Occultic! Satanic! Over time, of course this demon-glorifying activity caught up with me. Look at me now. I dress in black almost every day …

Of course you see the problem here. If not, you will very soon start reading about it in the paper again. Many people of churchy persuasions object strenuously to the observance of Halloween. Every year we read letters to the editor that run as follows:

“Halloween is the worship of the devil! Halloween comes from heathen roots! Trick or Treat comes from an ancient pagan custom: the Druids would go from house to house seeking a virgin to sacrifice! If you complied and handed over your family’s virgin, outside your door they left a jack-o-lantern with a candle inside … fueled by human fat! If you did not comply, a terrible trick would be played on you! The Catholic Church perpetuated the pagan legends with its Feast of All Saints! If you let your kids celebrate Halloween, you expose them to the possibility of demonic possession!”

Well, good Orthodox Christian, what should our Church make of this controversy? Is Halloween something we Christians should shun like the Black Mass? Don’t the facts about Halloween’s origins prove that it is an abomination?

No. First of all, none of these “facts” are true. It’s all fiction. We know almost nothing about the culture and practices of the ancient Druids, except what little the Romans had to say. (Mind you, these are the same Romans who also used to say that Christians hold secret orgies where they sacrifice babies and eat them—so let’s be careful about how much credence we give them.) The Romans invaded Britain in 43 B.C. There they found a number of Celtic tribes, which the Roman legions subjugated with relative ease.

Now, you need to know that the Romans were not what you would call “culturally curious.” They had little interest in the ways of the conquered Britons. Generally, when there is interaction between conqueror and subject, the conqueror picks up and uses the local names for rivers, hills, and the like. For instance, my home state is full of names from the native languages of the Indians: Michigan, Mackinac, Saginaw, Escanaba, Kalamazoo, Washtenaw. However, we find almost no use of the Celtic place names by the Romans. The Romans did not come to Britain for kaffee-klatsches, but for plundering and pillaging. Under the Roman sword the Celtic place-names perished with the Celts, as did any certain knowledge of Celtic or Druidic customs (like what kind of fat they used in their candles).

But what if it the stories about pagan Halloween were true? Does that prevent us from making a fun day out of the Thirty-First of October? Or do pagan origins damn a thing forever?

I would hope that as Orthodox Christians we would know better than to say that. We borrowed an awful lot of useful things from ancient pagan cultures. Our musical system of eight tones? From the pagan Greeks. (Next time you hear a dismissal hymn in the Third Tone, picture a phalanx of Lacedaemonian warriors marching into an attack: they liked Third Tone for their battle hymns.)

And our iconography is an obvious adaptation of Egyptian funerary art: the portraits painted on Egyptian coffins look very much like the faces in our icons. Christmas, we all know, is a retooling of the Roman celebration of the winter solstice, the Feast of Sol Invictus (the Invincible Sun-god). And many, many Christian churches were built atop pagan shrines and holy places, the most famous example being the conversion of the Parthenon (a temple built in honor of Athena the Virgin Warrior) to a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

Even Protestants with their Puritan impulses and their “just the Bible” mentality have to contend with borrowings from pagan sources in the Scriptures. For example, chapters 22-24 of the Book of Proverbs are almost certainly a translation of the older Egyptian advice guide The Instruction of Amen-em-Opet. And elsewhere in the Bible different titles given to God such as El Elyon “God Most High” and “the one who rides on the clouds like a chariot” (Psalm 104:3) are originally epithets for the pagan storm-god Baal.

What’s my point? You can’t judge a custom by its origins. What counts is one’s intention in the here and now. And let’s be honest: modern Halloween for you and me—and even the Wiccans down the street—has nothing to do with virgin sacrifice or black magic. It’s about having fun in a costume and eating things your dentist wouldn’t approve of.

“Well!” the anti-Halloween crowd would reply, “Halloween teaches kids that they can get something for nothing!!” But is that so bad? To my ears that sounds awfully close to the Christian idea of grace!

“Yes, yes, but we shouldn’t teach our kids that it’s OK to threaten someone with vandalism if they don’t fork over something you want!” Well, let’s look at this from another perspective. Maybe Halloween holds a nice little life lesson: you give a little to get a little. The Book of Proverbs speaks often of the power of gifts. If we all practiced the spirit of Halloween—being prepared always to give small kindnesses to those around us—what a wonderful world we would have.

Again, let’s be honest: no one was ever possessed by the devil because he or she dressed up for Halloween or passed out licorice or read a Harry Potter book. Our modern lives have way too many other avenues for temptation to enter, and these things are the real cause of our spiritual problems: pride, gluttony, hatred, materialism, and ignorance.

This may be the only pro-Halloween article by a clergyman you read this year. Actually, this piece isn’t so much pro-Halloween as it is anti-superstition, anti-paranoia, and anti-gullibility. American Christianity is too much titillated by thoughts of demons, based on a mythology of evil that has more to do with pagan folklore than the sober statements of Scripture. Such superstition gives all Christians a bad name.

That’s why I’m not afraid of Halloween, and I see no problem with Orthodox Christians having fun at costume parties. After all, why would anyone want to learn more about Jesus Christ and his message, if being a Christian means forever being a spoilsport and a killjoy? If you believe in one God, if you trust Him, then accept his protection (1 John 4:4) and don’t live in fear of demonic bogeymen. The real battle with the devil is fought in the heart, not in front of the Harry Potter bookstore.

Some people drink too much on New Year’s Eve. Should that stop you and me from enjoying a glass of champagne? Some people eat too much at Thanksgiving. Should that stop us from having our turkey with all the trimmings? Some people spend too much at Christmas. Should that stop us from exchanging gifts?

Some people go overboard on the spooky side of Halloween. It’s not too hard to avoid that for your family. Skip the horror movies. Don’t revel in gore. Don’t profane death. Don’t indulge in occult practices … But don’t be gullible, paranoid, or superstitious either!

And have a Happy Halloween!

By Fr. Mark Sietsema

Revised 8/17/11

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Our Next history of dolls will continue with Rome, into the Ancient Celts; Samhain is approaching! Due to an injury, I am posting some photos, and limiting my writing. More from Von Boehn later!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Cycladic Idols from Greece

From Finders Keepers:

"Cycladic idols come from the Early Bronze Age and became popular after World War II. It is estimated that around twelve thousand graves in the Cycladic Islands of the southern Aegean have been opened to find these idols. The slender carvings are notoriously hard to date,as is the exact manner of their use, because they almost all come from private sources rather than from archaeologists. They have almost no documented context" (Childs 112).

I also note that Barbar Pym writes of these; she has a character who has seen them on holiday in the Aegean. She tries to fashion them out of bread dough to relive the experience.

The 5.7 Million DollarDoll, and some thoughts on Archaeology

I was reading Finders Keepers

by Craig Childs, a memoir/expose of the museum and archaeological world, when I read about the little figurine with a lion head from Mesopotamia, 5000 years old, that sold for $5.7 million dollars in 2007. It broke the record, certainly, for sculpture, but, I'm going to argue that it is also a type of doll, and thus is now the most expensive on record. Childs does not like museums much, or at least how they operate. He is conflicted about leaving every artifact where it is found, and probably most of us who love these ancient and old things have some of the same conflicted feelings. What do you think? There are laws protecting the sale of antiquities, and I will post some of them down the road, but here is what Childs writes:

"Complain as one might about the buying and selling of the past, the fact remains that there is a legitimate antiquities market. It is part of the international arts commerce, a free flow of publicly owned artifacts--such as those from St. Lawrence Island and other pockets of legal sources--that has been going on for as long as there have been early cultures to rrot around in" (107).

Ancient Roman Dolls and Toys

In Rome, as in Greece, dolls were made of clay, cloth, bone, ivory, and precious idols of gold, silver, jewels, and other metals. There are many figural objects of bronze, now a deep aqua with patina, that have come to us from the glory days of rome. Little girls in Rome also dedicated their dolls, hoops, and balls to the goddesses, including Diana, the virgin huntress, who was the Roman version of Artemis.

Beautiful, detailed jointed dolls of ivory, now turned dark as mahogany with age, exist from the first century A.D. There is a 2000+ year old Roman rag doll from The British museum, found in a child's grave in Egypt of Roman origin. The doll was buried with other toys, littl sandals, game pieces, and other small objects of clay and other materials that would attract a child's intreset even today. My friend, the late Mary Hillier, wrote about this doll in her excellent book, Dolls and Dollmakers. She challenges the reader to imagine the doll in the hands of the child who must have loved it so long ago, and Mary speculates that the dry sands of Coptic Egypt helped to preserve the doll.

One tiny Roman doll is seated, her legs extended before her in a fixed position. Her hair is styled in the elaborate curls of a Roman matron, perhaps like Portia, or Aggripina. Her arms are missing, but were probably jointed with wires.

The realistic ivory dolls, that are often mistaken for wood, are found in the sarcophagi of young girls.

These dolls were probably painted once to look life-like. They would have had real, colorful clothes, and their relatives were the fantastic statues, ornaments, and effigies that were used as art and as sacrifices to the gods of Rome.

Ancient Rome was a harsh place for everyone; even children were not spared
when someone's household was scourged, and they would be murdered or executed with their parents. Many were enslaved, and poorer children, as always, were abandoned. This history makes it even more touching to think of children's toys existing then and surviving now.