Celts and the Classical World

By David Rankin | Go to book overview

10

The Celts in Greco-Roman Art

The present chapter is an annex to its predecessors which have discussed the interaction of Celts with the city-states of Greece, the Hellenistic monarchies and Rome. Artistic representations of the Celts in the Classical world involved a degree of excited primitivism bordering on the baroque. The vigorous northerners were seen as living specimens of natural man whose archaic ferocity was balanced by innate courage and a certain heroic decency guided by an unpredictable sense of personal honour.

Greek art of the early Hellenistic period already shows this blend of romance and realism well developed in its depictions of these dangerous aliens. The heroic strength and violent posture of statues of the Celts remind us of the Lapiths and other Titanic figures of an earlier mythology. In the case of the Celts, however, the Hellenistic artist makes an attempt to represent a distinguishable ethnic countenance and expression.

Attalus I of Pergamum (reg. 241-197 BC) commemorated the victories won by Eumenes II and himself over the Celts by commissioning two (at least) sets of statues from sculptors of high repute. Epigonus, the son of Charius, was probably the Pergamene master-artist in charge of the construction of the sets. Pliny (NH 34.84) mentions other notable artists who collaborated in the grand project: there were Isogonus, Pyromachus, Stratonicus and Antigonus; a cross-section of the best talent of the Greek world at that time. Pliny actually says that their works commemorated the victories of Eumenes and Attalus. Pyromachus may be identical with Phyromachus of Athens (Pollitt 1986:84; and, in general, Robertson 1975:527ff).

One set of statues seem to have been set up on the Acropolis of Athens. This group, whose constituent figures were half-life-

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