Paul Jacobsthal's Early Celtic Art, His Anonymous Co-Author, and National Socialism: New Evidence from the Archives

Article excerpt


In 1944, during World War II, Oxford University Press published the German refugee Professor Paul Jacobsthal's groundbreaking volume, Early Celtic Art (Figure 1). The book was an outstanding achievement, looking, for the first time, at the relationship between the arts of Europe and Asia in the fourth and third centuries BC. Its importance as a work on the formation of art and social identity, even without taking into account the times within which the book was written, can hardly be overstated, and scholars are unanimous in their recognition of its unusually enduring significance (see e.g. Hawkes 1947, 1963; Sanders 1971: 103; Driehaus 1972; Green 1995: 346). Jacobsthal's book still remains the starting point for all serious study of the nature of Celtic art (Frey 2004). Though Early Celtic Art is rightly acknowledged as a major work of scholarship, context of its creation has received little attention. Early Celtic Art is a testament to the dogged determination of its author to see it to completion under circumstances that would have defeated a lesser man.

Some of these circumstances are described in the preface to Early Celtic Art: At the rime the book was conceived, Jacobsthal had been an established classical archaeologist with a Chair at the University of Marburg. He was also an innovator: he was instrumental in creating the first Chair in Prehistory in Germany at Marburg, thus founding prehistory as a distinct academic discipline in Germany (only narrowly missing out to the Abercromby Chair at Edinburgh as the first Chair of Prehistory in Europe), and establishing the Marburg Seminar in prehistoric studies (Sangmeister 1977; Sklenar 1983: 160). With the rise of National Socialism, however, Jacobsthal's life in Hitler's Germany became increasingly circumscribed. Following the passing of the Nuremberg Aryan Race Act (Nurnberger Gesetze) in 1933, his future in Germany was under threat: in 1935 he was deprived of his post on racial grounds. Jacobsthal's international reputation, combined with the support of friends and contacts, particularly Sir John Beazley (who always wrote of Jacobsthal's 'seminary' at Marburg), helped provide Jacobsthal with a refuge in Oxford, though the exact date of his exile from Germany is disputed (Megaw & Megaw 1998: 126, n. 2). By at least 1937, he was a lecturer at Christ Church, Oxford, with a brief interruption during the war when he was interned on the Isle of Man as an 'enemy alien' (Jacobsthal 1992: 198-228), and he became Reader in Celtic Archaeology at Oxford in 1947. Invited to return to Marburg after the war, Jacobsthal chose instead to remain at Oxford, though he refused naturalisation. Oxford was home until his death in 1957 (Figure 2).


The archive

The Institute of Archaeology at the University of Oxford holds the largest and most important archive of letters, drawings, photographs, research notes and ephemera relating to Jacobsthal, ranging in date from the early twentieth century to his death. They include his pre-war letters, notebooks and such academic papers as he was able to take out of Germany (Figure 3). Though the research notes, photographs and notebooks have been studied for information about Jacobsthal's theories of art, one outstanding unexploited resource of the archive at the Institute of Archaeology is the correspondence (Megaw & Megaw 1998). Current work on the archive has identified over 1500 letters ranging in date from 1928 to Jacobsthal's death. The archive has recently been supplemented by the Martyn Jope Archive, which, in addition to some of Jacobsthal's correspondence with Jope, also included a range of material, including letters, previously extracted from the Jacobsthal Archive and retained by Jope (hereafter referenced as J/J Archive). The letters include Jacobsthal's draft copies of letters, and some copies of the letters he himself sent, allowing the rare opportunity to read both sides of a correspondence in a single archive. …