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Treasures from Romania at the British Museum

Author(s): William Watson


Source: The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 113, No. 817 (Apr., 1971), pp. 234-235
Published by: The Burlington Magazine Publications, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/876628 .
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CURRENT

(No.20) should be compared with Wilson's


Romefrom the Ponte Molle. It is clear that,
like Wilson, Cozens was primarily interested, not in the world of classical
antiquity or the details of topography,
but in shapes and the relationships
between shapes, space, tone, light, atFrom his
mosphere and movement.
second Italian journey, when he accompanied Beckford, seven sketch-books survive, two of which are exhibited (No. I o I).
Comparison of the pencil and wash
sketches on the pages opened with
finished water-colours of these subjects,
hung nearby, shows that he drew no more
than he needed; forms are already
generalized, and effects of nature, with
which he became increasingly preoccupied
(Fig.84), were usually superimposed on
the composition later, in the studio. The
range of his effects, in the last decade of
his activity, is as great as the variety and
subtlety of his compositions. He can use
light to create a feeling of tension and
unease (Fig.83); he can use it to convey
the serenity of a summer afternoon (Fig.82).
Mountains over a Lake (No.92), an example
in mint condition in which Cozens's
deep blues sing out, is an essay in the
Sublime; other mountain scenes (Fig.8i)
have an almost oriental delicacy.
Everything Cozens required for his
art was contained in his Italian experience,
and his work thereafter consisted of proexquisitely senducing water-colours,
sitive in their tonal gradations and balance,
derived from his sketches and his response
to the Italian scene (it is presumably
because he had no need of fresh material
that so few English subjects survive).
The names of eight patrons, including
Rowlandson's friend Wigstead, are listed
as ordering versions of the Pays de Valais
(No.2), and four variants of The Lake of
Albano and Castel Gandolfo are shown
together here (Nos.28-3I): all differ very
slightly in the disposition of details of
foliage, bushes and clouds, and one
includes in the middle distance a smoking
chimney, a compositional device (see also
Fig.83) later used with great effect by
Girtin. It is possible, in the Whitworth,
to study Cozens in relation to English
water-colour as a whole; and one of the
most revealing comparisons is between his
brilliant sketch The Cloud (No.Ioo), in
which the washes are loosely brushed in
without following the pencil outlines, and
Turner's Coniston Fells. In some future
exhibition it would be instructive to
see Cozens against the background of
the I770's and in relation to his contemporaries and immediate successors, so
that one could test in detail the truth
of Constable's well-known remark that
John Cozens was 'the greatest artist who
had ever touched landscape'.
JOHN HAYES

at the
from
Romania
Treasures
British Museum
After a tour in Europe this exhibition
now finds its way to the British Museum.

AND

FORTHCOMING

EXHIBITIONS

Occupying the eastern marches of the


classical world, lodged between Mediterranean
naturalism
and barbarian
traditions of abstract design, then between
Renaissance humanism and the hieratic
convention of the eastern church, the
heirs of the Daco-Getae prove to be as
coinposite in their art history as in their
Latin-Slavonic language. If we allow
all that the cataloguers claim for the
continuity of artistic creation in the homeland of the Romanians, we still find great
satisfaction in noting anticipated confrontations of styles and forms. As for
political history, the hoards of buried
objects which constitute the greater part
of the exhibition are eloquent of invasions
and flights.
The earliest section is assembled to set
off chiefly the neolithic figurines of clay,
and female,
male
of a
evidence
plastic style of astonishing sensitivity,
owing more to the palaeolithic tradition
of Central Europe than to the practice
of costadial cultures in the Mediterranean
area (Fig.85). A bronze battle axe, various
ornaments and a dagger of gold, speak
still of the circumscribed world of the
middle bronze age; but in the metalwork
of 'Pre-Roman Dacia' (fifth to first
century B.C.) great helmets and goblets
of repouss6 gold and silver stand for new
and dramatic relations. Their ornament
reflects the lasting direct influence of the
Urartian bronze manufacture and trade
dating from the eighth century. In figures
of horsemen and griffins, deriving ultimately from the same source, one detects
a kinship to the art of the Illyrian situlae
and through it to the most archaic
stratum of Hellenic art (Fig.86).
It is uncertain how far this circle of
ideas was reconciled with the artistic
vision and political impact of a very
different world, that of the Steppe
nomads, represented by plaques designed
in abstract animal form which are
ascribed to the same period. To say that
had
'Dacian
metalwork
assimilated
Scythian, Celtic, Greek and Roman
influences' implies at once too little and
too much. The objects are found near
together, but the styles corresponding
to the various ethnic entities fall very
distinctly apart. The human face formed
on the upper part of a greave is in the
purest Celtic sculptural style, and possibly
the finest piece of its kind.
There is also, not acclaimed by the
cataloguers, a strong Achaemenid element, represented for example by an
animal head in the Craiova Treasure,
where it accompanies plaques of the
Scythian (or rather Sarmatian) fashion.
A 'phial with omphalos' decorated with a
formal design of lotus buds is also Achaemenid, of the most casually sophisticated
variety of that art; and, a wonder to
behold, a parcel-gilt silver rhyton, betokening an oriental affinity shared with
the classical world, displays figures,
standing, seated, absorbed and staring
from a blank ground, in which the

psychological transformation of sub-antique art is epitomized. The Persian


influence can be traced into the Sasanian
period, in the great gold ewer of the
Pietroasa Treasure of the fourth century.
The twelve-sided gold cup in the same
treasure, of oriental shape (the whole of
it is in open-work - can it have held a
glass liner?) is fitted with garnet studded
gold panthers fully in keeping with the
Migration style - a phase otherwise
represented by brooches etc. of quite
normal types. The Pietroasa dish on the
other hand is a suave conglomeration of
degenerate classical forms with other
presumed local themes in which the effort
to assimilate what is disparate is the most
prominent feature. It is in these last
works that the question of local adaptation of foreign style in the early period
may best be studied. Such an object as
the oval ornament of the Surcea Treasure,
which depicts a horseman with an eagle
alighting on his head, perhaps to confirm
the hero's victory, could also be examined
for strictly local characteristics, but in
general its period (first century A.D.) is
dominated by powerful stylistic irreconcilables (Fig.87). It is amusing to see a
helmet, dated to the fourth century B.C.
and said to be of Celtic La Tene affinity,
on which the eagle, attached as a crest
(and now eked out with perspex to the
consternation of the naiver visitor) makes
a presumption of the like charism of
god to hero.
Compared with what has been described the medieval period is sparsely
represented, so that the age which saw
the unification of Walachia, Transylvania, Moldavia and the Dobroudja into
the territory of Romania leaves us
guessing most of all. What of the Early
Slav cultures? What of the foundations
of the art of the Eastern Church in a
region so near the homeland of the
Orthodox tradition? We are still among
treasures, but ecclesiastical, unburied
ones. Most striking exhibits are large
book covers of silver gilt, notable for their
attenuation of Orthodox conventions in
favour of a figural style reflecting the
Gothic and even Renaissance Italy (Fig.88).
On an earlier piece, the tabernacle from
the Monastery of Bistrita, is a franker
portrayal of the Crucifixionthan one normally looks for in Orthodox art; and the
belt buckle from the tomb of Prince
Vladislav I of Wallachia
in
the form of a turreted (i365-i377),
and crocketed
shrine, is elaborate with medieval ingenuity that is wholly western.
The exhibition, with its catalogue, is
one of the best presented that it has been
our fortune to see in the British Museum
in recent years. Its promoters, Romanian
and British, are alike to be congratulated.
Rarely for the historians have so many
unfamiliar artistic vistas been revealed in
a single event.
WILLIAM

WATSON

235

85. Female Figurine.Late Neolithic, from


excavations at Vinatori. Polished
baked clay; height,
cm (Exh.
17.5
British Museum.)

86. Goblet,from the Agighiol Treasure. Fourth century B.C. Silver;


height, 18 cm. (Exh. British Museum.)

from the Surcea Treasure. First century B.C. Silver;


87. Oval Ornament
height, 7 cm. (Exh. British Museum.)

88. Book Cover.Late fifteenth century. Silver gilt, with rock crystal
studs, 35 by 23-5 cm. (Exh. British Museum.)

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