LAST WORDS (part six)
The earliest Coriosolite coins are those of Group A and B. The chronology of these coins may be misleading: I have arranged them this way for typological reasons, and to avoid confusion. Coin 4 and 5 of Group A may be later than the coins of Group B. It is the style of the driver's body that suggests this: the rectangular torso gives way to a linear representation that is modified throughout the subsequent groups.
Another early feature is the absence of integration between the mane curl of the pony and the diadem. There is a certain amount of cohesiveness to the later coins of Group A that is absent in both the earlier coins and the coins of Group B. There is thus a problem in the typological method, which presupposes that types separate issues, and that die engravers are always decisive with their changes.
Determination of chronology by stylistic evolution avoids this problem, as changes that improve the design by successive stages represent a thought process, and it is only after the culmination of this process that radical changes can occur. In other words, the engraver is trying to improve some aspect of the design, and each change is based on the last, but once the design is perfected, or he feels that an entirely new approach is needed, that aspect of the design can undergo a complete change to mark the new idea. The new idea itself may then undergo changes in order to perfect it.
The chronology set out in the catalogue is internal to each group. Groups A and B together should be understood differently. Coins 4 and 5 of Group A are probably immediately prior to Group C, as the series of modifications to the driver's body suggests.
There is a possibility that the early coins of Group A and all those of Group B precede the Gallic war. All these coins are rare, which presents obvious problems in determining the age by metal purity. More evidence is needed. Both early and late Group A coins have been classified as Class VI. Group B and the later Group C coins have been classified as Class V. This effectively confuses any possible difference in the distribution patterns between the early and the later coins. The outset of Crassus' campaigns provides the only historical marker for the start of the Coriosolite coinage, which leaves the later Group A and Group C to fit into the period between the initial defeats and the coalition. Without more evidence, this explanation will have to stand.
There are smooth transitions between Group C and the groups that make up Class IV, and we can be fairly certain that this reflects a continuing process of coin production. Although it is most likely that the devaluation was the start of Group E, until more coins are analyzed by these groups, or even by specific dies. We cannot be certain that the change in type reflected the devaluation, or that it took place at about the time the design changed.
The last coin of Group D (15) already has a rudimentary base to the nose, and both Coins 14 and 15 have the mouth ornaments characteristic to the coins of Group E and the rest of Class IV. Also, the change to the design of the spiral at the position of the ear does not start at the beginning of Class IV, but two dies later. The change from Class V to Class IV is based only on one feature that of the nose and even this change is not abrupt.
There are several changes to the design around this time: these are ongoing, and do not reflect any pause in production. The changes that isolate each group divide the coinage in a way to allow the greatest convenience of identification. They do not reflect any intention on the part of the die engravers to do this. I could have created more groups for each series, but this would have complicated the comprehension of the chronology by including too many sub-groups and transitions. This was necessary in certain places, where conservatism in the designs made the grouping by clearer features consist of too many dies for a tight chronology. The groups, and even the classes, should not be thought of as issues. Each series is an issue, with the possible provision that Series X may be two issues, allowing for a gap between the earlier coins of Class VI with the earlier coins of Class V, and the later coins of these same two classes.
Too often, utilitarian motives are ascribed to purely creative endeavors. We need not try to determine an external reason for a change in the design of a coin. When there is a new coinage implemented, if it is much later than the old coinage, new die engravers may be employed again. They bring their own ideas to the coinage, resulting in new designs. If there are no new coins engravers, but some time has passed before the engravers are employed again, they may be influenced by designs that they have developed elsewhere, or perhaps they have been provided with enough time to reflect on the old designs and see their shortcomings.
In either case, they start the project afresh, and the designs demonstrate their artistic growth by the abandonment of old problems and the initiation of new ones. This differs from a change to the design in an ongoing project. These changes are localized to one or two parts of the design, while the entire design retains many features, even insignificant details, that are prior to the change. When there is an unresolved problem in one area, the die engraver makes one change, and this in turn exposes a new problem in the same area that must be corrected in order to tie in that change with the surrounding design elements. This process may be repeated several times until he is satisfied that the entire effect is pleasing.
In painting, this is accomplished by the use of preliminary studies. Through a number of these studies, the artist evolves the design of the painting and overcomes the various problems of composition and colour. In the Coriosolite coins, the artist had little time to do preliminary studies. Instead, they resolved the problems in design as they went. This enables us to perceive each stage of the work and thus reconstruct the nature of those problems.
An interesting series of modifications can be found in the ornamentation in front of the face on Coin 9 to 13: Coin 9, in Group C, conjoins the ornamentation with the top of the nose. This is an improvement on the earlier design where the ornamentation seems to issue from the middle of the nose at a clumsy right angle. In Coin 10, some minor improvements are added: the top curl and leaf are brought into greater harmony with the front curl of the hair; both beaded lines now meet at the solid line of the top of the nose; and the bottom curl becomes more pronounced. Coin 11 has two important changes: the lower part of the ornamentation that once issued from the nose is now separated, with the loose end turned into a curled solid line; and the beaded line ornamentation at the position of the chin is eliminated in favour of a solid line, while this element is balanced by an opposed curl.
The old arrangement of the ornament at the neck position is abandoned, and a neck is substituted. Coin 13 unifies the composition by changing the two remaining beaded lines into solid lines, and thus disguises the origins of the design by removing the vestigial elements. This is a definitive case of design evolution: the truth of the chronology is established by tracking changes to other parts of the design which overlap the above-mentioned changes, both at the beginning and at the end.
From the above example of design evolution, which bridges Group C and D, the thoughts of the die engraver become apparent: the composition was uppermost in his mind; unifying the nature of each elements was secondary. The change from beaded to solid lines demonstrates this point: the final change was accomplished by eliminating the beads. Within a small area, the engraver had each part of an element oppose its neighbour: these pairs are tied in to the overall composition by there parts either echoing, or opposing, the parts of other elements in their vicinity. Wherever possible, shapes are repeated throughout the design, in order to lead the eye around the composition. Where elements are opposed, they can be like a mirror image or they can fold back, as in the case of an S shape, where the ends face in opposite directions and the direction of the turn is reversed as well.
Once a design is perfected, one would expect it to be repeated. This is not the case here. After Coin 13, the design embarks on new directions, and the composition that the die engraver diligently evolved in the previous dies is abandoned. This is obviously not because of dissatisfaction with the previous design, as the subtle adjustments attest to the fact that he thought the overall idea was sound, only needing to be perfected. The following two dies display a certain degree of listlessness: the engraver's creative powers are drained for the moment - a condition will known to artists who have finished a work they are especially proud of. He reverses the direction of the mouth ornament in Coin 15, and, feeling a need for elaboration, experiments unsuccessfully with the ornamentation at the top of the nose. Coins 16 and 17 display an unbridled creativity, and thus are difficult to place exactly. While old elements are reintroduced, such as the nose design prototypical of Class IV, various novelties are also included. After this, the continuing process of design evolution is resumed, and the series progresses to its close in the same manner.
The abandonment of highly evolved designs is interesting. It is rarely encountered in Celtic coinage, and although Celtic artifacts of earlier La Tène styles are scarce enough to inhibit a detailed study of the products of single workshops, their infinite variety indicates that a similar process was happening to mainstream Celtic art. The earlier Celtic gold coins do not clearly show any such process: their rarity, combined with the fact that the die engravers had enough to do trying to adapt a classically inspired subject matter into a Celtic art form, is probably the reason for this. Armorican design includes many elements that elsewhere appeared much earlier, attesting to the conservative nature of this area, a common trait throughout its history. Celtic art, while beginning to decay in many areas, was still vital in Armorica. This vitality was also present in some of the British workshops, although their early separation from the continental traditions led the art in different directions. A religious desire for originality seems most likely, and traces of this can be found in later Celtic folklore. This may reflect a Celtic observation of nature, in which numerous forms and processes recombine into a myriad of expressions. In modern times, the discovery of DNA is the ultimate end of one microcosmic aspect of this idea of unity in multiplicity, just as Einstein's attempts to discover a unified field theory were aimed at another, macrocosmic, aspect.
The coins of Series X demonstrate an honest attempt to follow this belief in originality. The interim dies are usually studies to a definite end. That they are products in themselves, and are used to mint coins instead of being abandoned once any one design was perfected, can be forgiven. There was not the time available to insure that each coin was completely original, and the coinage had to be unified to some degree for recognition purposes. The large number of coins required, of course, meant that each die was used many times. This too, was unavoidable. It is interesting that there is so much overlap in the evolutionary process; in this way, the entire coinage can be viewed as a work in progress. Like Sheherazade's tale, the story is never quite finished.
The coinage of Series Y, while exhibiting some evolutionary traits, expresses its originality by another method as well. I have designated this as "variations on a theme." It could be viewed as a sort of visual paraphrase.
One of the best examples of this is to be seen in Coins 37 to 40. This is Subgroup H1, and is isolated by the constant use of a beaded martingale in front of the pony, and by the constant use of a beaded martingale in front of the pony, and by the depiction of different styles of banners. The unifying feature in these is their bilateral symmetry, where, in this case, the upper half of the banner is a reflection of the lower half. In the time of this coinage, this mirrors the crossover between the underworld and the mundane. It later became a feature basic to magic and alchemy, and survives in some fashion today as the S-matrix theory in the "new" physics. The use of different depictions of the same principle gives this design its Celtic flavour.