From: "Mike Marotta" <merc...@torchlake.com>
Date: 29 Dec 2005 07:43:18 -0800
Local: Thurs, Dec 29 2005 10:43 am
Subject: A New View of Celtic Coins
Celtic coins -- and coins from other cultures as well -- are meant to be viewed edge-on as three-dimensional objects, according to Geraldine Chimirri-Russell of the Nickle Arts museum at the University of Calgary, in Alberta, Canada.
Commonly called "abstract" or "Picasso" or even "crude" these objects carry arrangements of features that reflect the subtle intelligence and clear intentions of their creators and original users.
“Seeing the Past Obliquely Through the Eyes of Celtic Coins” Appears on the Metamedia website of Stanford university.
The URL is http://traumwerk.stanford.edu:3455/SeeingThePast/324
The abstract says: “This paper will examine non-traditional ways of viewing ancient Iron Age Celtic Coinage, found mainly in the region of North-west Europe. The emphasis will be upon the coins as three-dimensional objects rather than as the seemingly two-dimensional objects that the rigors of numismatic description have postulated.”
Chimirri-Russell explained her theory at the Nickel Arts conference on “Coinage and Identities in the Ancient World” in Calgary, November 4-6, 2004.
She spoke in Canterbury the previous summer at “Art and Symbolism in Coin Design.” On Saturday, July 3, 2004, her 2.00 pm presentation was titled "A sidesways glance at Celtic coinage." In the words of the Fitzwilliam's electronic newsletter: "... and Geraldine Chimirri-Russell (Curator of Numismatics at the Nickle Arts Museum, Calgary) finding three-dimensional images on some Celtic coins. That evening many people must have been squinting at their own coins from oblique angles in the hope of seeing a 3-D face!"
The year before, she delivered an address on this subject at the XIII Congreso Internacional de Numismatica (September 15-19, 2003 at the Palacio de Congresos de Madrid). Her talk was listed in the program as "Changing artistic perspectives on Celtic coins." (see http://www.man.es/cin/pcientifico/posters.htm
When she came home, she got a blurb in the University of Calgary InfoServer Volume 10, Number 3 October 2003. "Geraldine Chimirri-Russell, Assistant Curator of Numismatics at the Nickle Arts Museum, gave a poster presentation at the XIII Congresso Internacional de Numismatica in Madrid in September. Her presentation focused on the abstract design elements of Celtic coins from the second century BCE to the first century CE. She demonstrated that the abstraction was necessary from a design perspective, in order for the faces on the coins to be viewed more naturally from an oblique angle."
More recently, the University of Calgary InfoServer for March 2005, carried this article: "Heads or Tails or Something Else?"
On hearing a familiar call of “Heads or Tails” there appears to be no doubt that there are two sides to a coin. But on very rare occasions, after being tossed into the air, a coin can fall on its edge, and the three-dimensionality of the coin is only too apparent. My research focuses on the three-dimensional properties of Celtic coins minted in the Iron Age in Northern Europe, particularly northwest France, and how these properties affect how the images are seen on the coins. The evidence from the coins indicates that the Celts were using a unique method of portraying images that can be interpreted in many ways according to the vantage point from which they are viewed.
The Celtic artists who designed the coins created highly stylized images that seem to have a greater affnity with Picasso than with the naturalistic coins of ancient Greece and Rome minted in the same time period. The obverse side of the coins generally depicts a human head, apparently in profile, in front of which swirl mysterious lines and symbols. Various theories have been proposed to account for this unusual artistic rendition of the human face, including the incompetence of the artists, Celtic mythology, and the inhospitable living conditions of the region. However, the sculptural quality of the coins encourages them to be examined from more than one vantage point. Thus, if a coin is rotated on its axis and viewed obliquely, a quite different, more natural image of a human head can be perceived.
An actual and metaphorical lens through which coins can be viewed affects the interpretation of the image. In the same way that an inferior lens will distort an image, so an unawareness of cultural preconceptions will hinder the understanding of artistic purpose in the rendition of an image. The metaphorical lens that is generally preferred today is one that has been fashioned by the theory of perspective that was introduced in the Renaissance, a mere five hundred years ago, and it is necessary to be aware that the Celtic culture preceded the Renaissance by more than fifteen hundred years. To begin to understand the Celtic viewpoint, it is necessary to abandon the familiar lens and to use the unfamiliar: to abandon the frontal vantage point and to explore the oblique. Geraldine Chimirri-Russell http://www.ucalgary.ca/infoserve/Vol...oserve0305.pdf
In the same light, her presentation at the 2005 C.N.A. Convention (Calgary) Educational Forum on Saturday, July 23, was titled, "Images on Canadian Money: Believing what you see and seeing what you believe."
Afterword: In my article “Champagne: The Athens of the Middle Ages,” (The Celator
, Vol. 25. No. 11, November 2009), I showed a coin of the Middle Ages which suggests the very same presentation, that it was intended to be viewed obliquely.