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'Barbarian art' − roots, synthesis, purpose

Dr. Ruth Blankenfeldt, Prof. Dr. Claus von Carnap-Bornheim, PD Dr. phil. habil. Alexandra Pesch

In the first centuries AD, remarkable social changes gradually took place in northern Europe. Some of the deepest roots of modern Europe can be traced to the confrontation between the 'barbarians' and the Romans, on the one hand, and their reciprocal cultural influences, on the other. The works of art, in the form of figurative and ornamental images that soon began to decorate many sophisticated objects of daily use, reflect the existence of such contacts during that period. The motifs can hardly be described as simply decorative as they follow an artistic canon that is partly standardized and was obviously known throughout wide areas of northern Europe.barbarenkunst_1

barbarenkunst_2barbarenkunst_3Although the Roman role model for such developments has been emphasized in research over recent decades, this has almost always been based on the same objects and then generalized. Influences from more distant cultures, e.g. Celtic imagery, traditions surviving from the Pre-Roman Iron Age and the Scythian animal style, as well as interaction between the various regions outside the Roman Empire, have hardly been examined. Indeed, the situation is made more difficult by the fact that, still today, there are no precise definitions of what, in fact, are typical 'Roman', 'provincial Roman', 'Celtic' or even 'Germanic' images. However, only with a clear differentiation between adopted motifs or forms of divers external provenance and indigenous elements is it possible to determine and understand the spiritual influences that shaped the character of the Germanic peoples in the North Sea and Baltic areas.

In the 'barbarian art' project, an attempt is being made to build up a multi-national network of colleagues to deal in depth with various aspects of art in the early centuries AD. The formulation of the questions to be explored regarding this many facetted subjects will be discussed and decided in workshops and other meetings.


Publications connected to the project:

R. Blankenfeldt, Fünfzig Jahre nach Joachim Werner: Überlegungen zur kaiserzeitlichen Kunst. In: Wilhelm Heizmann / Siegmund Oehrl (Hrsg.), Bilddenkmäler zur germanischen Mytholgie und Heldensage: Autopsie - Dokumentation - Deutung. [Symposium München 03.-05. März 2010] Ergänzungsbände zum Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde,  9 -80 (im Druck).

A. Pesch, Tiere, Götter, Wirkungsmacht. Völkerwanderungszeitliche Goldhalskragen und die germanische Mytholgie. In: Wilhelm Heizmann / Siegmund Oehrl (Hrsg.), Bilddenkmäler zur germanischen Mytholgie und Heldensage: Autopsie - Dokumentation - Deutung. [Symposium München 03.-05. März 2010] Ergänzungsbände zum Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde, 119-150 (im Druck).

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