IZVORNA STRAN

THE

 
SITULA

OF VAČE

TEXT BY JOŽE KASTELIC

Director of the National Museum, Ljubljana

PUBLISHED BY

THE MAGAZINE »JUGOSLAVIJA«, BELGRADE

KNEZ MIHAJLOVA 21

1956

SLOVENSKI TEKST

LIST OF PHOTOGRAPHS

 

 

Three routes run in a southeasterly direction from the Alps to the Aegean Sea: the Danubian route, a swift, comfortable waterway through the fertile but monotonous Pannonian Plain; the Adriatic route, a long, pleasant sea cruise from Trieste down to the Ionean Islands and the Peloponnesus; and the third, a route neither comfortable nor swift, over the towering mountain heights and through hidden canyons, from Ljubljana through Lika and Bosnia down to Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia: from the amber road at the gateway to Italy down to the Via Egnatia at the gateway to Greece. This is a territory which was settled by the Illyrians, perhaps upon an old substratum of Thracians, about the year 1000 B. C. Having come from the north and originally setting up tribal forms of society and, later, states, they dominated the old roads in the Balkans, became extremely expert in casting bronze and iron — till then almost unknown — built fortresses at points suitable for defence, near the grazing grounds of their flocks and at places where they bartered their products with the outside world. The Illyrians were the first inhabitants of the territory of present-day Yugoslavia — later settled by the Slavs — and on it they left traces of their thousand-year stay and their culture. The Celts, who advanced towards the southeast from Italy and the Alps four hundred years later, settled mostly in the northern lowlands. But the traces of their way of life were not as evident as those of their mightier and more conservative Illyrian predecessors. Illyricum apparently came to be easy prey for the Romans after Caesar had destroyed the Celtic power in Gaul, and Augustus suppressed the rebelling lilyrians and Celts in Pannonia and Noricum. In spite of centuries of Roman rule, however, Illyricum did not lose its individuality: moreover, it is from Illyricum that two of the mightiest Roman rulers came during the crisis of the latter-day Empire: Diocletian and Constantine; while Justinian appeared still later. The world of the Illyrians, which survived in some forms also in the fifth and sixth centuries, resisted the short-lived Germanic onslaught, and tolerated the coming of the Slavs. What the indigenous population felt towards the Slavs it is impossible to say, but there is no doubt that there were firm connections between the Illyrians and the South Slavic cultures, and the former, therefore, occupy a unique place in the study of prehistoric times and of the archaeology in these regions.

The life of the Illyrians underwent radical changes during the "classical period". Small secluded Illyrian culture groups evolved into major social formations. The mighty forts of the princes gradually came to dominate the small settlements. A symbol of the privileges enjoyed by the princes are their graves. It was out of keeping with their dignity to be buried in modest graves with urns: colossal barrows represented the superiority of the rulers even in death. The extravagance of the graves often transcended the splendour of the metropolises.

It is interesting to note that the striving for impressiveness and hieratic demonstration was not confined exclusively to certain areas and cultures. It was a widespread custom, which had extended from Central Asia to Spain in the fifth century B. C. Like a belt of gold girding the sober fifth century of classical Greece — from the Battle of Marathon to Alexander the Great — sub-classical or pseudo-classical royal graves lay all over Asia and Europe: the kurgani of Pazyryk on Mount Altai, bound in the eternal ice and snow of the mountains of Central Asia, with the oldest carpet in the world and leather goods of perfect workmanship and ornamentation; the kurgani of the Scythians, the prodigiousness of which almost transcends the fantastic descriptions in the fourth volume of Herodotus' Persian Wars; the archaic-Greek handiwork in precious metals in Duvanli, Bulgaria; the Trebeniste necropolis near Ohrid with its four "Achaean" gold masks and extraordinary Corinthian toreutic products. Corinthian helmets have been found at Glasinac, Central Bosnia, which dominated the environments for centuries; armour and a mask have been found at Klein-Klein, Austria; a diadem of gold has been found at Stična, Slovenia: a situla has been found at Vače, Slovenia. In the heart of Europe, above the Danube, rises Heuneburg with its Massilian vases and, on the Seine, Vix near Chatillon, with the largest and most beautiful crater made in Greece. The barbarians attired themselves in the splendour of classical civilization as Greece occupied the peak of a height unat­tainable to others. Life in the Mediterranean area and in the adjacent areas was in full bloom.

The Illyrian royal graves in these regions contained both native products and imports from the Mediterranean areas. The most important objects are of bronze. Cast and bossy toreutic items were widespread in Illyria. The forms originated in Illyria, or were adopted from the surrounding cultures. Traces of "Scythian" influence are evident. During the elder phase — in the eastern regions of Illyria — Greek and imported influences prevailed, the representative objects being the Corinthian helmets of Glasinac and the craters of Trebenište. In the west, in Italy, on the other hand, the Etruscan and Venetic cultures exercised the strongest influence on the younger-western-Illyrian groups. This influence reached its farthest range in the western part of Illyria with the art of making situlae.

The Etruscans, a people of unknown origin and strange destiny, were in a way a bridge between the Greeks and the northwestern prehistoric barbarians of Europe. It is notable that Etruscan culture contained still older elements, in addition to the Greek and autochthonous Italic ones, which were more akin to the cradle of the human race in southwestern Asia. The style and inner proportions of these anti-classical eastern elements blended closely with the anti-classical autochthonous European prehistoric elements, Like Bologna (Bononia) north of the Appenines, Ruma (Roma) was an Etruscan settlement upon an Indo-European substratum of Villanova. This was the environment of the cultures of Este and Certosa, which proceeded side by side with the Villanovan culture. It was from there that the famed situlae derived: one from Certosa (Museo Civico, Bologna), the second from Este (Museo Atestino, Este), the third from Bologna (Museum of Art, Providence). The art of the topmost Etruscan stratum alloyed with the subordinate neighbouring culture produced forms which were bizarre and not exactly harmonious.

Numerous situlae of the Alpine and sub-Alpine environment were added to the Italic situlae, the most outstanding of them being the situla of Vače (National Museum, Ljubljana). The situla of Vače, the situla of Welzelach in the Tyrol and the situla of Magdalenska Gora, Slovenia, are each divided into three friezes in relief. The situlae and cistae of Stična, Slovenia, and of Hallstatt. Austria, have only adorned lids. The situlae of later date (Kuffern, Austria; Valična Vas, Slo­venia) — from the Celtic period — had only one frieze adorned with relief. In time their form also changed: as the situla became elongated, its walls sank inwards.

Whether the situlae were an Italic import or an autochthonous Illyrian product is an open question. With no intention of taking any final stand, we offer a number of elements pertaining to the situla of Vače which support both theories. Judging from where it was found, the situla in the Museum of Art, Providence, along whose edge runs an inscription in Etruscan, is definitely Bolognese. A common feature on the situlae of Providence and of Vače are the wrestlers, which also distinguished the situlae of Kuffern and Welzelach. The big bird with widespread wings over the animal may be seen on the situlae of Vače and Certosa (twice on the latter), and on the situla of Matrei as well. The dignitary playing the Panpipe may be seen on the situlae of Vače and Providence (twice, symme­trically). Except for the ornamentation on the body, the vessel with the three-jointed leg and tripod is identical on the situlae of Vače and Providence, The offering of a sacrifice by pouring grain froni a bowl into a vessel is reminiscent of similar Mediterranean scenes, such as the one on the Cretan sarcophagus of Hagia Triada. The incomprehensible ornaments, slit and turned upwards, which are suspended from the upper edge of the top frieze of the Vače situla may also be seen on the situlae of Este, Certosa and Providence. Perhaps its source is the palmette on a capital, similar to the ornament of the archaic Bolognese stele. Both situlae have two women each serving two men. The ladles in the hands of the women are identical on the two situlae. They are shaped like a latter-day Roman simpulum unfamiliar in the Illyrian Hallstatt. The situla of Vače twice depicts two men with axes whose handles are decorated, but they differ entirely from the Hallstatt axes. They are bent towards the axe head and resemble some Etruscan forms. The two situlae also have characteristic indentations in the form of the letter S, struck with a short chisel. Any further enumeration of similar details must always lead back to the starting point: that the situlae of Providence and Vače are the two which are most similar. With their strict division and three friezes and rather limited subject-matter, they are also the most perfect. The situla of Certosa is rather epic and perhaps of later date; the situla of Este is the earliest as a type, and isolated from the Bologna-Providence-Vače group. The Welzelach and Matrei situlae have their source in those of Providence and Vače. The Kuffern and Valična Vas situla type constitutes the final phase of development. In workmanship the situla of Vače is the most perfect and its details are better worked than those on the situla at Providence. The details of the clothing, horses' trappings and bodies of the animals have been re-done in many parts with a short chisel, since the figures are seen to have been embossed from within. In this -way two techniques have been combined: the structurally strict and clearly outlined relief design strives for detail, while the design remains subordinate to the monumental whole. There is now a close resemblance to the realism of the prehistoric phase of Europe. From that point development could only have gone on to the bizarre baroque ornamentation of the late Hallstatt, with the incised La Tène workmanship and the polychrome combination of amber and bronze, or iron and bronze in the Illyrian areas. Accordingly, it was a moment when realism began to surrender to illusionism. With due reservation, it may be concluded that the situla of Vače is a piece of Italic work belonging to the Veneti cultural group of the mid-fifth century B. C. The close kinship with the Bologna-Providence situla is obvious. On the basis of this import and similar ones, it was possible for the local production of situlae to develop to considerable proportions.

The scenes on the situla of Vače are divided into three friezes. The topmost shows a solemn procession of riders and drivers. They are headed by a horse which is being checked by a man pulling at a halter. The halter, which is twisted into a vertical noose, is an ancient symbol of posthumous life familiar to the Egyptians. Above the first horse, and suspended from the top of the frieze is a bird with its head turned towards the man. Behind him a second man is leading his horse. His axe, with its decorated handle, is slung over his shoulder. Above this horse a bird with a long bill, probably an eagle, spreads its wings. Then follow two horsemen with short bridles. Palmettes hang downwards above their horses. Then follow two teams, each consisting of one horse and two men, one of whom is the driver and the other his companion. The vehicles, the first of which is a chariot and the second a long elaborately decorated carriage, have each two wheels. Unlike the other figures on this frieze, the driver's companion wears a Phrygian cap. The end of the procession is brought up by a rider.

The second frieze depicts a series of rites. The first scene shows two persons offering a sacrifice. A big crater-urn stands between them on an elegantly profiled leg which ends in a tripod. One of the two persons is pouring grain from a bowl into the crater while the second has brought his hand up to his nose, as though in a gesture of enjoying the fragrance. Then come three groups of revellers: in the first group a woman with a veil suspended from the back of her head offers a bowl of food to a man on a throne. Behind him, also seated on a throne is a man with a sceptre tipped with two bird heads. The second group of revellers com­prises one man seated on a throne and playing a Panpipe, with a bareheaded servant offering him drink from a situla. Behind his throne there is another man. The third group of revellers comprises a man seated on a throne while a woman with a veil suspended from the back of her head offers him food from a bowl. Then follow two naked warriors draped with loincloths and with bracelets on their wrists. They are fighting over a trophy — a hatlike helmet with a rib running along the middle and a long plume — which rests on an elegant stand between them. Their endeavours are watched by four spectators, one of whom has an axe with a decorated handle over his shoulder. This man and the two who are offering the sacrifice in the first scene of the frieze have hats on their heads, while the others have Phrygian caps. The frieze ends in a ram with a bird perched on its back. The bird has a large leaf in its bill and is looking backwards. The bottom frieze displays animals. The scenes on the upper two friezes run from right to left, while the scenes on the third run in the opposite direction. Horns fill the space over the beginning of the sequence. Then comes a lion devouring a doe's leg, and then seven does or hinds, three of which have both ears, and four one ear and one horn each. Three of the animals hold long, curved, spotted leaves in their months. Birds looking backwards are perched on the backs of two of the animals.

The subject-matter of the situla is concentrated in the two upper friezes: in the procession of horses and carriages, the sacrifice, the feast, and the tour­nament. These are ancient Mediterranean symbols from the cult of the dead, familiar in the Trojan cycle: the race round Petrocles' barrow, the solemn sacri­fice and the feast in the Iliad, the fight for Ajax's armour. The situla of Vače depicts motifs from an ancient Mediterranean saga recounted in literature by Homer and in the cycles of archaic Greece, which go still further back, to Achaean sources. On the other hand, the presence of the Orient is also evident: the revellers sit in aristocratic detachment, like Gilgamesh in the Babylonian epics: the form of the chariots in the top frieze are similar to the chariots on the reliefs of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh. Birds, the ancient symbols of the soul and popular totem signs in primitive cultures and among the Etruscans, are important creatures in sorcery and in some other rites. We have already mentioned the sacrifice and the birds on the sarcophagus of Hagia Triada at Crete. Later we find countless cases of the metamorphosis of gods into birds among the Greeks. The double-headed sceptre in the second frieze recalls the labrys of Crete. The riders and drivers indicate the two methods of employing horses: for draft work, which is earlier in the Mediterranean and came from the Orient, and for riding, which is later, and came to the Indo-Europeans from the north and from the eastern Scythian steppes.

The situla of Vače, however, would never take its unique place in the Italic and Illyrian culture of the fifth century B. C. solely on the merits of the archaic scenes it contains. First of all, the situla is outstanding for its artistic value. The style in which its figural ornamentation is rendered lends perfection to it and elevates it far above the mediocrity of other items resembling it in subject-matter and workmanship. The situla of Vače contains all the elements of prehistoric European art, which drew its style characteristics from the Greeks by way of the Etruscans. The figures are arranged symmetrically. The striving for symmetry goes to the extent of placing a bracelet on the left wrist of one of the two wrestlers and on the right wrist of the other. A horror of empty space may be said to be still profound in the scenes and constitutes one of the rudiments of pre-archaic style. The space in the scenes of the third frieze is filled with birds, palmettes, rosettes and motifs of horns. The figures are consistently isocephalic; the run of the horizontal and vertical lines is nowhere disturbed; the animals and the human beings move upon a plane without depth or perspective; they tread flat-soled, like the village scribe in Egypt or the archaic kouroi and korai. All the animals lift their forefeet in the same manner, in a stylized gait. Unlike the countenances in the anti-classical cultures of the primitive world, the visages of the figures are not grotesque, nor do they, on the other hand, breath the individualized life of the enlightened realism kindred to classical Greece: the expressions on their faces are attentive and full of life. The flatness of the scenes results in flatness of detail: thus the depth is also- shown in the foreground. The Panpipe player holds his instrument vertically to his lips, although it is actually in a horizontal position in relation to his face. The problems of depth are particularly obvious at the beginning of the first and the third frieze (the bird hanging from the upper edge of the frieze, and the horns hanging in space). These attempts to represent figures in the background by placing them at a higher level are reminiscent of similar strivings on the fresco, "The Saffron Picker", at Knossos, Crete, and in the river scene on the cauldron from Gundestrup in Denmark.

It is impossible to say which is the principal scene on the situla. The epic workmanship of the scenic sequences, which follow upon each other's heels, depict the substance, but only the aggregate unravels the epic story.

The situla of Vače is one of the most perfect items of prehistoric European art. The joys of living — the races, feasts, tournaments — are combined in the chthonean cult and reflect from a distance the old Mediterranean myth of the Trojan saga. This small, apparently solitary artistic item, is an answer to the fundamental questions of human life and death, expressed in a language anyone can understand.

Opposite page: THE FRONT OF THE SITULA, detail

 

NOTE

 

Vače lies on a plateau north of the river Sava, twenty kilo­meters east of Ljubljana. It was the site of an Illyrian settlement with a large necropolis, which was founded about 800 B. C. and lasted till the coming of the Romans. The situla was dug up by a peasant in 1883. It is now in the National Museum, Ljubljana (inven­tory No. P 581). It is 23.8 centimeters high, its greatest width being 23.3 centimeters. The situla was preserved during the last century. First publication: C. Deschmann, Ein Kunstwerk altetruskischer Metallteehnik, Mitteilungen der Zentral Kommission, Wien, 1883, 19. First part-publication in colour, with photographs of details: " Jugo­slavia" (No. 3), 1950, cover, pages 1 and 80—81.

Principal works on the Vače settlement: F. Stare, Prazgodovinske Vače (A Dissertation at the Archaeological Seminar of the University of Ljubljana), Ljubljana, 1954; F. Stare, Vače (Catalogi Archaeologici Sloveniae, published by the National Museum, Ljub­ljana, I), Ljubljana 1955. In this catalogue the situla is scientifically recorded under No. 434 with tables LVI, 1; CI—CIV and annex.

Principal study on the situla: V. Mole, Umetnost situle sa Vača [The Art of the Situla of Vače], Starinar (Belgrade), Series III, 2, 1923 (1925), 79—108.

Style characteristics of the situla in the prehistoric and antique art of Slovenia: J. Kastelic: Figuralna dediščina arheoloških dob v Sloveniji [The Figural Heritage of the Archaeological Periods in Slovenia], Likovni svet, Ljubljana 1950, 177—200. Principal study on metal vessels in Slovenia: F. Stare, Zbornik filozofske fakultete, Ljubljana II, 1955, 103—190. The Providence situla: G. A. Hanfmann, The Etruscans and Their Art, Bulletin of the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, 28, 1940, No. 1. — The origin of situlae: G. Kaschnitz-Weinberg, Handbuch der Archaeologie II (1), München 1950, 388. Style analysis of Iron Age toreutics: M. Hoernes, Urgeschichte der bildenden Kunst in Europa, Wien 19253, 542—558. Alpine situlae: R. Pittioni, Urgeschichte des osterreichischen Raumes, Wien 1954, see register under "Situlenstil". Italy: D. Randall-Maclver, Villanovans and Early Etruscans. Oxford 1942; P. Ducati, L'arte classica, Torino, 19393, 243—246, 383—384.

Inscription on the situla of Bologna: J. Whatmough, The In­scription on the Bolognese Situla, Bulletin of the Museum of Art 28, 1940, 32—33. — The palmette on the column: P. Ducati, L'Arte classica, Torino, 19393, 243, picture 295.

 

 

 

 

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