Desborough Iron Age Mirror Drawing & Essay

In 2017, I followed ‘Who were the Celts?’ at Oxford Department for Continuing Education. I enjoyed reading an essay on Iron Age mirrors. ‘Mirrors in the British Iron Age: Performance, Revelation and Power, by Melanie Giles and Jody Joy. It inspired me immensely.  Celtic Mirror.png

Iron Age 50 BC – AD 50
Found in 1908 near Desborough

After reading about Iron Age mirrors, I set out to draw the Iron Age Desborough mirror. Through drawing I would gain more insights into its decorations and its function. Iron Age mirrors that were beautifully decorated and made of bronze and iron were found in graves of high status Iron Age women.

I like to say something about high status Iron Age women. One might think ‘high status’ refers to rich women or wives of rulers or kings. But although both accounts can be correct, high status refers in the Iron Age more to women being leaders or shamans themselves.

The essay discusses how Iron Age metallurgy and how a whole community was involved in the making process. Also, it discusses social relations, grave goods, and the compass drawn motifs of repeated and distinctive forms arranged into intricate and flee flowing designs. Fascinating, to say in the least. The question begs why were mirrors used as grave goods? The easiest answer does not always work, one being that the Iron Age lady was buried with her belongings. Perhaps the mirrors were not possessions but (diplomatic) gifts. And why would a deceased lady take a mirror, she wouldn’t need it in her afterlife, or would she?

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Imagine looking into this mirror. The effect of seeing your face in the reflective properties of the plate, disrupted or enhanced by its La Tene decorations would …yes, what would you see?

Giles and Joy describe how the decorations on the mirrors are not only used to deceive the eye, but also to reinforce the reflective qualities of the mirror plate. The anthropologist Alfred Gell points out that Iron Age mirrors could have expressed political power and legitimise associations with the supernatural. This is hard for us to understand but in order to understand what Gell states requires us to imagine a time in which you only saw your reflection in (restless or calm) water, in shiny objects, like copper, bronze, silver or gold. How special such mirrors would be! Imagine now that next to not frequently seeing your reflection, you were raised to notice all sorts of shapes in water, smoke, old trees, and rocks. We have a clear sense of what we see is real and what is imagination, but for ancient people perhaps seeing was just seeing, whether it was imagination or fact. If the under-upper and middle world aren’t having hard borders, perhaps seeing imaginative, hallucinative and factual weren’t compartmentalised either.

Working on Desborough Iron Age Celtic Mirror
Working on Desborough Iron Age Celtic Mirror; adding a golden border.

When I suffer a migraine aura, I see things that do not exist and things that I need to see are gone. I can be passed in the streets by somebody who is missing his head. Perhaps looking into an Iron Age mirror yields a similar effect as having a migraine aura because Iron Age mirrors have blanked out spaces and thus provide viewers with a disorienting and distorted image of themselves. Yet, an Iron Age mirror has not only missing parts (blanked out spaces, decorated with a basket woven texture) but carefully chosen synchronised but flow-like playful, witty, and mischievous botanical and animal patterns. What effect would looking into a shiny plate, with a deliberate disorienting pattern have? Here the essay explains more about the ‘technology of enchantment‘ and goes deeper into psychological war-fare though powerful visceral and visual effects. It informs the reader about the Fang People of Gabon who used hallucinogens before looking into mirrors, and states that these Iron Age mirrors were not real mirrors (not for checking hair or make-up). In fact, the mirrors played a role in rituals to release the soul to its afterlife.

Desborough Mirror copied by Paula Kuitenbrouwer
Desborough Mirror copied by Paula Kuitenbrouwer. Mixed media; Derwent graphite & metallic pencils, and bronze coloured ink.

During the time that I spent drawing this Iron age mirror, I tried many things. I tried to project my face behind the decorations, fusing my face and the decorations and then see all sorts of animals. Of course, this is a very poor attempt to understand its magic. But I have to do it with a large doses of imagination and hours of drawing as there is no way I would be able to hold the mirror up and have a look in it. And even if I could do that, there wouldn’t be a ritual that would be helpful performed by an Iron Age shaman who would be experienced in travelling between worlds. (Or brainwaves, or different stages of consciousness, whatever way you might define shamanistic journeying).

My concluding thoughts are that by looking into this mirror, in an Iron Age ritual ceremony, with an Iron Age cognitive mindset, maybe, as a dying lady of high status, I would find great comfort in seeing my old face being obscured with these splendid swirling decorations. I would be calm as I have seen, thanks for my migraines, often enough things that aren’t there and fail to notice things that are there. I would probably enter theta brainwaves the same way as after sitting down for a longer time in meditation or -more Iron Age style- looking into the smoky swirls of an open campfire. I might start seeing my face, combined with the swirly flowing embellishments turning into animal and ancestral spirits. One has to understand that the Iron Age was full of spirits, spirits we have carefully abandoned from our modern life. But just as they have been forgotten, it doesn’t mean these spirits aren’t there. I would most certainly find an ancestral spirit that would ‘present’ itself as so much of my own face would be blanked out, and only essential and familiar facial lines would still linger in the reflective image. Or perhaps, I would see a beautiful stag or other horned mammal, and experience it as my guiding spirit animal. Perhaps I would see the hybrid human-animal dressed-up shaman of the village giving me instructions to journey to the Other-world.

All in all, it would perhaps release my soul into an in-between world in which I would be able to project comfortably to what I would need to see. I would probably have been fasting during the last days of my life, I would be susceptible for my imaginative mind to dominate and thus the softly and dreamily reflecting mirror would get a transitional quality and function. Or perhaps I would look and utter some wise words, like Tibetan shamans who look into mirrors to see the future and the past, wise words that would be helpful to my tribe. The Fang people of Gabon use mirrors to contact their ancestors. Why wouldn’t Iron Age mirrors have a similar function?

Obviously, many things become possible should such a highly valued mirror be available to a tribe. It is therefore that there many more than this Desborough mirror only. One by one these mirrors and their fascinating embellishments are showing us that Iron Age metallurgy and shamanism practises were interrelated and that highly decorated ‘magic’ Iron Age mirrors were much appreciated by Iron Age peoples.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

October 2019

www.mindfuldrawing.com

@mindfuldrawing on Instagram

At Etsy & Kunstinzicht.nl

P.S. During the hours that I was my drawing of the Desborough mirror, I travelled between worlds too. I had to descend from my creative, spiritual plane of manifesting ideas to the mundane world of running errands. As the trees were shedding their leaves, I noticed many decomposed leaves with open parts resembling mini Iron Age mirrors scattered on the street. If you can’t enjoy looking into the Desborough Iron Age mirror at the British Museum, don’t despair, mini versions are freely available every autumn.

Art cards are available at Etsy (and can be framed as small memories to this exquisite mirror):

Bruntenhof Gate Utrecht

My ‘Gate to Heaven’, a lovely gate is located not too far away from my home, at Bruntenhof, Museumkwartier in Utrecht.

img_8425In real, there is no flower vase, just pavement in front of this gate. I received some feedback, stating: ‘There is a great difference between a photo of this gate and your drawing. A photo shows beautiful stonework but you have drawn something dreamy and poetic. The gate has become a portal to another world. You can walk through it and find yourself in a Medieval landscape with knights and dryads‘. I think the feedback itself is rather poetical, don’t you think? Such sensitive feedback stimulates me to make even more progress.

This gate can be found at Bruntenhof, Museumkwartier in Utrecht, in the centre of the Netherlands. It dates back to 1620. But it could be any gate, a dream gate, a portal to heaven, to another world. Gates are symbolic and often stand for a transformation or travelling between worlds. Gardens are set apart from manor houses by a gate. People drive through gates to enter an estate. Gates impress, transform, and show style; Roman, Art Nouveau, Classical, Medieval or gates are used for defence purposes. Drawings of gates can mean so much and are open to your interpretation.

img_8431Commissions are welcome for drawing a favourite place be it a gate home, residence, manor house, hotel, garden, holiday-home, estate, or apartment. Contact me for discussing your preferences.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Listed at Etsy & at Instagram

Contact me for questions:

Auguste Rodin & Camille Claudel at Three Inches Challenge

Participating in a creative challenge is about exploring new drawing skills. A challenge needs to be a challenge, doesn’t it? I found Three Inches, at #mindfulartstudio of Amy Maricle, which is about working on 3 square inches. I decided to do a study of Auguste Rodin and Camille Claudel’s artwork. The insight that I gained confirms that I am not fascinated enough by human anatomy, despite hugely admiring Rodin and Claudel’s work. Nevertheless, I liked the challenge as a welcome break from my current obsession with antique drawings of beautiful classical buildings and romantic landscapes.

Thank you & till next posting,

Paula

Three Inches Challenge on Instagram at #incheschallenge2019.

at Etsy  (I have a summer sale at Etsy)

at Instagram

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rachel Ruysch and Prosperous Floral Bouquet Studies

I have studied some Dutch Golden Age painters in the past, and Rachel Ruysch (1664-1750) was one of my favourite painters. She painted very well, but she also had ten children! It bemuses me how one can paint so exquisitely and have ten children (therefore a minimum of ten pregnancies). One may assume that she died a tragic and premature death, but she did not. Her dated works establish that she painted from the age of 15 until she was 83. When it came to her household, though, she had help, because she could afford it. But I am not planning on writing about my role model. I want to point out that Dutch floral paintings in the Golden Age are an illusion. When we buy lush bouquets at the supermarket, we have little to no knowledge about the plants; we don’t know when they bloom and where they come from. We care a little about seasonable vegetables and fruits, but we don’t know where flowers come from. Golden Age floral painters studied flowers by making meticulous sketches and writing down which colours they needed.

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Upon designing a large floral bouquet, they needed to check their notebooks and sketchbooks. This way, they put together flowers that do not bloom at the same time, and they also added seasonal butterflies or insects, therefore showing spring, summer, and autumn in one painting. Nowadays it is easy to consult a book or check a photo, and then put together flowers from all over the world, flowers that never bloom together at the same time. The difference between the Golden Age and now is that we fly in vegetables, fruits, and flowers, and that isn’t good for our carbon footprint. Golden Age painters created prosperous bouquets, not with the help of cargo trucks, cool cells, or air-planes, but with their own notes and sketches.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

At Etsy & Instagram

At Kunstinzicht.nl

New Work in the Making

I am working on the successor of ‘Praising Plants‘, ‘Ode to All Oak Trees‘ and ‘Sophisticated Succulents‘ and returning to William Morris for inspiration. For years, William Morris didn’t appeal that much to me because I was still under the influence of my study of Dutch Baroque floral painters. They, as no one else, could create depth and a feeling as if you were looking at a real bouquet. They positioned their composition in such way that a large flower vases, with all seasonal flowers, would stand proudly on show and you could -in your mind- walk around it. You would admire not only the flowers but also water-drops and insect that rested on big and small petals. But, of course, you were looking at an illusion. Dutch floral painters studied flowers, one by one, made sketches on them, and then set up a composition as if all flowers were all in bloom at the exact same time, which is never the case in nature. A wonderful illusion; a much admired illusion. William Morris looked one dimensional compared to these baroque painters, yet, I learned to see that compared to many modern flower designs, Morris certainly isn’t one dimensional. He may not create as much depth as I would like to see, but he weaves flower stems, creating the feeling as if you are in nature and looking at bushes, trees, and flower beds. Some flowers are near, some further away.

My drawing will have another lovely title using again a two word alliteration. You are invited to guess. However, before doing that, one needs some botanical knowledge and isn’t that not exactly what makes us love William Morris? He educates and inspired us with his design, botanical knowledge, and colourful palette.

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William Morris mainly scatters and extends broad leaf foliage, flowers, and sometimes animals for the purpose of creating a repetitive, yet not too repetitive, wall paper design. There is a difference in what we expect from wall-paper, a painting, and from a mural. We expect a mural to trick us like Harry Potter on Platform 9 ¾ : we like to run into the world that is suggested by a mural. Wall-paper, on the other hand, aims at supporting the design and décor of a room. Wall-paper must suggest less depth than a mural or painting, but more than a brick wall, by weaving the stems of flowers and using the technique of foreshortening, Morris does exactly that however not overly.

I have yet many white spaces to fill up with my own designs; this way of freehand drawing is enjoyable. 

Paula Kuitenbrouwer   At Etsy & Instagram

Prehistoric Women Figurines

To deepen my understanding of female prehistoric figurines, I have set out to draw a few of them. Clockwise starting with tge middle-lower sitting woman, you find Courbet Venus, carved in a seated position, about 14.900 years old. Followed by the Venus of Polichinelle, carved in green steatite, 27.000 years old, found at Grimaldi. The strictly stylised engraved Lalinde Venus (there are more than one) found in Gönnersdorf in Germany, in Abri Murat and Gare de Couze in France, Pekárna in the Czech Republic, and Wilczyce in Poland. Stone Age. Further clockwise; Venus figures from Wilczyce, followed by another Gönnersdorf figurine. Then, Petersfels Venus that is made of jet, circa 15. 000 BP- 2.000 BP. Another Gönnersdorf engraving and last, Venus from Nebra, 15.000 years old, animal bone.

It makes you wonder, doesn’t it? You can’t possible blame prehistoric peoples for a lack of body diversity. But why the concentration on bellies and buttons, and why are heads and feet missing? Most look either emaciated, nursing or pregnant. Are some suffering from chronic diseases? Did it matter how a female looked like, or was the first piece of bone or stone vaguely resembling and therefore symbolising a (perhaps departed) woman okay for whatever ritual? Some look crudely abstract, others are enchantingly elegant, as if they are the first sketched outlines of ballerinas in action. I have chosen an ochre background as this pigment was hugely important to prehistoric peoples.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

at Etsy

At @mindfuldrawing on Instagram

Commissions welcome: contact me at mindfuldrawing@gmailc.om

York Minster Cathedral Drawing

b8fad007-ef2a-4ba9-9879-47168204b4ddThis is a drawing that I made while staying in an apartment opposite of York Minster (Cathedral). I enjoyed studying all York Minster’s wonderful, elegant, and whimsical details with and without binoculars.

I was especially charmed by some stonework that wasn’t symmetrical and I thus set out to capture it by standing in front of the window, drawing without a ruler. Later I used a ruler but only a little to keep the spontaneity of this elegant drawing. I apologise for the darker photos as I planned to place the drawing so that the façade of York Minster is visible in the background, thus photographing against natural light. The drawing is done on white (slightly off white) high quality paper and the drawing is light, elegant, and softly rendered. For ornithologists, boy did we enjoy the peregrine falcon family! Two parents and four juveniles exercising flying around the north east tower delighted us. For these birds, York Minster is a perfect natural rock formation surrounded by food (street pigeons).

This drawing is a special gift as there is only one and there are no copies available.

Artist info: Derwent graphite, fixative Winsor & Newton. Frame it with a mount and you have a lovely ‘Memory of a Minster’, or ‘Detail of a Cathedral’. (I know a Minster and Cathedral aren’t the same, yet many use both terms).

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

at Etsy

This drawing at Etsy

Ode to All Oak Trees

Ode to all Oak Trees

After my ‘Praising Plants’, a large graphite drawing that was sold rather quickly, I decided to continue with botanical theme-drawing and thus I designed ‘Ode to All Oak Trees’.

This drawing has a large oak tree as it centre piece, decorated with William Morris botanical motifs and leaves freehand drawn as its border. In spring a single oak tree produces both male and female flowers (catkins). The acorns are its fruits. We use both the acorns and cupule for crafts while jays eat them and squirrels store them for the winter. Oak wood was often used for building churches because of the density, great strength, and hardness. It is very resistant to insects and fungi. Oak wood was also used for building Viking ships and in Medieval times it was used for interior panelling of prestigious buildings. Oak was used for making barres to store wine and whiskey; its okay, vanilla like flavour is favoured. Mistletoe growing on oak trees were most treasured by druids in Celtic communities; it was harvests with golden sickles.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

@mindfuldrawing on Instagram.

On Etsy available. Only one; there are no copies available. It makes a lovely and original gift.

 

Cernunnos Inspired Stag in Ancient Worlds

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The oldest (Celtic) god is Cernunnos, depicted with the antlers of a stag, seated cross-legged, associated with animals, and holding or wearing a torc (is a large rigid or stiff neck ring in metal, made either as a single piece or from strands twisted together).
Not much is known about Cernunnos but interpretations identify him as a beneficent god of nature, life, or fertility. I find it interesting that Cernunnos is half man, half stag. We clearly like to relate ourselves to such a magnificent animal. It looks well built yet elegant, noble and humble, strong but vulnerable.
I remember driving on Island of Mull and being redirected due to roadworks. As we continued our journey on small roads, all the sudden a huge stag stood in front of us. My husband stopped the car and for a moment we looked in awe to this mighty animal. It looked at us and we looked at him with instant respect, so close and intense was the encounter, that we can still recall the moment, decades later.  It will linger in our memory probably forever.
It is therefore that I have drawn stags and deer often. The challenge is always to capture the strength and elegance. Recently, I drew a full stag but I was disappointed because it didn’t stand out. It had not the mightiness that I was looking for. I then applied the ‘Celtic’ method of looking which lines and shadows were essential and which I should leave out. Say 90% of my initial lines were erased and as a result I not only ended up with a more powerful stag, the space that became available allowed me to work on applying beautiful lines and figures (see how the eyes of the stag are also birds). Thus, the stag is complied of many seemingly loose elements, connecting and giving it form.
Ancient Stones
Ancient Stone Graves Copyright Paula Kuitenbrouwer
I placed it in an ancient Upperworld, Middle world, and Underworld. The Upperworld shows the sun and the moon and the antlers of the stag shapeshift into birds that fly away, symbolizing a shamanistic journey to the Upperworld. The Middle world is shown as tree branches and tree trunks. The Underworld can be entered by visiting an ancient burial site, or being close to dolmens, as is the belief of ancient peoples. I knitted all worlds together by using patterned borders.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

At Etsy

Artist Info:  I used Derwent Graphite H7 and H3 only, on Winsor & Newton cold press paper. Using only Derwent H pencils gives a drawing very soft tones. Personally, I favour this, but others might judge that it needs more enforcement of darker areas. A few small prints of my drawing show a more enhanced or ‘harder’ version. There are many ‘Celtic’ pattern vectors freely available but I decided to design my own irregular patterns.

CUSTOMIZED EX LIBRIS or COMMISSIONED BORDER FOR CERTIFICATE

Customized Border or Ex Libris Commission
Preview of a Customized Border or Ex Libris Commission

I have drawn with Derwent graphite and Graphitint a border for an Ex Libris, a book plate, that can be used for other means as well. I enjoyed making this border so much and it ignited my imagination. This happened because I started with the border, something I haven’t done before. Normally, I plan a border and I start in the left-upper corner of a drawing because I am right handed.  But I hadn’t had an idea for the middle part, so I continued with the border. I ended with a full boarder and consequently thought; ‘This border could be used for any document or certificate, be it a wedding certificate, a gradation document, a photo, a promotion, basically, any document that is highly personal and highly valued, worth customized framing’.

This border shows (I will show it later in full) 4 time lines of our West European history that are loved by a family: the Neolithic Times (shown here in the top -Celtic Roundhouses with dolmens-, Saxon-Viking times, the Late Medieval time, as well as the Renaissance. The Renaissance being visible on this photo too. I added an inside border (shown as a specific pattern related to the time period) and I will now add bookshelves full history books in the middle part.

This is a very full drawing and it keeps me busy. But I love seeing it grow into an engaging piece that expresses the love for history this family has. Yes, it could show another cultural aspect, for instance, a mathematical border, geographical, philosophical, musical, botanical, zoological one, I can draw any border that shows personal preferences.

Return here within a week and the full Ex Libris will be ready.

Till then, stay safe and happy,

Paula

At Etsy

At Instagram

My booklet is at Amazon.co.uk. It makes a very affordable and sweet gift for nature lovers.

 

 

Postage Stamp Design

 

 

Recently, I found out that one can buy online postage stamps. It is very handy but such ‘post stamp’ appears to be a sudoku-like 9 square code that you pen down in the upper right corner of an envelope. Handy but disappointing, especially when you enjoy receiving a neatly handwritten envelope with an exotic postage stamp.

 

As so much digitalization is met with a return to pre-computer behaviour, like note booking, calligraphy, and snail-mail, I decided to return to using post stamps too. I bought a bag of old, hobby postage stamps that are used by Hobonichi journalling or notebook designing, and added them next to the postage codes. Somehow that didn’t do the job. And so, I set out to design a post stamp that shows a lovely nature scene, elegance, and spaciousness.

 

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Paula’s booklet at Amazon

The Post Stamp at Etsy

Paula’s Etsy shop

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