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Eric Rowan. Welsh Arts Council and University of Wales Press, Cardiff,
1978. Pp. 127. £ 8.95 (hardback) £ 4.95 (softback).
In 1964 the Welsh Committee of the Arts Council of Great Britain
mounted an exhibition of 'Art in Wales, a survey of four thousand years
to A.D. 1850' and published an accompanying catalogue which included
a number of commissioned essays. The present volume is best described
as an improved version of that catalogue. Four of the original essays
reappear, with minor amendments: by H. N. Savory on the pre-Celtic
and Celtic periods, Glanmor Williams on the Middle Ages, and two by
John Ingamells, a stimulating introductory survey of the evolving styles
and functions of Welsh art and the concluding section on the period
1550-1850. Two new pieces have been written: by Catherine Johns on
'The Roman Occupation' and Donald Moore on 'Early Christian Wales'.
The format of the book has been enlarged, with a considerable increase
in both the quality and quantity of the illustrations. And its aim has
become more ambitious-to be 'a new history of art in Wales' (p. 8),
with a second volume envisaged (though not yet published) to take the
story from 1850 down to the present.
How far is this aim achieved? Visually, the book is successful. The
fascinating illustrations, which account for more than half its contents,
are excellently reproduced, attractively arranged on the page, and fully
identified and documented. But one must regret that the normal practice
was not followed of inserting plate numbers in brackets in the text, since
this would have made it much easier for the reader to turn from the
mention of a particular artist or work to the appropriate illustration. As a
work of art history, however, the book raises more serious doubts.
Problems of coherence, which are inherent in any composite volume, are
here increased by the fact that the contributors represent several quite
distinct disciplines-those of the archaeologist, the museum curator and
the historian. Consequently, there are appreciable differences of approach
-for example, between Professor Williams's eloquent medieval essay,
which is based on an appreciation of different types of patronage and
which is the only one to touch on the question of the artist's social status,
and the contributions of Ms. Johns and Mr. Moore on the Roman and
Early Christian eras, where the discussion is mainly structured round a
classification of various categories of artefact. There are differences, too,
over what to include and to exclude. 'Folk art' is firmly ruled out of
consideration by Mr. Ingamells in his introductory survey, yet is quite
properly included in Dr. Savory's account of the pre-Celtic age. And
whereas metalwork, ceramics, carving and architecture receive due
attention from most of the contributors, they are excluded from the final
essay on the post-1550 period, which is confined to painting alone.
There is also one factual inconsistency, which should have been picked
up by the editor. Mr. Ingamells gives as an example of Welsh patronage
of foreign artists the triptych commissioned from Memlinc by Sir John
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