Sunday, April 02, 2006

Bengt Händel 1925-2006

The name Bengt Händel probably rings a bell with anyone who has ever worked with Swedish prehistoric finds. Händel was staff draughtsman at the Museum of National Antiquities in Stockholm from 1954 to 1990, drawing innumerable finds in his characteristic pointillist style: "dot shading". Händel passed away at the age of 81 earlier this year on 13 January. But unpublished drawings of his will continue to appear in print for decades. Jan Peder Lamm and I published a few last year in Fornvännen, for instance.

Händel often worked at a magnified scale, giving a superhuman level of detail when the drawings were shrunk for publication. This is the graphical equivalent of George Martin's faux-classic piano solo on the Beatles song "In my life": it was recorded at a lower pitch and speed, and then the tape was speeded up to create the Haydn-on-meth effect heard in the song.

There have been three great staff draughtsmen at the museum, each representing a typical style. Olof Sörling's drawings were generally reproduced by xylography, wood engraving. His successor Harald Faith-Ell worked mainly with ink washes and his work was reproduced by photography. And then came Bengt Händel with the dot shading, whose manner is continued by the current staff draughtswoman, Cecilia Bonnevier, and by my friend Stefan Kayat, freelance draughtsman and musician. I am proud to have images drawn by all of these people in my doctoral thesis.

The picture above is Händel's drawing of a gold bracteate (c. AD 500) from a grave at Barshalder on Gotland. This particular bracteate is an example of a local burial custom where mourners would snip away the loop and decorative brim of a bracteate, producing something that looked like a Roman coin. This was probably intended as payment for a spectral ferryman.

Hedman, Sara. 1999. Sörling, Faith-Ell och Händel -- tre tecknare i Akademiens tjänst. Fornvännen 1999:3. KVHAA. Stockholm.

Holmqvist, Wilhelm. 1977. Vår tidiga konst. Stockholm.

Lamm, Jan Peder & Tegnér, Göran. 2006. Bengt Händel in memoriam. Nyhetsbrev för personal vid Statens Historiska Museer 77. Stockholm.
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