Legendary Osprey artist Peter Dennis discusses his work in this month's Combat title 'Roman Soldier vs Germanic Warrior'. It's a fantastic little insight into some of the decisions that go into the small details that make Peter's pieces so arresting. Oh, and before I forget, we've included a sneak peek at the particular colour plate he's talking about!
Regular readers of the blog may recall the entry about my efforts, during the development of the combat series, to get a horizontal split page adopted. It really suited the civil war attack I was illustrating then, but I knew that when translated into the gritty intimacy of a hand-to-hand struggle, I would have a serious task in front of me.
The Roman vs German combat commission represented the arrival of that particular chicken at the home roost.
A Centurion-led wedge – and that’s what I call LEADERSHIP- is a split-second from crashing into the shield-wall of a Germanic tribe. They’ve thrown their pilae, drawn their swords and broken into a run. It’s the moment of decision. There’s no smoke or dust in Northern Europe to cloud the scene or lend a heroic atmosphere, we need to see the whole thing in plain-as-day detail.
Lindsay Powell, the author, is a veteran of the Ermine street Guard. He had been there( albeit without the bitter taste of imminent dismemberment in his mouth) and he was my guide. We needed to be in one of the rear ranks of the wedge for the warrior viewpoint to show what was going on. Most soldiers had to be rear rankers, statistically, of course, and I welcomed the opportunity to try and show the experience of the ordinary soldier in an ‘ancient’ battle.
Osprey returned the artwork to me recently and my wife said ‘Why are they all fair-haired?’ meaning the Germans.
One reason was that Lindsay sent as reference a photograph of a Germanic skull with the Suebian knot of blond hair still attached, and suggested that they should be predominantly fair. Another reason goes back to my days as a school teacher in a large mining village in Nottinghamshire in the ‘70s, where, as the kids put down their heads to get on with a task, it often struck me that I was teaching a field of wheat. Entire classes of 30 Saxon children passed through my art room in those days, and they looked like members of a single tribe to me.
The Romans were unmistakeably Roman despite their mixed armours and helmets. I wanted to suggest a similar unity of purpose in the Tribesmen. You get a lot of time to think about such things when you are doing a piece like this!
Recently though, I’ve been watching TV footage of street crowd combat in Ukraine. Rear rankers instinctively hurling stones and other picked up missiles over the heads of their front rank fighters into the mass of the ‘enemy’, and they raise their shields- if they have them- in response. A testudo is being evolved.
I’ll think about that next time. Meanwhile, enjoy this combat title. I love this series, did I mention that already?
If you like the look of the artwork and are intrigued by the subject matter, why not nab a copy from the store? If you're somewhat undecided - have a gander at this blog and treat yourself to a free downloadable chapter!