Migratory &Early NorthernMedieval Art & Architecture
The Middle Ages• The Middle Ages, or medieval era (“medieval” is derived from theLatin words for “middle ages”), is the time period between the endof Classical Antiquity (which ended with the Roman Empire inapproximately 500 CE) and the beginning of the Renaissance(varies depending upon location, but roughly 1500 CE).• Classical Antiquity – Middle Ages - Renaissance• Early medieval art in western Europe was the result of a uniquetripartite fusion of the classical heritage of Rome’s northwesternprovinces, the cultures of the non-Roman peoples north of theAlps, and Christianity.• After the decline of Imperial Rome, various groups fought overthe regions of western Europe, displacing one another frequently,and leading to a high level of mobility/migration.• Because of the frequent moving and changes in power, there islittle in the way of monumental architecture or art. What remainsconsists mostly of small, portable “status symbols” – weapons,jewelry, and other craft items, usually found in burial sites, whichcould have also been traded as currency amongst various groups. The Carolingian Empire at the death of Charlemagne in 814
Merovingian Fibulae• This is an example of a fibula (one of a pair), a type of pin usedby men and women to fasten robes at the shoulder (dating backto Etruscan times).• The level of ornamentation indicated a person’s importance orrank (notice how Justinian’s fibula is more ornate than hisadvisors’). One of a Pair of• This fibula dates to when the Merovingian kings ruled France. Merovingian looped fibulae, from Jouy-le-• This fibula (and its match) were buried with a wealthy woman, Comte, France, c. 550.accompanying her into the afterlife. Silver gilt worked in• Artists at the time incorporated abstracted animal-shaped filigree, with inlays of(zoomorphic) designs into their work. The inclusion of abstracted garnets and otheranimals into designs is referred to as animal style. Can you spot stones. 4”.any animals in the fibula?• This fibula is also decorated with tiny designs made from finegold wire (filigree), and inlays (attachments) of precious stoneslike garnets.
Sutton Hoo Ship Burial Purse Cover from the Sutton Hoo ship burial Suffolk, England, c. 625. Gold, glass, cloisonne garnets. 7.5” long.• In medieval Western Europe, it was not common for warriorsto be set afloat in a burning boat, however they were sometimesburned in a pyre, and sometimes the very wealthy men wereburied in a boat.• One such ship burial was unearthed in England near present-day Suffolk, underneath an earthen mound (tumulus).• Found on the ship were a gold belt buckle, 10 silver bowls, asilver plate, 40 gold coins (to pay the oarsmen), 2 silver spoonsinscribed Saulos and Paulos (St. Paul’s names before and afterbaptism, an allusion to conversion to Christianity), and a helmet.• The purse holder is an example of cloisonné, a technique inwhich fine strips of metal (called cloisons, French for“partitions”) were soldered onto a larger piece, then the spacesbetween the metal were filled with precious stones, pieces ofglass, or enamel (glass paste that melted to fill the space whenfired in a kiln).
Sutton Hoo Ship Burial Purse Cover from the Sutton Hoo ship burial Suffolk, England, c. 625. Gold, glass, cloisonne garnets. 7.5” long. An interlaced pattern in which the interlacements evolve into writhing animal figures. Heraldic A purely linearcomposition of a design frontal man flanked by two profile beasts Eagle attacking a duck. Note how the beaks fit together so they at fist appear to be one design.
Vikings • The pre-Christian traders and pirates of Scandinavia were known as Vikings (named after the “viks” – coves or trading places of the Norwegian shoreline) or Norsemen (Northmen). • From approximately 800 CE – 1050 CE, the Vikings attacked and pillaged the coastal communities of England and Scotland. Animal-head post, • Their fast, seaworthy longboats enabled them to travel far from the Viking ship burial (some even made it to North America, long before Columbus).Oseberg, Norway, c. 825. Wood. • During this time, the Vikings also began to colonize the lands they invaded, until they had large settlements in England, France (became the Normans of Normandy), Ireland, as well as the Baltic regions and Russia. • An example of Viking woodcarving comes from another ship burial (also found under a mound of earth). The vessel contained the remains of two women of high status. Any treasures aside from the boat itself were looted long ago. • The Animal-head post incorporates at once the fearsome roaring head of a beast, and the complex, controlled pattern of tightly interwoven animals that writhe, gripping and snapping, in serpentine (snake-like) fashion. It is an example of the union of two fundamental motifs of the warrior lords’ art: the animal style and the interlaced pattern.
Stave Church at Urnes • Although much of Scandinavia had become Christian by the 11th century, Viking artistic traditions persisted, as evidenced by the portal of the stave church at Urnes in Norway. • Staves are wedge-shaped timbers placed vertically. • The elaborately carved wooden portal on the north wall of the church is from the original church from 1050 (most of the rest is from a rebuilding of the church in 1130).Wooden portal of the • The carving depicts abstracted animals and an intricatestave church at interwoven pattern. There are several possible interpretations ofUrnes, Norway the design.c. 1050 • One interpretation is that the four-legged animal in the bottom left is a lion (a symbol of Christ) biting a snake (a symbol of Satan), thus depicting the struggle of good vs. evil. • Another interpretation is based more on Norse mythology. The animal may be interpreted as Nidhogg (a dragon or serpent) eating the roots of Yggdrasil (tree of life). The appearance of Nidhogg portends the Ragnarok (end of the world).
Illuminated Manuscripts Book of Durrow, possibly from Iona, Scotland, c. 700. Ink and tempera on parchment.• At the same time that Scandinavian, Merovingian, and Anglo-Saxon warlords were amassing artworks dominated by abstractanimal motifs, Christian missionaries were establishingmonasteries in northern Europe and sponsoring artworks ofChristian content.• Although nominally subject to the Roman popes, Irish Celtswho converted to Christianity began setting up monasteries indistant, inhospitable locations, where they could carry on theirduties far from worldly distractions.• Monasteries became centers for knowledge in a society thatwas mostly illiterate.• Monks created and copied illuminated Christian books by hand(“manuscripts,” from the Latin manu scriptus meaning “hand-written”) in a special monastery writing room called a scriptoria.• Because society was mostly illiterate, the illustrations inChristian books were highly admired, and served as an importanttool for converting new believers in Britain, Scotland, andIreland.• The books themselves were jealously guarded treasures.
Man (symbol of St. Matthew), folio 21 verso of the Book of Durrow Book of Durrow, possibly from Iona, Scotland, c. 700. Ink and tempera on parchment.• One of the earliest Hiberno-Saxon (Irish) illuminatedmanuscripts, a Gospel book, possibly made in the scriptoriumat Iona (monastery).• Located in the late Middle Ages in the monastery in Durrow,Ireland.• Contains full pages dedicated not to text or illustration, butpure embellishment and decorative designs. Because of theirresemblance to woven carpets, these decorative pages areknown as carpet pages.• In the Book of Durrow, each of the four gospels has a carpetpage and a page dedicated to the symbol of the evangelistwho wrote that gospel.• The text of each gospel also begins with an elaboratelydecorated first letter. To make the size of the first letter fit inbetter, scribes would make the first line of text large, theneach line smaller in a process called dimenuendo.• The symbol of Matthew is highly stylized and flat, with thehead and body frontal and the feet to the side. carpet page
Saint Matthew, folio 25 verso of the Lindisfarne Gospels, from Northumbria, England, c. 700. Tempera on vellum. The Lindisfarne Gospels • The Lindisfarne Gospels were created in the Northumbrian (northeastern English) monastery on Lindisfarne Island. • Like the Book of Durrow, the Lindisfarne Gospels contained the four gospel texts (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). Each was preceded by a carpet page and an image of each author. • This image depicts Matthew (accompanied by his symbol of an angel) writing his account of the life of Jesus. • The curtain informs us that this scene is set indoors. • The man behind the curtain is probably either Jesus, St. Cuthbert (whose relics were at Lindisfarne), or Moses, holding the closed Old Testament (in juxtaposition with the open New Testament). • The theme of the evangelist being depicted as an author, as well as the angled perspective used on the bench, indicate that this composition is probably based on another one from Italy or Greece, however this artist has flattened and simplified the composition beyond what the original may have looked like. • The inscription includes a combination of Greek and Latin words (although all written in Latin letters), perhaps to lend the page the prestige of two classical languages.
The Lindisfarne Gospels• The carpet pages of the Lindisfarne Gospels are even more intricatethan the Book of Durrow.• On this page, zoomorphic serpentine interlacements of fantasticanimals devour each other, curling over and returning on theirwrithing, elastic shapes.• The rhythm of expanding and contracting forms creates an effect ofmotion and change• The movement of the serpentine shapes is held in check by theregularity of the dominating motif of the cross.• As such, the cross, as a symbol of religion, creates a sense of stability.• As with jewelry, it was believed that the more highly intricate thedecoration, the more prestigious the book. Cross-inscribed carpet page, folio 26 verso of the Lindisfarne Gospels, from Northumbria, England. c. 700. Tempera on vellum.
The Book of Kells• Contains an unprecedented number of full page illuminations,including carpet pages, evangelist symbols, portrayals of the VirginMary and of Christ, New Testament narrative scenes, and severalinstances of monumentalized words from the Bible.• Book was displayed on the church altar.• The text (in parts abbreviated) reads “Now this is how the birth ofChrist came about.”• Which gospel does this page precede? How can you tell? Chi-rho-iota (XPI) page, folio 34 recto of the Book of Kells, probably from Iona, Scotland, c. 900. Tempera on vellum. 1’1” x 9.5”.
High Crosses• The high crosses of Ireland and England were set up betweenthe 8th and 10th centuries.• Some are over 20 feet high, and they preside over burialgrounds adjacent to monasteries.• The Monasterboice cross contains extensive narrative reliefdecorations.• The circle surrounding the cross identifies the type as Celtic. High Cross of Muiredach• At the center of the cross, one side depicts Christ being (east face),crucified, and the other side depicts the risen Christ as judge of Monasterboice,humanity, hope of the dead. Ireland, 923.• Intricate woven patterns decorate the sides. Sandstone, 18’ high.• Muiredach (whose name is inscribed on the base) probably isan influential Irish cleric of the same name who was abbot ofMonasterboice and died in 923. The cross probably marks hisgrave.