Art 101-Ch 10

Early Medieval and
Romanesque Art
This manuscript painting,
done about 1000 CE, is a
scene of humility, but during
the next 200 years, the
Romanesque period, the
emperors, kings, popes and
abbots lavish their material
resources on churches to
glorify God and recreate an
image of the heavenly
Jerusalem on earth.
As the Roman empire crumbled, political power passed to bishops
and secular lords. The church, as the repository of tradition and
learning, provided intellectual as well as spiritual leadership.
The art of the tribes who were now in
control of former Roman territories
was developed from earlier Bronze
and Iron Age people.
Individual motifs include spirals,
birds, humans, and dragonlike
animals so interlaced that one has to
look carefully to identify them.
After the fall of Rome, British
chieftains took control of
England and Ireland with the
help of soldiers from
continental Europe (the source
for the legends of King
The Angles, Saxons and Jutes
from the continent (who had
come to England) soon
established kingdoms of their
own and the people under
their rule adopted AngloSaxon speech and customs.
Metalworking is one of the glories of Anglo-Saxon art.
References to interlacing metal jewelry is in Anglo-Saxon
An early 7th century burial
mound excavated in 1939
at a site called Sutton Hoo
(hoo means “hill”)
revealed an 86 foot long
ship with weapons,
armor, and equipment for
the afterlife.
Some of the items
were luxury items such
as the purse cover and
the epaulets.
They are decorated
with cloisonné enamel
with designs from
wide ranging sources.
The rich blend of
motifs represent a
complex style that
flourished in England
and Ireland in the 7th
and 8th century.
As Christianity spread through
the islands, Hiberno-Saxon
(Hibernia is the ancient name
for Ireland) scribes adapted
pagan styles for large, lavishly
decorated gospel books.
On the Chi Rho Iota (XPI-an
abbreviation for Christi, the
first word in the Latin sentence
that says “Now this is how the
birth of Jesus Christ came
about”) page from the Book of
Kells, has interlacing and lots
of symbolism, both pagan and
Even as the monks were writing the Book of Kells, Vikings began to appear on
the coasts of the British Isles, lured by the wealth of church treasuries and fertile
land. They were a terrifying presence for nearly 300 years intermittently looting
and destroying communities.
The Franks had settled in northern Gaul (modern France) by the end
of the 5th century. In 732, the Franks turned back the Muslim
invasion of Gaul and established a dynasty of rulers called the
Carolingians…the greatest being Charles the Great (Charlemagne).
imposed Christianity,
sometimes brutally,
throughout his
territory. In 800, Pope
Leo III granted
Charlemagne the title
of emperor
authority and
strengthening the
bonds between the
papacy and secular
government in the
Charlemagne turned
to the Church to
help stabilize his
empire through
religion and
education. He
looked to the
Benedictine monks
as his “cultural
Although their
principal duties were
prayer and liturgical
services, monks and
nuns spent hours
producing books.
The monasteries of
northeastern France became
the centers of book production
during the reign of
Charlemagne’s son, Louis the
In the book of gospels made
for Archbishop Ebbo we see
the unique style that emerged
Everything in this painting
seems to be charged with
spiritual excitement, even the
top of the writing table seems
about to fly off its pedestal.
Only a wealthy monastery
could afford a book.
Hundreds of sheep had to
be slaughtered to provide
the pages, and hundreds of
hours were needed to write
each page. When the books
were created, they were
protected with heavy
leather covered wooden
and sometimes jeweled
Figures in low relief gold
are hovering above the
arms of the cross, and are
in agony below the arms of
the cross.
The heirs of Louis the Pious divided
the Carolingian into three parts.
-The western portion eventually
became France
-The eastern part of the empire,
roughly modern Germany,
Switzerland and Austria, passed to a
dynasty of rulers known as the
Ottonians after three principal rulers
named Otto.
Otto I gained control of Italy in 951
and the pope crowned him emperor
in 962. Thereafter, Otto and his
successors dominated the Papacy and
appointments to other high offices.
In the 10th and 11th centuries,
artists in northern Europe began a
tradition of large sculpture in
wood and bronze that would
significantly influence later
medieval art.
Bishop Bernward was an
important patron of the arts, and
was also a skillful goldsmith. A
pair of bronze doors, made under
his direction, was the most
ambitious bronze project
undertaken since antiquity. The
Bishop installed these bronze
doors in 1015.
Page 253
Standing over 16 feet tall, the
doors are decorated with Old
testament scenes on the left, and
New Testament scenes on the
Like their predecessors, monks
and nuns of the Ottonian
Period created richly
illuminated manuscripts.
Styles varied from place to place
depending on the local traditions of
the scriptorium and the models
available in each library.
This is an unusual
presentation page from the
Hitda Gospels of the early
11th century.
Abbess Hitda presents her
book to Saint Walpurga, the
patron saint of her abby.
The large architecture is
arranged to draw attention
to the figures and show the
importance of the position
of the Abbess. The simple
contours of the figures,
combined with the halo
device framing them, recalls
Byzantine art.
Otto I began to incorporate parts of Italy into his empire,
and by the 12th century, the Ottonian empire had become
known as the Holy Roman Empire. The Ottonian court in
Rome gave artists access to the artistic heritage of Italy.
From this groundwork during the early medieval period
emerged the arts of European Romanesque culture.
At the end of the first
millennium, the “feudal system”
of landowners and landless but
free peasants working for them
started to change.
Life changed from a largely
agricultural economy to one
where craft and trade allowed
greater personal freedom and
As inventions made farming
easier and the population grew,
people began to move into the
growing towns and cities.
The nations we know
today did not exist in
Medieval Europe. The
pope in Rome, and the
patriarch of
Constantinople continued
to be important players in
European politics.
French nobles were
powerful and controlled
the richest lands. But,
French kings were
consolidating personal
territory around Paris and
laying the groundwork for
a powerful national
Southern France kept their own language and cultural traditions,
while across the Pyrenees mountains, the Iberian peninsula was a
battleground of Christians and Muslims during this period of
Normandy became a
powerful feudal duchy. In
1066, William, the Duke
of Normandy, invaded
England, and, as William
the Conqueror, became
their king.
William replaced the
Anglo-Saxon nobility
with Norman nobles, and
England began to emerge
as the nation it is today.
William’s victory is recorded in the Bayeux Tapestry with scenes of
war and celebration.
By the 12th century,
popular mass
movements such as
pilgrimages and the
Crusades began to end
European isolation. In
1095, Pope Urban II
called for the first of
several Crusades
supposedly to “free”
Jerusalem and the
Holy Land from
Islamic rule.
For the most part, the Crusades were
military failures. But, the contact of the
Europeans with the sophisticated Byzantine
and Islamic cultures introduced new ideas
into Europe and created a demand for new
products and luxury goods.
Despite encountering dire
physical and material
handicaps on their journeys,
people of all levels of society
traveled to the holy places of
Christendom. The three
major shrines were the tomb
of Christ (The Holy
Sepulchre) in Jerusalem and
the tombs of Saint Peter in
Rome and Saint James in
Santiago de Compostela.
But, there were many local
shrines as well.
See page 257-CLOSER LOOK
Pilgrims who went to holy sites or shrines went to venerate
(show respect for) relics. Relics are the bodies of saints, parts
of the bodies of saints or even something that had belonged to
a saint. Relics are kept in richly decorated boxes or display
cases called reliquaries.
To accommodate the faithful and instruct them in church
doctrine, many new large churches were built on the major
pilgrimage routes. These churches were filled with sumptuous
altars, crosses and reliquaries.
Romanesque Architecture
1. Solid masonry walls
2. Rounded arches
3. Vaults characteristic of
Roman buildings.
cruciform Basilica
Nave with rounded Romanesque
arches- Barrel Vaults
In the 12th century, Dover
castle, safeguarding the
coast of England from
invasion, illustrates the way
in which a key defensive
position developed over the
The Romans had built a
lighthouse on the point, to
which the Anglo Saxons had
built a church. Earthworks
protected to some degree,
but the building of fireresistant walls was obvious.
The Great Tower, as
it was called in the
Middle Ages, (but
later known as a
keep or a donjon),
had a courtyard
(bailey) surrounded
by additional walls.
Ditches added to
the height of the
walls,; in some
castles, ditches
were filled with
water to make
The castle yard was filled with buildings. A hall for
feasts and ceremonial occasions, timber buildings to
house troops, servants and animals…barns and
workshops…ovens and wells because the castle had to
be self sufficient. Often a gatehouse and drawbridge
controlled the entrance.
If the castle of the secular lord was to be an
imposing masonry structure, the house of
God was equally powerful and impressive.
Romanesque churches are often basilicas
modified in significant aesthetic and
structural ways. Designs varied from place
to place, so there is no such thing as a
“typical” Romanesque church.
Romanesque builders used masonry as often as possible for its
strength, resistance to fire and the acoustic properties for the
Gregorian chants sung by the monks.
In 1066, William the Conqueror, a Norman, conquered England.
Later, Norman builders working in the north of England in
Durham, made some significant structural innovations. Their
system of vaulting was carried to the Norman homeland in France.
Masons perfected this new vaulting system and it became the
foundation of Gothic architecture.
The most precious and admired
arts of the Middle Ages are
those that later critics called
the “decorative arts.”
Artists in the 11th and 12th
centuries were often
monks and nuns.
1. Worked in the scriptorium as
calligraphers and painters to
produce books.
2. Created the metal, enamel
and jewel work used in
church services.
3. Embroidered the vestments,
altar cloths, and wall
The Bayeux Tapestry is an excellent 11th century historical document
documenting the victory of the Norman Duke, William, over the
British King Harold. The tapestry was probably a gift to the Bayeux
Cathedral by Williams brother, Bishop Odo.
The earliest known illustrated history
book was written in the 12th century by
a monk named John of Worchester.
The pages here concern Henry I,
second son of William to sit on the
English throne.
The text relates to dreams the king had
in which his subjects demand tax
In the first night, angry farmers
confront the sleeping king.
On the second night armed knights
surround the bed
On the third night, monks, abbots and
bishops present their case.
John of Worchester, Page with Dream of Henry I, Worchester
Chronicle, Worchester England. C. 1140, Ink and tempera on
vellum, each page 12 ¾”X9 3/8”. Corpus Christi College, Oxford.
Historians look at these illustrations for
information about life in 12th century
England, just as they look at the Bayeux
Tapestry to learn about life in the 11th
Here, the three classes of society are
depicted in characteristic dress and
carrying their equipment.
The angry farmers, knights and clergy
have come to the king in his dreams to
demand tax relief.
In the king’s fourth dream, he
promised to rescind the tax for 7
years if God would save him
from the storm at sea.
This story came from a reliable source, the kings doctor, who is
shown in the margins of the pages by three of the scenes.
Although we most often study the
most spectacular manuscripts, the
majority of books were functional
items with few or no illustrations.
In the Romanesque period, as
earlier in the Middle Ages, women
were involved in the production of
books as authors, scribes,
painters and patrons.
The nun, Guda, was both a
scribe and a painter.
In a book of homilies (sermons)
she inserted her self portrait into
the letter D and signed the
image “Guda, a sinful woman,
wrote and illuminated this
The importance of this selfportrait lies in its demonstration
that women were far from
anonymous workers.
This image is the earliest signed
self-portrait of a woman in
Western Europe.
Among the richest of the cloister crafts was
metal working. The work of the metal
smith might become a special kind of
treasure when jewels donated by pilgrims
were attached to a piece.
One such piece is the reliquary statue of
Saint Faith in Conques, France. It is a
repository of gems from many periods.
(See “Closer Look,” page 257.
Not every church could afford
works in precious metals and
jewels. Wooden sculptures also
satisfied the need for devotional
Here, Mary is seated on a bench
symbolizing the throne of Solomon
who was known as a wise King.
She then represents a throne for the
Christ Child, and becomes the
Throne of Wisdom.
They are presented frontally and
erect, as rigid as they are regal.
Originally, Jesus held a book in his
left hand and gave a blessing with
his right hand.