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3 Tutorials that teach Early Medieval and Romanesque Art
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Early Medieval and Romanesque Art

Early Medieval and Romanesque Art

Author: Ian McConnell
Description:

This lesson will introduce the art and architecture of the early medieval period in Europe.

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Tutorial

An overview of Medieval and Romanesque art.

Video Transcription

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Hello. I'd like to welcome you to this episode of Exploring Art History with Ian. My name is Ian McConnell. And today's lesson is about early Medieval and Romanesque art. As you're watching the video, feel free to pause, move forward, or rewind as many times as you feel is necessary. And as soon as you're ready, we can begin.

Today's objectives are listed below. By the end of the lesson today, you will be able to identify and define today's key terms, explain the characterization of this period as the Dark Ages or Middle Ages, and describe examples of Medieval metalwork and examples of illuminated manuscripts.

Key terms, as always, are listed in yellow throughout the lesson. First key term is fibula, a pin used to hold together a cloak in ancient Greece and Rome. Cloisonne, a type of decoration consisting of colored enamel separated by bands of metal. Animal style, characterized by animals and bird designs in themes. Scriptorium, a room in a monastery where monks would copy manuscripts.

Key terms continued. Vellum is calf skin or lamb skin used as a writing surface. Parchment, paper-like writing material made from the skin of a sheep or a goat. And colophon, an emblem or trademark in a book or manuscript.

And the big idea for today, the Dark Ages and/or Middle Ages are misleading terms about this period of time. For example, the artistic metalwork and manuscript production from this time period are considered some of the greatest examples of Western artwork. So what time period are we looking at today? The artwork that we're looking at today originates during the fifth to ninth centuries AD.

So we'll be looking at three places today, Ireland, the British Isles, and Norway, which is part Scandinavia. Here's Ireland; the British Isle, which is where England's located; and Norway.

So the Dark Ages and/or Middle Ages were pejorative terms used during the Renaissance to refer to this time period, as if nothing was going on. And it's the time period between the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the rebirth of Classicism during the Renaissance beginning in the late 13th century in Italy.

There was in fact a lot going on, in particular, the proliferation of manuscripts and the recording of information. Before the invention of the printing press around 1440, books were copied by hand predominately in scriptoriums in monasteries throughout Europe. And it was because of the Christian monasteries, for example, and the proliferation of manuscripts that a lot of the classical knowledge that was fundamental to the emergence of the Renaissance was passed on.

It was also during this time that the doctrine of Christianity became more formalized and the establishment of the kingdoms of Europe that we're more familiar with today. The Vikings, or Norsemen, were a large collection of independent groups of Scandinavian traders, as well as pirates that terrorized Christian Europe along the North Sea and in England for many hundreds of years, mostly the 8th to 11th centuries. It was in fact Norsemen, or Northmen, later Normans, under the command of William the Conqueror that established Normandy in France and took control of the kingdom of England, as depicted in the famous Bayeux Tapestry.

So the ship burials of ancient kings from this area, such as the burial mound of Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, England, give us some of the best examples of artwork from this time period. This burial mound may have been a pagan king or recently-converted Christian king, given that a few Christian artifacts were found. This example of a purse cover from Sutton Hoo is a beautiful example of the type of metalware called cloisonne, in which little compartments are created with metal wire in which colored enamel, glass, or stone is then inlaid within it. It's an incredibly meticulous and detailed process. And it's truly amazing how well this example is preserved. It really looks almost brand new.

Here's another example of an elaborate gold, silver, glass, and enamel fibula from the early fifth century. Now fibulae, which is the plural for fibula, were a type of brooch used as decoration or to hold a garment like a cape and keep it closed.

Now the setting to sea of a ship loaded with treasure and the body of a dead king is a tradition that is associated with the Scandinavian and northern Germanic tribes. The burial or the burying of a ship loaded with treasure and the body of a dead king is symbolic of that tradition. And the burial ship at Oseberg, Norway, is a wonderful example of this, the exception being that the bodies inside were not kings.

It was actually two women, obviously of some important stature. And all the treasure had been stolen a long time ago. Regardless, the 70-foot Viking long ship is incredibly well preserved, as you can see here. In addition, the carved animal head that adorned the ship is also very well preserved. In this image, you can see the detailed woodwork, as well as the intricate curvilinear carvings that surround the head and neck.

Now, Christianity eventually spread throughout Europe, even to the Vikings, through the influence of Rome, Christian missionaries, and the Christian monasteries that were established throughout Europe. Now, the Celts were a pagan group that had settled in England, Scotland, and Ireland. And their conversion to Christianity began in the fifth century in Ireland.

The illuminated manuscripts produced in the monasteries of this time and place were in many cases beautiful synergies of Christian text and imagery with the intertwining vegetal, animal-shaped, and geometric patterns that were native to this area. Now, you can see evidence of this in the cross on this example of the cross and carpet page from the Lindisfarne Gospel.

You can also see it in this example of enlarged letters from the Cairo Iota page. It's a page in the Book of Kells, which is perhaps the most famous illuminated manuscript in history, definitely from this time. Now, the letters are clearly defined. Yet at the same time, they blend in to this intricate, detailed pattern of geometric and abstract patterns.

Now, this style is commonly referred to as Hiberno-Saxon style. Hibernia is Latin for Ireland. And Saxon refers to the culture of the people who lived here and they're Anglo-Saxons. So again, it's called Hiberno-Saxon style. And this one dates from the late eighth, early ninth centuries.

The manuscripts of Carolingian France and Ottonian Germany were created in scriptoriums by monks, on either vellum or parchment, and sometimes included colophons. Now, this first example is an image of the evangelist Saint Matthew from a book of gospels called the Coronation Gospels. Now, the artist is capable or capably I should say using light and shadow to suggest depth and give the figure a very realistic three-dimensional form.

Now compare this more calm and subdued style that we just saw to that of the Ebbo Gospels. The Ebbo Gospels date from about 816 to 835 AD from France. Now here, the frantic writing is depicted in the energetic lines that form his robe, hair, and the space behind him. You can see how clearly they contrast compared to the again calm, subdued image of Saint Matthew on the left, compared to the frantic, hurried image of Saint Matthew on the right.

All right. So that brings us to the end of this lesson. Let's take a look at our objectives to say how we did. Now that you've seen the lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms?

Can you explain the characterization of this period as the Dark Ages or Middle Ages? Those are knotty terms. And describe examples of Medieval metalwork and examples of illuminated manuscripts. And once again, the big idea for today is that the Dark Ages and/or Middle Ages are misleading terms about this period of time. For example, the artistic metalwork and manuscript production from this time period are considered some of the greatest examples of Western artwork.

And there you go. Thank you very much for joining me today. I'll see you next time.

Citations


Image of England Map Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:England_in_the_UK_and_Europe.svg; Image of Ireland Map Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ireland_(island)_in_Europe.png; Image of Norway Map Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Europe-Norway.svg; Image of Viking Helmet Creative Commons via John Erling Blad http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Vikinghjelm,_Gjermundbu.jpg; Image of Bayeux Tapestry Public Domain http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Bayeux_hawking.jpg; Image of Sutton Hoo Purse Lid, Creative Commons, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sutton.Hoo.PurseLid.RobRoy.jpg; Image of Germanic Fibulae, Creative Commons, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:KHM_Wien_U1,_U2_-_East_Germanic_gold_fibulae.jpg; Image of Ship from Osberg Burial, Public Domain, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Oseberg_ship_-_IMG_9129.jpg; Image of Carved Animal Head from Osberg Burial, Public Domain, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kulturhistorisk_museum,_Oslo_-_IMG_9159.jpg; Image of Carpet Page from Lindisfarne Gospels, Public Domain, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Meister_des_Book_of_Lindisfarne_002.jpg; Image of Chi-Rho Page from Book of Kells, PD-old-auto-1923, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:KellsFol034rChiRhoMonogram.jpg; Image of St Matthew from Coronation Gospels, PD-1923, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Evangeli_dell%27incoronazione_(evangelista_Matteo),_Vienna,_Kunsthistorisches_Museum,_25,10x32,30_cm,_inizio_IX_secolo.jpg; Image of St Matthew from Ebbo Gospels, PD-1923, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Saint_Matthew2.jpg

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Fibula

    A pin used to hold together a cloak in ancient Greece and Rome.

  • Cloisonne

    A type of decoration consisting of colored enamel separated by bands of metal.

  • Animal Style

    Characterized by animals and bird designs and themes.

  • Scriptorium

    A room in a monastery where monks would copy manuscripts.

  • Vellum

    Calfskin, or lambskin, used as a writing surface.

  • Parchment

    A paper-like writing material made from the skin of a sheep or goat.

  • Colophon

    An emblem or trademark in a book or manuscript.