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Anglo-Saxon Art

ANGLO-SAXON ART

Anglo-Saxon art embraces both the pre-Christian idiom of Scandinavian and Germanic provenance, and, following the conversion of the British Isles, its Christian transformation. The Christian Anglo-Saxon style in turn pervaded Continental Europe by way of Irish and Anglo-Saxon missionary foundations, to enrich Carolingian art and constitute an essential element in the development of Romanesque and subsequent medieval art.

Pagan Period. Pagan Anglo-Saxon art (fifth-seventh centuries) is seen in the decoration of arms, jewelry, pottery, and other small personal belongings or home decorations. There is nothing monumental, no large sculpture or painting. The metalwork, however, is often of great splendor, fashioned in gold, silver, or gilt, and boldly jeweled with garnets, colored glass, and shell. Where the cloisonné technique was used, Anglo-Saxon jewelers attained a skill unsurpassed in the pagan Germanic world and made dexterous use of filigree and niello. Metalworkers of the pagan period produced accurate enameling in the Celtic style deriving from Celtic influences that preceded or existed along with Saxon conquests.

The first Germanic invasions brought "chipcarving" metalwork preserving vestiges of foliate scrolls and animals that are Roman and naturalistic in origin, but the favorite Anglo-Saxon animal styles reject naturalism and adopt instead a tightly jumbled pattern of separate heads, limbs, and bodies, covering the surface without background space (Style I), or a sinuous openwork treatment of an entire animal twisting itself into S's and loose knots (Ribbon Style). Occasionally the two styles are found in a single object, such as the rim of a seventh-century drinking horn from Taplow, Buckinghamshire (British Museum), but in general Style I, the earlier of the two, is characteristic of the fifth and sixth centuries. The fine polychrome jewelry with Ribbon Style animals dates from the seventh century, and the most spectacular examples are to be seen among the treasure of an East Anglian king, found in a ship burial in 1939 at Sutton Hoo, near Woodbridge, Suffolk (British Museum).

Christian Period. The Anglo-Saxon conversion began with the arrival of St. Augustine at Kent (597), survived difficulties with the Irish at the Synod of Whitby (664), and after 669 found reorganization through a number of remarkable men, such as Theodore of Tarsus and benedict biscop. The period yields illuminated manuscripts and sculpture in stone, besides fine metalwork, such as the golden "Alfred Jewel," that displays an enameled portrait under crystal (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford). The earliest manuscript painting, from late seventh-century Northumbria, decorates the Book of durrow (Trinity College, Dublin); its style is hard and metallic, and embodies millefiori panels, Ribbon Style animals, and Celtic spiral scrolls. On the other hand, the Codex Amiatinus (Laurentian Library, Florence), a Northumbrian work of c. 700, includes paintings of the Evangelists done in a naturalistic Italian manner. The Lindisfarne Gospels (British Museum), also c. 700, is illustrated with Evangelist portraits of Italian origin (changed in a hard, insular way) and magnificent full pages of minutely intricate, carpetlike abstract ornament of Celtic and Saxon origin. The eighth-and ninth-century manuscripts of the Canterbury School, though under Carolingian influence, are also of insular design imitating enameled or engraved metalwork.

In the early tenth century, Carolingian art of Byzantine origin is reflected in figures of Prophets and saints on the embroidered stole and maniple given to the shrine of St. Cuthbert by King Athelstan (Durham Cathedral Library). Under the Benedictines brought to Winchester by Bishop Aethelwold (963984), a new style of illumination evolved with the introduction of the Carolingian minuscule. The Winchester school made figure drawings in Continental classical form, sometimes in the light, impressionistic style of the School of Rheims, but sometimes in more substantial form. They appeared on daringly colored decorative pages with lavish scrollwork frames, figure and frame composing a single openwork design.

Anglo-Saxon sculpture has few works of merit, and the appeal of the stone crosses in churchyards and carvings in early churches lies chiefly in their settings. The Ruthwell cross in Dumfrieshire of c. 700 is heavily carved with figures and displays a pretty, inhabited scroll; the Bewcastle cross in Cumberland has these same features, treated in a harder, insular manner and combined with a checker pattern and interlacings. There are many crosses in Northumbria, some later ones showing Viking influence, although the best known cross with Scandinavian elements is the round shaft at Gosforth, Cumberland, on which both Christian and pagan figure subjects appear. In the south there are some 20 carvings of the late Saxon period, with figure sculpture in the Winchester style. The "Harrowing of Hell" panel in Bristol Cathedral and the angels at Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, are the best known of these.

See Also: carolingian art; manuscript illumination.

Bibliography: g. b. brown, The Arts in Early England, 6 v. in 7 (London 190337). t. kendrick, Anglo-Saxon Art to A. D. 900 (London 1938); Late Saxon and Viking Art (London 1949). d. t. rice, English Art, 8711100 (Oxford 1952). f. wormald, English Drawings of the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries (New York 1953). d. m. wilson, The Anglo-Saxons (New York 1960). t. kendrick et al., eds., Codex Lindisfarnensis, 2 v. (Lausanne 195660). r. l. s. bruce-mitford, Encyclopedia of World Art (New York 1959) 1:446463.

[t. kendrick]

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