The art of the Carolingian period (later 8th and early 9th centuries) has a particular importance in that it reflects, for the first time, the Germanic North's critical interest in Latin culture and emotional concern over the interpretation of Scripture. The achievement of this era is known mostly through the illuminated book and the crafts of ivory carving and metal work. Much building, however, was done—especially of monasteries—under royal patronage. Carolingian art was an aristocratic expression, but it laid the foundation for the great popular expression of the later Middle Ages.
The impetus of the whole movement was charlemagne, who was impressed by the sumptuousness of Byzantium
and even had diplomatic relations with the Muslims. He allied himself, however, to the papal throne at the accession of Adrian I in 772. As a result of the iconoclastic struggle in the East (see iconoclasm), Charlemagne became concerned for the use of images in religious art and wrote to Adrian recommending pictures for their commemorative and decorative value. Aware of the mistakes that were being made in copying Scripture, he admonished the clergy to establish schools.
He himself founded the palace school at Aachen, with alcuin of York as its head. To this beginning must be attributed the later development of such scholars as rabanus maurus, abbot of Fulda; Hincmar, archbishop of Reims; and john scotus erigena of Saint-Denis. Thus the influence of the schools was widely scattered, and distinctive styles developed in different localities.
Sculpture. The revival of the antique style is attested to by the casting of the great bronze doors at Aachen. Also of great interest is the bronze equestrian statuette, formerly in the Musée Carnavalet in Paris but now in the Louvre. While this object has no documentation prior to the 16th century, it is known that Charlemagne caused a mounted statue of Theodoric to be removed from Ravenna and set up in front of his palace at Aachen. The style of this small statue is certainly in keeping with work that Einhard, the director of the imperial workshops, might have accomplished.
Manuscript Illumination. The first book known to have been executed at the palace in Aachen is the Gospels of Godescalc (781–783). It is on purple vellum, and though somewhat crude, it originated an aristocratic style that was later developed under the Abbess Ada at Trèves and of which the Gospels of Saint-Médard-de-Soissons is the finest example. Both books are now in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris. Several works of this general type reveal a strong Syrian influence, whether in the Hellenistic treatment of landscape, the theatrical backgrounds, or the portrait effigies recalling the consular diptychs.
The school of Tours is best exemplified by the Vivian Bible, or the First Bible of Charles the Bald (Bibliothèque Nationale). This is an extraordinary work of the middle of the 9th century; like other books from Tours, it uses subjects from the Old Testament that were popular in early Christian art. The dedication page is highly original, as is a page showing the dance of David, a Biblical figure to whom Charlemagne was likened. But the MSS done at Tours, where Alcuin had worked on the Vulgate, are most distinctive for their narrative scenes and the beauty of their script. It was this clear, minuscule lettering that inspired the Roman type of the 15th century.
Perhaps the most creative manuscript of the 9th century is the Utrecht psalter, which was written at Hautvillers, near Reims (c. 832). The text is in rustic capitals that derive from Western books of c. a.d. 400. The lively pen drawings were much admired; their influence can be detected not only in manuscript illumination, but in ivory book covers and silver work—done probably at Saint-Denis—and in the exquisite narrative scenes on the crystal of Lothair, which is now preserved in the British Museum.
Another work of great originality is the Sacramentary, now in Paris, executed before 855 for drogo, bishop of Metz. In it, scenes taken mostly from the life of Christ are combined with richly foliated initial letters. In this work the beauty of the silhouette was fully achieved while maintaining a certain subservience to the classical tradition. Its ivory covers are in the same spirit and serve as important documents in the development of the liturgy. The taste for the silhouette, combined with the flowing line, undoubtedly derives from the linear animal style of the period of the racial migrations. Several examples exist that show creative adaptations of this style to the art of the Latinized West. Especially fine are the Gospels of Francis II and the Second Bible of Charles the Bald, both in the Bibliothèque Nationale. They come probably from the monastery of saint-vaast at Arras.
Much uncertainty exists as to work that may have been executed either at corbie near Amiens or at Saint-Denis. The fact that Charles the Bald assumed the abbacy of Saint-Denis in 867 is not without significance, and much work is attributed to the monk Liuthard on stylistic grounds. At that time scenes of the Crucifixion appeared, probably as a result of the poem by Rabanus Maurus, De laudibus Sanctae Crucis. (see crucifixion [in art].) The Codex Aureus from St. Emmeram of Regensburg, now at Munich, is dated 870 and belongs to this northern school. Less original than some, it sums up the Carolingian tradition in magnificent fashion.
There can be no doubt but that France in the 9th century became the radiating center for the arts. Whether the golden altar of S. Ambrogio in Milan, which must date before 835, was executed in France or in Italy is uncertain, but in any case it reflects the spirit of Carolingian art, as does the Bible of St. Paul-outside-the-Walls, Rome, which was executed in 880 for Charles III, the Frankish king and German emperor, and the latter may be said to mark the termination of the tradition.
Architecture. In Carolingian architecture there are echoes of the two traditional styles, Roman and Byzantine, but fused as conditions dictated to form the basis of the great medieval development.
The Palatine chapel at Aachen was begun in 792 and dedicated in 805. The plan is that of S. Vitale at Ravenna, from which monument Charlemagne plundered columns, but the construction was heavy Roman vaulting. (see ravenna.)
The church of Germigny des Prés near Saint-Benoîtsur-Loire was consecrated in 816 by Theodulf, a Goth from Spain. The quatrefoil plan with a center tower has many prototypes in the East, but the direct influences must have come from the Visigothic tradition. The apsidal mosaic is crude but reveals a desire to emulate the Byzantine style.
Of the Abbeys of S. Riquier near Abbeville and sankt gallen in Switzerland there are no remains. The former, dedicated in 799, was basilican in plan with two great round towers reaching a height of almost 180 feet, one over the crossing, the other above an imposing façade. Other towers were composed with these, establishing a relationship that became traditional. The upper sections and spires were of wood. The entire length of the church (with atrium) measured some 340 feet. Something is known of Sankt Gallen from the famous plan of c. 820, preserved in the monastic library. Its most distinctive characteristic was an apse at either end, a feature that was used in an early Christian church in North Africa and was greatly developed in later German churches. Sankt Gallen, which had been founded in the 7th century by Irish monks, later came under Benedictine rule. There the stimulus from the great Western monastic centers of Carolingian culture had a final flowering.
See Also: church architecture; manuscript illumination.
Bibliography: General. c. r. morey, Medieval Art (New York 1942). r. p. hinks, Carolingian Art (London 1935; repr. pa. Ann Arbor 1962). m. l. w. laistner, Thought and Letters in Western Europe, A.D. 500 to 900 (2nd ed. New York 1957). p. leprieur et al., "L'Art de l'époque mérovingienne et carolingienne en occident," in a. michel, Histoire de l'art, 8 v. in 17 (Paris 1905–29) 1.1:303–427. e. kitzinger, Early Medieval Art in the British Museum (2nd ed. London 1955). a. m. friend, "Carolingian Art in the Abbey of Saint Denis," Art Studies, 8 v. in 9 (Princeton 1923–31) 1:67–75. j. m. k. clark, The Abbey of Saint Gall as a Centre of Literature and Art (Cambridge, Eng. 1926). m. buchner, Einhard als Künstler (Strasbourg 1919). j. von schlosser, Schriftquellen zur Geschichte der Karolingischen Kunst (Vienna 1896). Architecture. a. k. porter, Medieval Architecture: Its Origins and Development, 2 v. (New York 1909) v. 1. k. j. conant, Carolingian and Roman-esque Architecture, 800 to 1200 (Pelican History of Art, ed. n. pevsner [Baltimore 1953–] Z13; 1959). Decorative Arts. a. maskell, Ivories (London 1905). a. goldschmidt, Die Elfenbeinskulpturen, 4 v. (Berlin 1914–26) v. 1. g. h. lehnert et al., Illustrierte Geschichte des Kunstgewerbes, 2 v. (Berlin 1907–09) v. 1. É. molinier, "L'Évolution des arts mineurs du VIIIe au XIIe siècle," in a. michel, op. cit. 1.2:815–881. o. k. werckmeister, Der Deckel des Codex Aureus von St. Emmeram (Strasbourg 1963). Manuscripts. j. a. herbert, Illuminated Manuscripts (London 1911). a.c. l. boinet, La Miniature carolingienne (Paris 1913). Plates only. a. goldschmidt, The Carolingian Period, v. 1 of his German Illumination (New York 1928). w. r. w. kÖhler, Die Karolingischen Miniaturen, 3 v. in 4 (Berlin 1930–60). e. k. rand, A Survey of the Manuscripts of Tours, 2 v. (Cambridge, Mass. 1929). f. f. leitschuh, Geschichte der Karolingischen Malerei (Berlin 1894). j. ebersolt, La Miniature byzantine (Paris 1926); Orient et occident, 2 v. (2nd ed. Paris 1954). e. t. dewald, The Illustrations of the Utrecht Psalter (Princeton 1932). e. h. zimmermann, Die Fuldaer Buchmalerei in Karolingischer und Ottonischer Zeit (Halle 1910). j. o. westwood, The Bible of the Monastery of St. Paul near Rome (Oxford, Eng. 1876). k. menzel et al., Die Trierer Ada-Handschrift (Leipzig 1889).
[w. r. hovey]