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Medieval Art

Religion, feudalism and lots of gold leaf.

476 CE1492

Religion, feudalism and lots of gold leaf.

In 476 CE a soldier named Flavius Odoacer deposed the Roman emperor Romulus and was crowned 'King of Italy' under the authority of the Emperor of Constantinople. Italy’s first king marked the end of the Roman Empire, now subservient to the new global superpower, the Byzantine Empire. But Constantinople was a long way from Italy, and Rome’s vast holdings fractured into a myriad of warring ‘barbarian’ tribes. Rome, for all its violence, had held the Western world together, and in their absence, everything went to shit. The chaos and evolution that followed spawned Early Medieval Art.

Early Medieval art is a weird and fragmented concept. As Constantinople developed its formal Byzantine styles, something wilder was happening in Europe. Spanning 700 years and encompassing the dark ages, the rise and fall of the Frankish Empire, and the almost complete takeover of Western art by the Christian church, it’s possible to divide Early Medieval art into many regional sub-movements. Migration art describes the work of the Gauls and Visigoths who settled in the fragments of the Roman empire, Insular art grew in Britain and Ireland after the Roman occupation ended, and Carolingian art brought a revival of classical styles that evolved into the vigourous illumination and architecture of the Romanesque style.

But for our purposes we look at Early Medieval as a whole, because it traces back to a common theme. In the political upheaval after the fall of Rome, society needed an anchor, and it landed on the rapidly growing Christian church. Throughout Europe, Christianity was able to cross political boundaries and gained a massive foothold. Churches sprang up as cultural centers, and between 430 and 570 Christian clerics brought the Rule of St. Augustine to Europe, establishing a monastic class devoted to education, art, and public service.

By 1000 CE, the Christian church was a hub for science, art and culture. Monks and nuns taught lay people how to read and write and preserved ancient literature, including works by Ovid and Aristotle. 11th century abbess Hildegard of Bingen wrote medical texts and composed music, and abbess Herrad of Landsberg compiled the first female-authored encyclopedia, including Islamic writings alongside the Greek classics.

Early Medieval art doesn’t exactly end, it just evolves around 1200 CE. With political stability and the development of new technologies, the Gothic movement appeared in the ribbed vaults and flying buttresses of a new breed of cathedral.

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Pisa Cathedral

Pisa Cathedral

Buscheto and Rainaldo1063-1092
Mont-Saint-Michel

Mont-Saint-Michel

William of Volpiano1100
Florence Baptistery

Florence Baptistery

1059-1128
Scivias I.6: The Choirs of Angels

Scivias I.6: The Choirs of Angels

Hildegard von Bingen1150
Scivias I.6: Humanity and Life

Scivias I.6: Humanity and Life

Hildegard von Bingen1150
Scivias 2.1: The Redeemer

Scivias 2.1: The Redeemer

Hildegard von Bingen1150
Pisa Baptistry

Pisa Baptistry

Diotisalvi1152-1153
Scivias I.3: God, Cosmos, and Humanity

Scivias I.3: God, Cosmos, and Humanity

Hildegard von Bingen1165
Hildegard von BingenPortrait of Hildegard von Bingen

Hildegard von Bingen

Scientist, feminist, typographer, musician — saint

1098-1179
Hortus Deliciarum — Philosophy and the Seven Liberal Arts

Hortus Deliciarum — Philosophy and the Seven Liberal Arts

Herrad of Landsberg1180
Hortus Deliciarum — The Holy Spirit descends on the Apostles

Hortus Deliciarum — The Holy Spirit descends on the Apostles

Herrad of Landsberg1180
Herrad of LandsbergPortrait of Herrad of Landsberg

Herrad of Landsberg

A French abbess creates the first female-authored encyclopedia

1130-1195
Book of Divine Works, Part 3, Vision 4: Wisdom and the Ancient Counsel before the City of God

Book of Divine Works, Part 3, Vision 4: Wisdom and the Ancient Counsel before the City of God

Hildegard von Bingen1230
Book of Divine Works, Part 3, Vision 5: Divine Love upon the Wheel

Book of Divine Works, Part 3, Vision 5: Divine Love upon the Wheel

Hildegard von Bingen1230
Book of Divine Works, Part 1, Vision 1: Theophany of Divine Love

Book of Divine Works, Part 1, Vision 1: Theophany of Divine Love

Hildegard von Bingen1230
Book of Divine Works, Part 1, Vision 2: The Cosmic Spheres and Human Being

Book of Divine Works, Part 1, Vision 2: The Cosmic Spheres and Human Being

Hildegard von Bingen1230
Book of Divine Works, Part 1, Vision 3: Macrocosm of Winds, Microcosm of Humors

Book of Divine Works, Part 1, Vision 3: Macrocosm of Winds, Microcosm of Humors

Hildegard von Bingen1230
Book of Divine Works, Part 1, Vision 4: Cosmos, Body, and Soul

Book of Divine Works, Part 1, Vision 4: Cosmos, Body, and Soul

Hildegard von Bingen1230
Book of Divine Works, Part 2, Vision 1: The Parts of the Earth: Living, Dying, and Purgatory

Book of Divine Works, Part 2, Vision 1: The Parts of the Earth: Living, Dying, and Purgatory

Hildegard von Bingen1230
Book of Divine Works, Part 3, Vision 1: The City of God and the Mirror of the Angels

Book of Divine Works, Part 3, Vision 1: The City of God and the Mirror of the Angels

Hildegard von Bingen1230
Book of Divine Works, Part 3, Vision 2: The City of God in Salvation History

Book of Divine Works, Part 3, Vision 2: The City of God in Salvation History

Hildegard von Bingen1230
Book of Divine Works, Part 3, Vision 3: The Fountain of God’s Work

Book of Divine Works, Part 3, Vision 3: The Fountain of God’s Work

Hildegard von Bingen1230
Sainte-Chapelle

Sainte-Chapelle

1238-1248
Malbork Castle

Malbork Castle

1274
Maesta of Santa Trinita

Maesta of Santa Trinita

Cimabue1280-1290
Church of St. George

Church of St. George

1200-1300
Portable Icon with the Virgin Eleousa

Portable Icon with the Virgin Eleousa

1300
Cimabue

Cimabue

Master of Flat

1240-1302
The Divine Comedy

The Divine Comedy

Dante Alighieri

1320
Tantallon Castle

Tantallon Castle

1350
Leaning Tower of Pisa

Leaning Tower of Pisa

Bonanno Pisano1173-1372
Bodiam Castle

Bodiam Castle

Sir Edward Dalyngrigge1385
Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

Limbourg Brothers1412-1416
The Black Hours

The Black Hours

1460-1470
Hours of Henry VIII

Hours of Henry VIII

Jean Poyer1500
Tintern Abbey

Tintern Abbey

1131-1536
Byland Abbey

Byland Abbey

Abbot Roger, Roger de Mowbray1155-1538

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