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Medieval Art

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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Reed Enger, "Medieval Art, Religion, feudalism and lots of gold leaf.," in Obelisk Art History, Published January 26, 2016; last modified July 20, 2019, http://arthistoryproject.com/timeline/middle-ages/medieval/.

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Pisa Cathedral, Medieval Art

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Mont-Saint-Michel, Medieval Art

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Scivias 2.1: The Redeemer, Hildegard von Bingen

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Scivias I.6: Humanity and Life, Hildegard von Bingen

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Hildegard von Bingen, 1150
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Hildegard von Bingen, 1150
Pisa Baptistry, Medieval Art

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Diotisalvi, 1152-1153
Scivias I.3: God, Cosmos, and Humanity, Hildegard von Bingen

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Hildegard von Bingen, 1165
Hortus Deliciarum — Philosophy and the Seven Liberal Arts, Herrad of Landsberg

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Herrad of Landsberg, 1180
Hortus Deliciarum — The Holy Spirit descends on the Apostles, Herrad of Landsberg

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Herrad of Landsberg, 1180
Book of Divine Works, Part 1, Vision 1: Theophany of Divine Love, Hildegard von Bingen

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

Hildegard von Bingen, 1230
Book of Divine Works, Part 1, Vision 2: The Cosmic Spheres and Human Being, Hildegard von Bingen

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

Hildegard von Bingen, 1230
Book of Divine Works, Part 1, Vision 3: Macrocosm of Winds, Microcosm of Humors, Hildegard von Bingen

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

Hildegard von Bingen, 1230
Book of Divine Works, Part 1, Vision 4: Cosmos, Body, and Soul, Hildegard von Bingen

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

Hildegard von Bingen, 1230
Book of Divine Works, Part 2, Vision 1: The Parts of the Earth: Living, Dying, and Purgatory, Hildegard von Bingen

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

Hildegard von Bingen, 1230
Book of Divine Works, Part 3, Vision 1: The City of God and the Mirror of the Angels, Hildegard von Bingen

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

Hildegard von Bingen, 1230
Book of Divine Works, Part 3, Vision 2: The City of God in Salvation History, Hildegard von Bingen

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

Hildegard von Bingen, 1230
The Fountain of God’s Work, Hildegard von Bingen

The Fountain of God’s Work

Hildegard von Bingen, 1230
Book of Divine Works, Part 3, Vision 4: Wisdom and the Ancient Counsel before the City of God, Hildegard von Bingen

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

Hildegard von Bingen, 1230
Book of Divine Works, Part 3, Vision 5: Divine Love upon the Wheel, Hildegard von Bingen

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

Hildegard von Bingen, 1230
Sainte-Chapelle, Medieval Art

Sainte-Chapelle

1238-1248
Malbork Castle, Medieval Art

Malbork Castle

1274
Maesta of Santa Trinita, Cimabue

Maesta of Santa Trinita

Cimabue, 1280-1290
Church of St. George, Middle Ages

Church of St. George

1200-1300
Portable Icon with the Virgin Eleousa, Medieval Art

Portable Icon with the Virgin Eleousa

1300
The Divine Comedy, Gothic Art

The Divine Comedy

Dante Alighieri, 1320
Tantallon Castle, Medieval Art

Tantallon Castle

1350
Leaning Tower of Pisa, Medieval Art

Leaning Tower of Pisa

Bonanno Pisano, 1173-1372
Bodiam Castle, Medieval Art

Bodiam Castle

Sir Edward Dalyngrigge, 1385
Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, Medieval Art

Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

Limbourg Brothers, 1412-1416
Procession of the Magi, Bernardo Parentino

Procession of the Magi

Bernardo Parentino, c. 1450
The Black Hours, Medieval Art

The Black Hours

1460-1470
Triumph of Jupiter, Bernardo Parentino

Triumph of Jupiter

Bernardo Parentino, c. 1490
Triumphal Procession with Elephant, Bernardo Parentino

Triumphal Procession with Elephant

Bernardo Parentino, c. 1490
Temptations of St Anthony, Bernardo Parentino

Temptations of St Anthony

Bernardo Parentino, 1494
Hours of Henry VIII, Medieval Art

Hours of Henry VIII

Jean Poyer, 1500
Christ carrying the cross between Saints Augustine and Jerome, Bernardo Parentino

Christ carrying the cross between Saints Augustine and Jerome

Bernardo Parentino, 1502
Tintern Abbey, Medieval Art

Tintern Abbey

1131-1536
Byland Abbey, Medieval Art

Byland Abbey

Abbot Roger, Roger de Mowbray, 1155-1538
Next Movement
Tang Dynasty, Middle Ages

Tang Dynasty

The greatest cosmopolitan empire of the middle ages

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