From Carolingian to Romanesque Art






Martyrdcrr of San Lorenzo,
San Vincenzo al Volturno, Isernia, Italy,

The destruction of the fresco cycles from the monastery of Monte Cassino, Italy, (founded in 1071) in an aerial bombardment during World War II. is compensated for by the pictorial decoration that remains in Sant'Angelo in Formis, southern Italy. This monastery was established by the abbot Desiderius in about 1072 before his election to the papacy. The glorious apse, dominated by the figure of Christ and the triarchy of archangels, provides the background for the detailed narrative of the Life of Christ illustrated on the walls of the central nave. This is, in turn, linked by figures of the prophets to the Old Testament cycle in the aisles.
The cycles, which revive early Christian subjects, are completed by one of the oldest versions of the Last Judgement on the back wall. It was the Christian experience, with its capacity to communicate and its mission to understand the complete history of humankind, that produced the vitality of these works.
The same culture is to be discovered in central-southern Italv in the Exultet scrolls and the fragmentary mosaics that remain in Salerno cathedral. The most significant example is provided by the abbey of San Vincenzo al Volturno; here, its theophanic cycle from the crypt of San Lorenzo is again dominated by the angelic hosts.




Taken from the German word Westwerk, a westwork was a monumental tower or combination of towers built at the western end of a Carolingian church. Containing an entrance, vestibule, chapel, and galleries, it was distinctive for its 12 windows, or porticos, mirroring the 12 gates of the Heavenly Jerusalem. At the abbey of Corvey, and St Michael's, Hildesheim, the westworks duplicate the presbytery area at the opposite end and give the churches a bipolar aspect. The westwork was to remain an important feature of Germanic Romanesque architecture; later versions included a transept and a crossing tower.

Westwork of the abbey of Coney,

The Kiss of Judas,
Sant'Angelo, Formis, Capua, Italy,
second half of 11th century



Of the few surviving frescos from the Carolingian age, the fragments in St Germain d'Auxerre and St Maximian in Trier and the more complete examples of St John in Miistair and St Benedict in Malles Venosta (both in northern Italy) tend to be monumental compositions of great simplicity, highly figurative and deeply expressive, with a flair for bright, warm colours. The paintings in San Procolo in Naturno, though, are more closely linked to Lombard or Irish tradition and reveal the typical barbarian taste for precious materials and manual skills. These styles survive in various monuments, notably in the decorative sculpture of the ancient temple of Santa Maria in Valle in Cividale del Friuli and in San Salvatore, Brescia.

Detail of one of the frescos of San Benedetto, Malles Venosta, Italy, c. ad800



The Saviour and the Saints, Santa Cecilia, Trastevere, Rome, ad817-24

The move towards a revival of the Roman Empire held special meaning for Rome. Constantine's concept of historical renewal became evident in the revival of Palaeo-Christian art. This is attested by the presence of the model of St Peter's in the foundation of the Santa Prassede basilica, and the rebirth of the mosaic and its iconographie emphasis again in Santa Prassede, Santa Cecilia, and St Mark's, Venice. Reciprocal influences between Rome and other cities of the empire led to many important artistic achievements. The abbey of Fulda was modelled on the Vatican basilica, and Roman influence was evident in The Psalter of Charles the Bald and in St Peter's throne. The throne was decorated in an antiquarian style, which, with its symbolic ramifications, shows the earliest signs of commitment to the Pseudo-Dionysian aesthetic that was to influence the period.

Santa Prassede, Rome

Mosaic details of Saints Praxedes and Paul, Santa Prassede, Rome, AD930-40




Cover of the Codex Aureus of Echternach,
Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg



Frescos of Santa Maria Foris Portas (detail),
Castelseprio, Italy

Ottoman Art

The Norman invasions and the anarchic kingdoms that were set up after the dissolution of the Carolingian empire were to hinder advances in art for decades. However, two important historical events then signalled a new leap forward: the first was the foundation of the abbey of Cluny in Burgundy, France, in ad910, which activated a major religious revival, and the second was the ad936 coronation at Aachen of Otto I. who promised a revival of the imperial initiative that had begun so successfully under Charlemagne. The dynasty of the Saxon emperors, and the powerful bishops who supported them in their rule of the German lands during the 10th and 11th centuries, looked back to the past glories of the Carolingians and forward to renewed contact with Byzantine culture, particularly after the marriage of Otto II (ad955-83.) to the princess Theophano in ad972. Contemporary architecture and figurative art both developed from the Carolingian models, with additional emphasis on ceremonial and spiritual values. While the monumental churches, such as St Michael's, Hildesheim, Germany, were being constructed, the extraordinary skills of goldsmiths and engravers were producing masterpieces such as the Lolhair Cross (Cathedral Treasury, Aachen), the portable altar of Henry II, the cover of the Codex Aureus of Echternach (Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg), and the Trier diptych (Staatliche Museen, Berlin). Each of these works passed through workshops, schools, and masters, the most well-known of which were in Trier, Cologne, Bamberg, Ratisbon, and Reichenau. Some significant monumental sculptures have survived, such as the doors at Hildesheim and Mainz, and the ciborium reliefs of Sant'Ambrogio. Milan. These works point to a formal, strongly gestural, and deeply spiritual style of composition through the representations of the sculpted figures. The same applies to wall-paintings and miniature works, which were predominantly made by the schools of Reichenau ( Gospel Book of Henry II), Echternach (CodexAureus), Trier (Lorsch Sacramentary), and Cologne (Gospel Book of the Abbess Hilda). The style of drawing in these works is powerfully graphic, and the colour is full of tonal variety. Also evident are associations with Byzantine culture and the aesthetic symbolism derived from the works of Dionysius. the Areopagite. The influence of the Levant is also obvious in the most important cycle of frescos in northern Italy during that time, namely the frescos in Santa Maria Foris Portas, Castelseprio, which were possibly executed by an artist from Greece.

Miniature from the Gospel Book of the Abbess Hilda,
early 11th century.
Darmstadt, Germany




The decoration in the apse of the church of San Vincenzo in Galliano. Lombardy, depicts Christ between the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel. This cycle was commissioned by Ariberto d'Intimiano, the future bishop of Milan who had ordered the renovation of the church. The iconography is Byzantine in style and shows the influence of the Ottonian miniature. This merging of different trends ean also be seen in the foothills of the Alps in Lombard}' in the cycles at the churches of San Calocero al Piano and San Pietro al Monte in Civate. A penitential, and possibly baptismal, route existed between the two churches, forming a miniature version of the great European pilgrimages. At San Calocero al Piano, pilgrims studied the episodes of the Old and New Testaments in the 11th-century frescos and then climbed to the other church. San Pietro al Monte, to see the images of Pope Marcellus and Pope Gregory at the church entrance and the Heavenly Jerusalem on the vault inside. Other apocalyptic scenes completed this fresco cycle, which culminated in the Defeat of the Dragon, a fresco that served as a warning to pilgrims on leaving the church.

Defeat of the Dragon, San Pietro al Monte, Civate, Italy, 11 th-12th century

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