Anglo-Saxon art  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Anglo-Saxon art covers art produced within the Anglo-Saxon period of English history, particularly from the time of King Alfred (871-899), when there was a revival of English culture after the end of the Viking invasions, to the Norman Conquest in 1066, when the move to the Romanesque style becomes complete. Prior to King Alfred the Migration period style based on that the Anglo-Saxons brought with them from the continent is seen to superb effect in the metalwork and jewellery from Sutton Hoo (early 7th century).

After their conversion to Christianity, the fusion of Anglo-Saxon and Celtic techniques and motifs, together with the requirement for books, created Hiberno-Saxon style, or Insular art, probably mostly drawing from decorative metalwork motifs. At about the same time as the Insular Lindisfarne Gospels was being made in Northumbria in the far north of England, in the early 8th century, the Vespasian Psalter from Canterbury in the far south, which the missionaries from Rome had made their headquarters, shows a wholly different, classically-based art. These two styles mixed and developed together and by the following century the resulting Anglo-Saxon style had reached maturity.

Anglo-Saxon art survives mostly in illuminated manuscripts, Anglo-Saxon architecture, a number of very fine ivory carvings, and some works in metal and other materials. Opus Anglicanum ("English work") was already recognised as the finest embroidery in Europe, although only a few pieces from the Anglo-Saxon period remain - the Bayeux Tapestry is a rather different sort of embroidery, on a far larger scale. As in most of Europe at the time, metalwork was the most highly-regarded form of art by the Anglo-Saxons, but hardly any survives - there was enormous plundering of Anglo-Saxon churches, monasteries and the possessions of the dispossessed nobility by the new Norman rulers in their first decades, and most survivals were once on the continent.

The manuscripts include the Benedictional of St. Æthelwold manuscript, which drew on Insular art, Carolingian art and Byzantine art for style and iconography. In the 11th century a 'Winchester style' developed that combined both northern ornamental traditions with Mediterranean figural traditions, and can be seen in the Leofric Missal (Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodl, 579). Anglo-Saxon illustration included many lively pen drawings, on which the Carolingian Utrecht Psalter, in Canterbury from about 1000, was highly influential; the Harley Psalter is a copy of it. This is an example of the larger trend of an Anglo-Saxon culture coming into increasing contact with, and under the influence of, a wider Latin Mediaeval Europe. Anglo-Saxon drawing had a great influence in Northern France throughout the 11th century, in the so-called "Channel school".

Perhaps the best known piece of Anglo-Saxon art is the Bayeux Tapestry which was commissioned by a Norman patron from English artists working in the traditional Anglo-Saxon style. Anglo-Saxon artists also worked in fresco, ivory, stone, metalwork (for example the Fuller brooch), glass and enamel, many examples of which have been recovered through archaeological excavation and some of which have simply been preserved over the centuries, especially in churches on the Continent, as the Vikings, Normans and Reformation iconoclasm between them left virtually nothing in England except for books and archaeological finds.

Anglo-Saxon iconographical innovations include the animal Hellmouth, and the ascending Christ shown only as a pair of legs and feet disappearing at the top of the image, both later used all over Europe.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Anglo-Saxon art" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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