The Carolingians ascended to the rule of Germanic Franks in Western Europe in mid-8th century. The dynasty reached the peak of its might under Charlemagne who became the Carolingian ruler towards the end of the century and forged a vast Carolingian Empire covering most of Western Europe.
Consequently, a mini Renaissance took place in Carolingian courts between 780 and 900, spawning the development of a unique style of art. This style of art as practised in France, Germany, Austria, Italy and neighbouring regions during this period is termed Carolingian art.
A key characteristic of Carolingian art was the use of elements of Roman art in depicting Christian themes. This is especially true of the religious sculptures which Carolingians pioneered in Western Europe since the fall of Roman Empire. Carolingian illustrated manuscripts were characterised by lavish and often metal-made covers and bindings, adorned with precious stones.
Carolingians were the earliest to revive art in the form of metalwork in Western Europe since the fall of Western Roman Empire. Carolingians revived metalwork in various forms, most notably in using precious metals as frames for treasure bindings of bible manuscripts.
Charlemagne played a crucial role in promoting metalwork in his Empire when he established a foundry at Aachen which would go on to create many historical pieces of metalwork art. Later in the 9th century, Holy Roman Emperor Charles II similarly patronised an art workshop which produced some of the finest extant examples of goldsmith work from the Carolingian period.
Carolingian goldsmith work was mostly limited to the covers of scriptures and decorations in ecclesiastical buildings such as church altars.
During the Carolingian mini-Renaissance, the art of illuminated manuscripts underwent a rapid revival and patronage under successive Carolingian rulers. Most of these manuscripts were produced by the clerics within the Carolingian Empire.
Charlemagne began the revival of this artform by establishing “The Court School of Charlemagne” which produced some of the earliest Carolingian illuminated manuscripts. The art-form underwent evolution even during the 120 years of Carolingian ascendancy.
Early style of Carolingian illuminated manuscripts directly reflected Roman influences but by the 9th century, Carolingian manuscripts had evolved a style of their own, employing bright and vivid colours in illustrations.