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.
Characteristics of 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.
Important Carolingian Art Facts:
Carolingian art was recognisable by the extensive use of biblical themes, the use of vivid colours in illuminated manuscripts and the early use of monumental religious sculptures.
Carolingian art originated in the Carolingian Empire forged by the Germanic Franks.
Carolingian art dates from the late 8th century until the end of the 9th century.
Carolingian art was influenced by the legacy of Roman arts in Western Europe as well as the Byzantine art and the Hiberno-Saxon art from the British Isles. Carolingian art can be seen in modern-day France, Germany and neighbouring regions.
Carolingian Illuminated Manuscripts
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.
Top five examples of Carolingian Art:
The Codex Aureus of St. Emmeram which dates back to 870 and is one of the finest examples of Carolingian art of illuminated manuscripts.
The Lindau Gospels which dates back to 880 and is an example of the Carolingian goldsmith work on book cover.
The Ebbo Gospels which dates back to the 9th century and is another example of Carolingian illustrated manuscripts.
The Lothair Crystal which dates back to mid-9th century and is an example of Carolingian engraved gems.
The Ultrecht Psalter which dates back to the 9th century and is an example of the Carolingian illustrated manuscripts using pen and ink drawings.