The Medieval period in Europe began with the migratory phase at one hand and the establishment of the Byzantine Empire as the most powerful entity in Eastern Europe at the other hand. These events and the subsequent socio-political currents in medieval Europe resulted in the evolution of various genres and forms of art.
Viewed together, extant pieces of such art are able to show the development of art as it took place in different parts of Europe and their mutual influence on each other. Notable styles of medieval art which can be specifically titled include Frankish art, Anglo-Saxon art, Norman Art, Insular Art, Moorish Art and Byzantine Art among others.
The Bayeux Tapestry is one of the most iconic pieces of Anglo-Saxon art pieces. The tapestry itself is embroidered in Anglo-Saxon style but was commissioned by the Normans soon after the 1066 Norman Invasion of England. So it is often considered also a part of Norman art.
The Bayeux Tapestry is huge in size and its significance derives from the fact that it contains extensive depictions of the 1066 Invasion of England. Consequently, it is a great source on a rudimentary understanding of the events of the invasion and the warfare culture of both Anglo-Saxons and Normans at the time. The Tapestry also reflects other elements such as the dress, architecture and religious symbolism of the time.
The Codex Aureus of St. Emmeram is one of the most glorious examples of medieval art of illuminated manuscripts. This illuminated Gospel Book was created sometime in the 9th century and has a very richly decorated and embellished treasure binding.
The manuscript was produced in the Carolingian Empire during a period of mini-Renaissance. Apart from the treasure binding covered in gems and gold work, the book is written in golden letters and contains frequent and highly colourful illustrations which reflect the art trends of the period.
The Lindisfarne Gospels are another example of excellent illuminated manuscripts in early medieval period. The Lindisfarne gospels predate the Codex Aureus above and were produced around 700 in Anglo-Saxon England. The gospels are considered a defining example of the Insular Art which flourished in Anglo-Saxon regions and combined elements of Celtic, Mediterranean and Anglo-Saxon art styles.
The pages of the Lindisfarne Gospels are made from vellum and the interior of the Gospels feature exquisite calligraphic work and a range of very rich and vivid colours used throughout the book. The Gospels are also notable for the use of highly intricate designs such as spiral-styled alphabets and knot-work in calligraphy.
The Lothair Crystal is an example of Carolingian art produced in the 9th century. The Crystal was commissioned by King Lothair II and is estimated to have been created sometime around the mid-9th century. It is a sizable disk of crystal quartz on which have been engraved highly detailed and intricate Biblical scene of Susanna and the Elders.
On the clear quartz backgrounds, the engraving appears opaque and is done in a fairly advanced artistic style. The Crystal is currently in possession of the British Museum.
Mosaic was the most popular and defining genre of art of the medieval Byzantine Empire. Subsequent Emperors in the Byzantine Empire commissioned a large number of buildings and these buildings were typically embellished with a large variety of mosaics on the interior.
The most notable of the extant Byzantine mosaics is that of Christ Pantocrator in Hagia Sophia, in modern-day Istanbul. The mosaic has been painted on the upper southern gallery of the Church and dates back to the 12th century. The mosaic is remarkable for its use of exceptionally vivid colors and is representative of the Byzantine tradition of mosaic art, being a fine example of it.
The Pyxis of Al-Mughira is a small ivory container which has elaborate carvings on the exterior. This piece of ivorywork dates back to the 10th century and is one of the finest example of royal ivorywork as commissioned by the Moorish rulers in Iberian Peninsula during the medieval period.
The intricate carvings on the exterior of this container depict themes common in the Moorish Iberia during the Omayyad Caliphate era. The engraving depict falcons, horses, palm trees, bulls and lions apart from other vegetative iconography. Made from elephant ivory, this example of early Moorish art is largely intact and is currently in Louvre, Paris.
Hours of Catherine of Cleves is another illustrated manuscript from the medieval period. This manuscript is a rather late piece of art, being produced in the year 1440 and the art style used in it has been clearly influenced by the contemporary Gothic art movement.
The manuscript is seen as a defining example of 15th century North European art. The unique aspect of this illustrated book is that the artist has used an extensive range of border styles and designs in adorning the book’s interior. Many of the illustrations are theological and religious in nature in sync with the text of the manuscript.
The Sutton Hoo is the site of an Anglo-Saxon ship burial which was excavated in the 20th century and revealed one of the richest repository of Anglo-Saxon art pieces. The burial revealed an exquisite carved and intricately worked helmet made in early Anglo-Saxon style, a great buckle, two large shoulder-clasps a purse lid, a golden belt, shield fittings and other materials.
These objects reveal the choice of bright colors as used in Anglo-Saxon art and the extensive use of ornate metalwork, usually produced for Anglo-Saxon noblemen. The Sutton Hoo finds are one of the finest examples of Anglo-Saxon art.