The Normans settled in northern France in the 10th century after decades of raiding the shores of different European nations. They were descendants of Vikings and after settling in Normandy, ranged out to carve their dominions in southern Italy, Sicily, England, Ireland and Scotland. As a result, Normans were exposed to a vast range of cultures and this was reflected in the arts that flourished under the Normans.
Most notable forms of Norman art was architecture, stonework and metalwork. Of these, the extant Norman art in Britain is mostly architecture while that in southern Italy comprises of metalwork, stonework and mosaics. One of the most recognisable pieces of extant Norman art is the Bayeux Tapestry, commissioned by the Normans following their invasion of England.
Norman Art in Southern Italy
Normans established a stronghold in Italy from 11th century onwards, eventually gaining complete control of Sicily as well. Most of the extant Norman art today exists in southern Italy. It is mostly reflected in the ecclesiastical buildings dated back to the Norman period such as churches and in their interior decorations.
The Norman art in Italy and Sicily specifically reflects influences from Arab, Lombard and Frankish cultures. Greek culture is also reflected in the architecture, mosaics and other Norman art in southern Italy. Normans also borrowed expertise in ivory work from Lombards and this type of art continued to flourish under the Normans as well.
Norman Art in Britain
One of the most remarkable extant examples of the Norman art in Britain is the Bayeux Tapestry. The tapestry was commissioned in the 11th century, soon after the conquest of Britain by the Normans under William of Normandy. The tapestry is 70 meters long and 50 centimetres tall. It extensively depicts the events preceding the Norman Conquest as well as the Conquest itself and the aftermath. Although it was commissioned by the Normans, it is made in Anglo-Saxon style.
This reflects how Normans tended to adopt the culture and art of the regions they conquered. Other instances of extant Norman art in Britain include castles built by the Normans as well as other stonework. Unique baptismal fonts done in the Norman style are also an iconic legacy of Norman art in Britain.
Like other forms of Norman art, Norman architecture also accepted influences from different cultures. In northern France and later in England, for instance, Normans borrowed castle-building from the Franks and transformed it into a veritable art. They began with motte-and-bailey castles and in time, began to construct stone castles with well-designed arches and imposing sizes.
In southern Italy and Sicily, Normans amalgamated elements from Arab, Byzantine and Lombard cultures and gave birth to a unique type of architecture which was later termed Norman-Arab architecture. Examples of such architecture are still extant in Sicily today.
Various aspects of classic medieval music in Europe came into being in Normandy during the 11th century. The musical traditions and education exported from Normandy to different parts of Europe. This musical developments mostly took place in conjunction with the religion, with choirs becoming prominent sites of music production and abbots the key figures spreading musical education.