Plan of the votive chapel of San Satiro,
Bishopric of Ansperto, Milan,
The importance of the crypt also increased, chiefly as a result of
the growth of the cult of saints.
This underground chamber was where relics were often kept, and it was
used as both burial place and place of worship. Architectural space was
apportioned in both square and circular forms, the latter echoing the Anastasis Rotunda (or Church of the Holy Sepulchre) in Jerusalem. It is
found in Saint Riquier at Centula, the votive chapel of San Satiro,
Milan, and the Palatine Chapel of Aachen (although this last was most
strongly influenced by the octagonal plan of the San Vitale in Ravenna).
The sheer scale of the Carolingian vision had much in common with the
ambitions of grandeur that dominated the Roman world. Indeed,
Charlemagne's decision to restore the imagery of the Roman Empire at all
levels was a striking feature of the was a striking feature of the new
culture, and several works attest to the way in which classical forms
permeated the new religious and imperial ideals. These include the
reliquary of Einhard, Charlemagne's biographer and minister, in the form
of a triumphal arch; the Corinthian capitals of the abbey of Lorch; the
transepts of Aachen; and the architecture portrayed in
paintings in the Grandval Bible (British Library, London). In fact,
chronicles actually report that items of classical origin were brought
directly from Ravenna to Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle). Charlemagne's capital
and the coronation city of German kings (936-1531). Whereas Irish and
Merovingian illuminated manuscripts had previously contained material of
deliberate fantasy and abstraction - as exemplified by the Book of
Durrow (Trinity College, Dublin) and the Codex Aureus
(Canterbury) -the art of Charlemagne's court veered towards a style of
classical, realistic representation. This style was used to adorn walls
and to commemorate past events rather than encourage spiritual feelings.
The classical mood was strongly evoked in the Gospel Book of St
Medard of Soissons (Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris) and in that of
Lothair (emperor of the Holy Roman Empire ad840-55). A lively narrative
spirit infuses the crowds of characters in the pages of the Utrecht
Psalter (University Library, Utrecht) - the greatest example of
early medieval drawing - and the Bible of Charles the Bald (San Paolo
Fuori le Mura, Rome).
Plan of the abbey of St Gallen.
Stiftsbibliothek, St Gallen, Switzerland
from the Palatine Chapel, Aachen, Germany, c.ad800
Odo of Metz, Palatine Chapel,
The atmosphere of the court was such that it was
clearly receptive to new ideas and initiatives. Works such as the
Coronation Gospels and the Ebbo Gospels (Municipal Library,
Epernay) from the important Rheims School provide evidence that, by the
first decades of the ninth century, access to classical painting was
paving the way for a vibrant and powerfully expressive form of graphic
art. The break with the Byzantine world, which was attributed to
Charlemagne's imperial claims, proved only temporary when, in ad827, the
fourth- or fifth-century mystical writings of Dionysius the Areopagite,
a Syrian monk, influenced the court of Louis the Pious. These works,
later translated into Latin by Johannes Scotus Erigena. introduced
Neo-Platonic ideas, which stated that visible form is not fashioned for
its own sake but intended as an image of invisible beauty. This
principle was to have a lasting effect on the aesthetics of the medieval
Ebbo Gospels: St Mark, ninth century.
Municipal Library, Epernay
Details of two Stories of the Saint,
from the gold altar,
Apocalypse of Saint Sever, Christ hands the Gospel to Luke,
Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris
The tendency towards a narrative style also influenced wall-painting
and transformed the fresco cycles into painted sermons with the
introduction of instructive titles and captions. There were also secular
cycles and allegorical representations, as seen in the villa of Theodulf of Orleans and in the palace at Aachen. Some evidence has shown that Greek fresco painters also contributed to these
works, perhaps as a result of the general traffic of trade in the Adriatic.
barbarian taste for precious materials and technical skills managed to survive
and be incorporated in Carolingian art; this resulted in the creation of
masterpieces of gold and ivory work. The liturgical reforms proved profitable
for artists and their pupils, who were now more responsive to both classical
ideas and the practicalities of their art. The golden altar of Sant'Ambrogio in Milan, "signed" by Vuolvinius and
commissioned by Angilbert II, bears astonishing testimony to the power
with which the metallic splendour of gold could enhance a narrative. The
precious mounting of filigree and enamel relates the iconographie
messages perfectly. Similar comments could apply to the ivory covers of
The Psalter of Charles the Bald (Bibliotheque Nationale,
Paris), the Lorsch Gospel Book (Vatican Library, Rome), the "Pax"
of Chiavenna, Italy, and the amazing "Lothair crystal", now in
the British Museum.
Adam and Eve from the Bible of Charles the Bald.
San Paolo Fuori le Mura,
Gospel Book of St Medard of Soissons, the Source of Life.