History Podcasts

Art in the Empire - History

Art in the Empire - History

The Ottomans were generous patrons of the arts. They produced textiles, jewelry, pottery, rugs silk and paintings. Their greatest contributions however, were in the field of architecture. The Ottomans built magnificent mosques throughout their realm. The mosques that have large open prayer areas, with imposing domes and minarets.

Roman art

The art of Ancient Rome, its Republic and later Empire includes architecture, painting, sculpture and mosaic work. Luxury objects in metal-work, gem engraving, ivory carvings, and glass are sometimes considered to be minor forms of Roman art, [1] although they were not considered as such at the time. Sculpture was perhaps considered as the highest form of art by Romans, but figure painting was also highly regarded. A very large body of sculpture has survived from about the 1st century BC onward, though very little from before, but very little painting remains, and probably nothing that a contemporary would have considered to be of the highest quality.

Ancient Roman pottery was not a luxury product, but a vast production of "fine wares" in terra sigillata were decorated with reliefs that reflected the latest taste, and provided a large group in society with stylish objects at what was evidently an affordable price. Roman coins were an important means of propaganda, and have survived in enormous numbers.

Empire style

Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article.

Empire style, major phase of Neoclassical art that flourished in France during the time of the First Empire (1804–14).

The Empire style was encouraged by Napoleon’s desire for a style inspired by the grandeur of ancient Egypt and imperial Rome. In architecture it was exemplified by such Parisian buildings and monuments as the Church of the Madeleine (originally the Temple of Glory) by Pierre-Alexandre Vignon, Jean Chalgrin’s Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile, and Charles Percier and Pierre Fontaine’s Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel and Vendôme Column in painting, by Jacques-Louis David’s Sacre de l’empereur Napoléon I er et couronnement de l’impératrice Joséphine dans la cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, 2 décembre 1804 and Baron Antoine Gros’s battle scenes and in sculpture, by Antonio Canova’s heroic statues of Napoleon and his family.

The Empire style in dress also found its inspiration in classical times, at once consciously emulating the rich elegance of pre-Revolutionary France, gowning women to emphasize femininity and grace, in flowing floor-length creations of light fabrics, frequently having trains, that were universally quite décolletté and girdled immediately beneath the breasts. Paris winters demanded warm outer garments, which were numerous and various, among them scarves, stoles, capes, jackets, and overdresses. Men’s fashions of the Empire period featured a cutaway tailcoat revealing a waistcoat and high-collared shirt with cravat, much resembling the tailoring of London.

The French architects Charles Percier and Pierre Fontaine, who designed furnishings for the state rooms of Napoleon, contributed in great measure to the creation of the Empire style of interior decoration and furniture design. Their ideas were incorporated and propagated in their Recueil de décorations intérieures (1801 and 1812 “Collection of Interior Decoration”). The strong archaeological bias of the Empire style led to direct copying of classical types of furniture and accessories to this was added a new repertory of Egyptian ornament, stimulated by Napoleon’s campaigns in Egypt. Mahogany-veneered furniture with ormolu mounts assumed the shapes of Roman, Greek, and Egyptian chairs and tables with winged-lion supports and pilasters headed with sphinxes, busts, or palm leaves. Where no classical prototypes existed, contemporary designs were enlivened with ancient ornamental motifs, often with symbolic implications in reference to Napoleon’s reign—e.g., winged victory and the laurel wreath used as decorative symbols of triumph bees, sheaves of grain, and cornucopias for prosperity and fasces and sphinxes for conquest.

Although the Empire style began in France (specifically Paris), it quickly spread throughout Europe, with each country adapting it to its own national taste. See also Biedermeier style Greek Revival and Regency style.

This article was most recently revised and updated by Virginia Gorlinski, Associate Editor.

Medieval Art

The medieval period of art history spans from the fall of the Roman Empire in 300 AD to the beginning of the Renaissance in 1400 AD. In the Middle Ages, art evolves as humans continue addressing the traditional and the new, including Biblical subjects, Christian dogma, and Classical mythology. This article introduces a few concepts of three periods—Early Christian, Romanesque, and Gothic.

During the Early Middle Ages, the Catholic Church financed many projects, and the oldest examples of Christian art survive in the Roman catacombs, or burial crypts beneath the city. By 350 AD, the Church had two power centers, Rome in the West and Constantinople (the capital of the Byzantine Empire) in the East. Medieval artists decorated churches and works for public appreciation using classical themes. For example, Roman mosaics made of small stone cubes called tesserae offered Christian scenery. In about 350 AD, Rome’s Santa Costanza, a mausoleum built for Constantine’s daughter, included a vault decorated with mosaics. Nearby, in Santa Maria Maggiore, the mosaic called Melchizedek Offering Bread and Wine to Abraham was constructed 80 years later. Early Christian mosaics used muted colors like classical mosaics, but in the fourth century, mosaicists moved to brighter colors and patterns.

At the beginning of the eleventh century, Romanesque architecture symbolized the growing wealth of European cities and the power of Church monasteries. For example, Romanesque buildings, especially monasteries and churches, were marked by semi-circular arches, thick stone walls, and stable construction. In 1070 or 1077 AD, St. Sernin, located in Toulouse, France, was built with a stone barrel vault ceiling. St. Sernin is remembered as a model of the Romanesque “pilgrimage church.”

The Gothic style developed in the middle of the twelfth century and is named after the Goths who ruled France. Some contemporaries of the Goths thought the use of figures such as gargoyles was hideous, but Gothic cathedrals represent the most beautiful and timeless accomplishments of the period. For example, Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris has been added to many times since the twelfth century, but it still bears important Gothic features such as gargoyles and flying buttresses.

There are plenty of ways to analyze 900 years of medieval art, including examining decorations inside churches. Human forms such as the Madonna and Baby Jesus evolve from large heads on small bodies in Early Christianity to abstract forms in the Romanesque era. In the Gothic era, the Madonna and Child are more naturalistic with tall, bony figures. Even the facial features of the Madonna and Child changed over 900 years. By the Gothic era in France, Mary had an approachable, warm countenance, signaling the Church’s recognition that images should attract people instead of intimidating them. In the Renaissance, artists would become bolder about exploring the themes of Christianity even in works commissioned by the Church.


Evidence of a painted-pottery civilization around Susa has been dated to c 5000 BCE. [1] Susa was firmly within the Sumerian Uruk cultural sphere during the Uruk period. An imitation of the entire state apparatus of Uruk, proto-writing, cylinder seals with Sumerian motifs, and monumental architecture, is found at Susa. Susa may have been a colony of Uruk. As such, the periodization of Susa corresponds to Uruk Early, Middle and Late Susa II periods (3800–3100 BCE) correspond to Early, Middle, and Late Uruk periods.

Shortly after Susa was first settled 6000 years ago, its inhabitants erected a temple on a monumental platform that rose over the flat surrounding landscape. The exceptional nature of the site is still recognizable today in the artistry of the ceramic vessels that were placed as offerings in a thousand or more graves near the base of the temple platform. Nearly two thousand pots were recovered from the cemetery most of them now in the Louvre. The vessels found are eloquent testimony to the artistic and technical achievements of their makers, and they hold clues about the organization of the society that commissioned them. [2] Painted ceramic vessels from Susa in the earliest first style are a late, regional version of the Mesopotamian Ubaid ceramic tradition that spread across the Near East during the fifth millennium B.C. [2]

Susa I style was very much a product of the past and of influences from contemporary ceramic industries in the mountains of western Iran. The recurrence in close association of vessels of three types—a drinking goblet or beaker, a serving dish, and a small jar—implies the consumption of three types of food, apparently thought to be as necessary for life in the afterworld as it is in this one. Ceramics of these shapes, which were painted, constitute a large proportion of the vessels from the cemetery. Others are course cooking-type jars and bowls with simple bands painted on them and were probably the grave goods of the sites of humbler citizens as well as adolescents and, perhaps, children. [3] The pottery is carefully made by hand. Although a slow wheel may have been employed, the asymmetry of the vessels and the irregularity of the drawing of encircling lines and bands indicate that most of the work was done freehand.

Lullubi rock reliefs Edit

The rock reliefs of the mountain kingdom of Lullubi, especially the Anubanini rock relief, are rock reliefs from circa 2300 BC or the early 2nd millennium BC, the earliest rock reliefs of Iran. They are located in Kermanshah Province. [4] [5] These reliefs are thought to have influenced the later Achaemenid Behistun reliefs, about a millennium and a half later. [4] [6]

Elamite art, from the south and west of modern Iran shared many characteristics with the neighbouring art of Mesopotamia, though it was often less sophisticated. Cylinder seals, small figures of worshippers, gods and animals, shallow reliefs, and some large statues of rulers are all found. There are a small number of very fine gold vessels with relief figures. [7]

Luristan bronzes (rarely "Lorestān", "Lorestāni" etc. in sources in English) are small cast objects decorated with bronze sculptures from the Early Iron Age which have been found in large numbers in Lorestān Province and Kermanshah in west-central Iran. [8] They include a great number of ornaments, tools, weapons, horse-fittings and a smaller number of vessels including situlae, [9] and those found in recorded excavations are generally found in burials. [10] The ethnicity of the people who created them remains unclear, [11] though they may well have been Persian, possibly related to the modern Lur people who have given their name to the area. They probably date to between about 1000 and 650 BC. [12]

The bronzes tend to be flat and use openwork, like the related metalwork of Scythian art. They represent the art of a nomadic or transhumant people, for whom all possessions needed to be light and portable, and necessary objects such as weapons, finials (perhaps for tent-poles), horse-harness fittings, pins, cups and small fittings are highly decorated over their small surface area. [13] Representations of animals are common, especially goats or sheep with large horns, and the forms and styles are distinctive and inventive. The "Master of Animals" motif, showing a human positioned between and grasping two confronted animals is common [14] but typically highly stylized. [15] Some female "mistress of animals" are seen. [16]

The Ziwiye hoard of about 700 BC is a collection of objects, mostly in metal, perhaps not all in fact found together, of about the same date, probably showing the art of the Persian cities of the period. Delicate metalwork from Iron Age II times has been found at Hasanlu and still earlier at Marlik. [7]

Achaemenid art includes frieze reliefs, metalwork, decoration of palaces, glazed brick masonry, fine craftsmanship (masonry, carpentry, etc.), and gardening. Most survivals of court art are monumental sculpture, above all the reliefs, double animal-headed Persian column capitals and other sculptures of Persepolis (see below for the few but impressive Achaemenid rock reliefs). [17]

Although the Persians took artists, with their styles and techniques, from all corners of their empire, they produced not simply a combination of styles, but a synthesis of a new unique Persian style. [18] Cyrus the Great in fact had an extensive ancient Iranian heritage behind him the rich Achaemenid gold work, which inscriptions suggest may have been a specialty of the Medes, was for instance in the tradition of earlier sites.

The rhyton drinking vessel, horn-shaped and usually ending in an animal shape, is the most common type of large metalwork to survive, as in a fine example in New York. There are a number of very fine smaller pieces of jewellery or inlay in precious metal, also mostly featuring animals, and the Oxus Treasure has a wide selection of types. Small pieces, typically in gold, were sewn to clothing by the elite, and a number of gold torcs have survived. [17]

One of a pair of armlets from the Oxus Treasure, which has lost its inlays of precious stones or enamel

Similar armlets in the "Apadana" reliefs at Persepolis, also bowls and amphorae with griffin handles are given as tribute

Bas-relief in Persepolis—a symbol in Zoroastrian for Nowruz— eternally fighting bull (personifying the moon), and a lion (personifying the Sun) representing the Spring

The large carved rock relief, typically placed high beside a road, and near a source of water, is a common medium in Persian art, mostly used to glorify the king and proclaim Persian control over territory. [19] It begins with Lullubi and Elamite rock reliefs, such as those at Sarpol-e Zahab (circa 2000 BC), Kul-e Farah and Eshkaft-e Salman in southwest Iran, and continues under the Assyrians. The Behistun relief and inscription, made around 500 BC for Darius the Great, is on a far grander scale, reflecting and proclaiming the power of the Achaemenid empire. [20] Persian rulers commonly boasted of their power and achievements, until the Muslim conquest removed imagery from such monuments much later there was a small revival under the Qajar dynasty. [21]

Behistun is unusual in having a large and important inscription, which like the Egyptian Rosetta Stone repeats its text in three different languages, here all using cuneiform script: Old Persian, Elamite, and Babylonian (a later form of Akkadian). [22] This was important in the modern understanding of these languages. Other Persian reliefs generally lack inscriptions, and the kings involved often can only be tentatively identified. The problem is helped in the case of the Sasanians by their custom of showing a different style of crown for each king, which can be identified from their coins. [21]

Naqsh-e Rustam is the necropolis of the Achaemenid dynasty (500–330 BC), with four large tombs cut high into the cliff face. These have mainly architectural decoration, but the facades include large panels over the doorways, each very similar in content, with figures of the king being invested by a god, above a zone with rows of smaller figures bearing tribute, with soldiers and officials. The three classes of figures are sharply differentiated in size. The entrance to each tomb is at the centre of each cross, which opens onto a small chamber, where the king lay in a sarcophagus. [23] The horizontal beam of each of the tomb's facades is believed to be a replica of the entrance of the palace at Persepolis.

Only one has inscriptions and the matching of the other kings to tombs is somewhat speculative the relief figures are not intended as individualized portraits. The third from the left, identified by an inscription, is the tomb of Darius I the Great (c. 522–486 BC). The other three are believed to be those of Xerxes I (c. 486–465 BC), Artaxerxes I (c. 465–424 BC), and Darius II (c. 423–404 BC) respectively. A fifth unfinished one might be that of Artaxerxes III, who reigned at the longest two years, but is more likely that of Darius III (c. 336–330 BC), last of the Achaemenid dynasts. The tombs were looted following the conquest of the Achaemenid Empire by Alexander the Great. [23]

Well below the Achaemenid tombs, near ground level, are rock reliefs with large figures of Sassanian kings, some meeting gods, others in combat. The most famous shows the Sassanian king Shapur I on horseback, with the Roman Emperor Valerian bowing to him in submission, and Philip the Arab (an earlier emperor who paid Shapur tribute) holding Shapur's horse, while the dead Emperor Gordian III, killed in battle, lies beneath it (other identifications have been suggested). This commemorates the Battle of Edessa in 260 AD, when Valerian became the only Roman Emperor who was captured as a prisoner of war, a lasting humiliation for the Romans. The placing of these reliefs clearly suggests the Sasanian intention to link themselves with the glories of the earlier Achaemenid Empire. [24] There are three further Achaemenid royal tombs with similar reliefs at Persepolis, one unfinished. [25]

The seven Sassanian reliefs, whose approximate dates range from 225 to 310 AD, show subjects including investiture scenes and battles. The earliest relief at the site is Elamite, from about 1000 BC. About a kilometre away is Naqsh-e Rajab, with a further four Sasanian rock reliefs, three celebrating kings and one a high priest. Another important Sasanian site is Taq Bostan with several reliefs including two royal investitures and a famous figure of a cataphract or Persian heavy cavalryman, about twice life size, probably representing the king Khosrow Parviz mounted on his favourite horse Shabdiz the pair continued to be celebrated in later Persian literature. [26] Firuzabad, Fars and Bishapur have groups of Sassanian reliefs, the former including the oldest, a large battle scene, now badly worn. [27] At Barm-e Delak a king offers a flower to his queen.

Sassanian reliefs are concentrated in the first 80 years of the dynasty, though one important set are 6th-century, and at relatively few sites, mostly in the Sasanian heartland. The later ones in particular suggest that they draw on a now-lost tradition of similar reliefs in palaces in stucco. The rock reliefs were probably coated in plaster and painted. [21]

The rock reliefs of the preceding Persian Selucids and Parthians are generally smaller and more crude, and not all direct royal commissions as the Sasanian ones clearly were. [28] At Behistun an earlier relief including a lion was adapted into a reclining Herakles in a fully Hellenistic style he reclines on a lion skin. This was only uncovered below rubble relatively recently an inscription dates it to 148 BC. [29] Other reliefs in Iran include the Assyrian king in shallow relief at Shikaft-e Gulgul not all sites with Persian reliefs are in modern Iran. [21] Like other Sassanian styles, the form enjoyed a small revival under the Qajar, whose reliefs include a large and lively panel showing hunting at the royal hunting-ground of Tangeh Savashi, and a panel, still largely with its colouring intact, at Taq Bostan showing the shah seated with attendants.

The standard catalogue of pre-Islamic Persian reliefs lists the known examples (as at 1984) as follows: Lullubi #1–4 Elam #5–19 Assyrian #20–21 Achaemenid #22–30 Late/Post-Achaemenid and Seleucid #31–35 Parthian #36–49 Sasanian #50–84 others #85–88. [30]

The art of the Parthians was a mix of Iranian and Hellenistic styles. The Parthian Empire existed from 247 BC to 224 AD in what is now Greater Iran and several territories outside it. Parthian places are often overlooked in excavations, and Parthian layers difficult to disguish from those around them. [31] The research situation and the state of knowledge on Parthian art is therefore still very patchy dating is difficult and the most important remains come from the fringes of the empire, as at Hatra in modern Iraq, which has produced the largest quantity of Parthian sculpture yet excavated. [32] Even after the period of the Parthian dynasty, art in its style continued in surrounding areas for some time. Even in narrative representations, figures look frontally out to the viewer rather than at each other, a feature that anticipates the art of Late Antiquity, medieval Europe and Byzantium. Great attention is paid to the details of clothing, which in full-length figures is shown decorated with elaborate designs, probably embroidered, including large figures. [33]

The excavations at Dura-Europos in the 20th century provided many new discoveries. The classical archaeologist and director of the excavations, Michael Rostovtzeff, realized that the art of the first centuries AD, Palmyra, Dura Europos, but also in Iran up to the Buddhist India followed the same principles. He called this artwork Parthian art. [34]

The most characteristic feature of the "Parthian" art is frontality which is not a special feature of Iranic or Parthian art and first appeared in the art of Palmyra. [35] There are doubts whether this art can be called a "Parthian" art or that it should be associated with any particular regional area there is no evidence that this art was created outside the middle-Euphrates region then brought to Palmyra for example. [36] This art is better thought of as a local development common to the middle Euphrates region. [36] Parthian rock reliefs are covered above.

In architecture, patterns in plaster were very popular, almost all now lost. Once the technique was developed these covered large surfaces and perhaps shared elements of their design with carpets and other textiles, also now almost entirely lost. [37] Parthian rhyta continued the Achaemenid style, but in the best the animals at the terminal (or protome) are more naturalistic, probably under Greek influence.

Sasanian art, or Sasanian art, was produced under the Sasanian Empire which ruled from the 3rd to 7th centuries AD, before the Muslim conquest of Persia was completed around 651. In 224 AD, the last Parthian king was defeated by Ardashir I. The resulting Sasanian dynasty would last for four hundred years, ruling modern Iran, Iraq, and much territory to the east and north of modern Iran. At times the Levant, much of Anatolia and parts of Egypt and Arabia were under its control. It began a new era in Iran and Mesopotamia, which in many ways was built on Achaemenid traditions, including the art of the period. Nevertheless, there were also other influences on art of the period that came from as far as China and the Mediterranean. [38]

The surviving art of the Sasanians is best seen in its architecture, reliefs and metalwork, and there are some surviving paintings from what was evidently a widespread production. Stone reliefs were probably greatly outnumbered by interior ones in plaster, of which only fragments have survived. Free standing sculptures faded out of popularity in this time as compared to the period under the Parthians, but the Colossal Statue of Shapur I (r. AD 240–272) is a major exception, carved from a stalagmite grown in a cave [39] there are literary mentions of other colossal statues of kings, now lost. [40] The important Sasanian rock reliefs are covered above, and the Parthian tradition of moulded stucco decoration to buildings continued, also including large figurative scenes. [39]

Surviving Sasanian art depicts courtly and chivalric scenes, with considerable grandeur of style, reflecting the lavish life and display of the Sasanian court as recorded by Byzantine ambassadors. Images of rulers dominate many of the surviving works, though none are as large as the Colossal Statue of Shapur I. Hunting and battle scenes enjoyed a special popularity, and lightly-clothed dancing girls and entertainers. Representations are often arranged like a coat of arms, which in turn may have had a strong influence on the production of art in Europe and East Asia. Although Parthian art preferred the front view, the narrative representations of the Sassanian art often features figures shown in the profile or a three-quarter view. Frontal views occur less frequently. [39]

One of the few sites where wall-paintings survived in quantity is Panjakent in modern Tajikistan, and ancient Sogdia, which was barely, if at all, under the control of the central Sasanian power. The old city was abandoned in the decades after the Muslims eventually took the city in 722 and has been extensively excavated in modern times. Large areas of wall paintings survived from the palace and private houses, which are mostly now in the Hermitage Museum or Tashkent. They covered whole rooms and were accompanied by large quantities of reliefs in wood. The subjects are similar to other Sasanian art, with enthroned kings, feasts, battles, and beautiful women, and there are illustrations of both Persian and Indian epics, as well as a complex mixture of deities. They mostly date from the 7th and 8th centuries. [41] At Bishapur floor mosaics in a broadly Greco-Roman style have survived, and these were probably widespread in other elite settings, perhaps made by craftsmen from the Greek world. [42]

A number of Sasanid silver vessels have survived, especially rather large plates or bowls used to serve food. These have high-quality engraved or embossed decoration from a courtly repertoire of mounted kings or heroes, and scenes of hunting, combat and feasting, often partially gilded. Ewers, presumably for wine, may feature dancing girls in relief. These were exported to China, and also westwards. [43]

Sasanian glass continued and developed Roman glass technology. In simpler forms it seems to have been available to a wide range of the population, and was a popular luxury export to Byzantium and China, even appearing in elite burials from the period in Japan. Technically, it is a silica-soda-lime glass production characterized by thick glass-blown vessels relatively sober in decoration, avoiding plain colours in favour of transparency and with vessels worked in one piece without over- elaborate amendments. Thus the decoration usually consists of solid and visual motifs from the mould (reliefs), with ribbed and deeply cut facets, although other techniques like trailing and applied motifs were practised. [39] Sasanian pottery does not seem to have been used by the elites, and is mostly utilitarian.

Carpets evidently could reach a high level of sophistication, as the praise lavished on the lost royal Baharestan Carpet by the Muslim conquerors shows. But the only surviving fragments that might originate from Sasanid Persia are humbler productions, probably made by nomad tribes. Sasanid textiles were famous, and fragments have survived, mostly with designs based on animals in compartments, in a long-lasting style. [39]

Carolingian art, an introduction

​Charlemagne, King of the Franks and later Holy Roman Emperor, instigated a cultural revival known as the Carolingian Renaissance. This revival used Constantine’s Christian empire as its model, which flourished between 306 and 337. Constantine was the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity and left behind an impressive legacy of military strength and artistic patronage.

Charlemagne saw himself as the new Constantine and instigated this revival by writing his Admonitio generalis (789) and Epistola de litteris colendis (c.794-797). In the Admonitio generalis, Charlemagne legislates church reform, which he believes will make his subjects more moral and in the Epistola de litteris colendis, a letter to Abbot Baugulf of Fulda, he outlines his intentions for cultural reform. Most importantly, he invited the greatest scholars from all over Europe to come to court and give advice for his renewal of politics, church, art and literature.

Odo of Metz, Palatine Chapel Interior, Aachen, 805 (photo: Holly Hayes)

Carolingian art survives in manuscripts, sculpture, architecture and other religious artifacts produced during the period 780-900. These artists worked exclusively for the emperor, members of his court, and the bishops and abbots associated with the court. Geographically, the revival extended through present-day France, Switzerland, Germany and Austria.

Charlemagne commissioned the architect Odo of Metz to construct a palace and chapel in Aachen, Germany. The chapel was consecrated in 805 and is known as the Palatine Chapel. This space served as the seat of Charlemagne’s power and still houses his throne today.

The Palatine Chapel is octagonal with a dome, recalling the shape of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy (completed in 548), but was built with barrel and groin vaults, which are distinctively late Roman methods of construction. The chapel is perhaps the best surviving example of Carolingian architecture and probably influenced the design of later European palace chapels.

Charlemagne had his own scriptorium, or center for copying and illuminating manuscripts, at Aachen. Under the direction of Alcuin of York, this scriptorium produced a new script known as Carolingian miniscule. Prior to this development, writing styles or scripts in Europe were localized and difficult to read. A book written in one part of Europe could not be easily read in another, even when the scribe and reader were both fluent in Latin. Knowledge of Carolingian miniscule spread from Aachen was universally adopted, allowing for clearer written communication within Charlemagne’s empire. Carolingian miniscule was the most widely used script in Europe for about 400 years.

Figurative art from this period is easy to recognize. Unlike the flat, two-dimensional work of Early Christian and Early Byzantine artists, Carolingian artists sought to restore the third dimension. They used classical drawings as their models and tried to create more convincing illusions of space.

St. Mark from the Godescalc Gospel Lectionary, folio 1v., c. 781-83

This development is evident in tracing author portraits in illuminated manuscripts. The Godescalc Gospel Lectionary, commisioned by Charlemagne and his wife Hildegard, was made circa 781-83 during his reign as King of the Franks and before the beginning of the Carolingian Renaissance. In the portrait of St. Mark, the artist employs typical Early Byzantine artistic conventions. The face is heavily modeled in brown, the drapery folds fall in stylized patterns and there is little or no shading. The seated position of the evangelist would be difficult to reproduce in real life, as there are spatial inconsistencies. The left leg is shown in profile and the other leg is show straight on. This author portrait is typical of its time.

The Ebbo Gospels were made c. 816-35 in the Benedictine Abbey of Hautvillers for Ebbo, Archbishop of Rheims. The author portrait of St. Mark is characteristic of Carolingian art and the Carolingian Renaissance. The artist used distinctive frenzied lines to create the illusion of the evangelist’s body shape and position. The footstool sits at an awkward unrealistic angle, but there are numerous attempts by the artist to show the body as a three-dimensional object in space. The right leg is tucked under the chair and the artist tries to show his viewer, through the use of curved lines and shading, that the leg has form. There is shading and consistency of perspective. The evangelist sitting on the chair strikes a believable pose.

St. Mark from the Ebbo Gospels, folio 18v., c. 816-35

Charlemagne, like Constantine before him, left behind an almost mythic legacy. The Carolingian Renaissance marked the last great effort to revive classical culture before the Late Middle Ages. Charlemagne’s empire was led by his successors until the late ninth century. In early tenth century, the Ottonians rose to power and espoused different artistic ideals.

The government promotes popular culture principally through the Ministry of Youth and Sports and the Ministry of Culture. Youth associations organize athletic, theatrical, musical, and dancing activities. Football (soccer) is Mali’s most popular sport, and every neighbourhood in the major towns has a team. Several Malian football players have played professionally for European clubs (especially in France and Italy), including Salif Keita, who in 1970 became the first recipient of the African Player of the Year award. Mali hosted the prestigious African Cup of Nations tournament in 2002.

Basketball is also popular, but, as in most other sub-Saharan African countries, wrestling is more prevalent, especially in the western and southern parts of the country. Orally transmitted epics from the ancient Malian empire speak of great wrestlers as cultural icons, and even today traditional wrestlers are held in high esteem. Matches are festive occasions that are accompanied by drumming, music, dancing, praise-singing, and the wearing of costumes.

Adorning Icons

Increasingly in the Late Byzantine periods, wealthy patrons affixed thin pieces of precious metal, or “revetments,” to icons as a way to honor the holy figures depicted. These metallic adornments often included ornamental motifs, additional icons, and sometimes even images of the patrons and poetic inscriptions known as epigrams, which recorded the donor’s prayers.

Icon of the Virgin and Child, silver revetment: late 13th–early 14th century, Constantinople, tempera painting: 15th century, Moscow (Tretyakov Gallery, photo: byzantologist, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

An icon in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow preserves silver revetment from thirteenth- or fourteenth-century Constantinople, although a later, fifteenth-century painting has replaced the original, which was likely lost or damaged. This revetment covers much of the wooden surface with a swirling filigree pattern, and smaller icons of various saints populate the icon’s frame. Two full-length portraits of the Byzantine donors appear in the lower corners of the frame.

Triptych with the Mandylion, 1637, Moscow, Silver, partly gilt, niello, enamel, sapphires, rubies, spinels, pearls, leather, silk velvet, oil paint, gesso, linen, mica, pig-skin, woods: Tilia cordata (basswood or linden), white oak, 68.6 x 90.8 x 12.7 cm (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

After the fall of Byzantium to the Ottomans in 1453, the tradition of affixing precious materials to icons endured in places like Russia, where the icon cover was referred to as an oklad or riza. Russian oklads were often elaborate, covering the entire icon except for the face and hands of the holy figures represented, as seen with a seventeenth-century icon depicting the face of Christ at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

History Of Ancient Roman Art

Ancient Roman art is usually considered to be much more than just art. Instead, it is defined as the art of Roman civilization, from the period of the first emperor Romulus to the time of Emperor Constantine. The rich history of ancient roman art extends over a period of over 1000 years and is certain worth studying.

A lot of distinctive features of Roman art originated from the art of the Etruscans, the predecessors of the Romans. As Roman ascendancy across Europe, ancient Roman art took up this Etruscan style of art. The Etruscan influence is evident in the Roman temples, murals, sculpture, architecture, and portraiture. The Ancient Roman art was also largely influenced by some of the major aspects of Hellenistic art forms prevalent in the Greek colonies of southern Italy and Sicily. Although Hellenistic art of the Greeks became popular in Rome after the defeat of Corinth in 146 BC, it was not absorbed completely until the rule of the Emperor Hadrian (AD 117-38). The Greek influence on the Ancient Roman art is clearly reflected in the statues, buildings, sculptures, portraitures, and other architecture that was made in the later republic and early Imperial period of the Roman history.

Besides the Greek and the Etruscan influences, ancient Roman Art had its own distinctive characters and made its own unique contributions to the field of art. Unlike the Greek art, the authentic Roman art form, like the one seen in the famous Roman Colosseum, had a more secular and utilitarian character. It emphasized more on scale and grandeur. The use of arch, concrete, and the dome was first developed by the ancient Romans. The famous architectures, like the Pantheon in Rome and the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, are live examples of the same.

The rich Roman art was adopted even by the Germanic tribes that invaded Rome and caused the final collapse of the Roman Empire. The greatest revival of the ancient Roman art happened during the fifteen century Italian Renaissance. Its impact and legacy continues to exist even today and is evident in all branches of art.

The history of the Roman culture can be tagged along the entire 1200-year old history of the Roman civilization. The term ancient Roman culture, however, is commonly used to describe the ancient culture of the Roman Republic and Roman Empire, which encompassed a vast area extending from Morocco to Euphrates. More..

Ottonian Art (c.900-1050)

The Gold Madonna of Essen
(c.980) Essen Cathedral). A supreme
example of early Christian sculpture
from the Ottonian culture.

See: History of Art.

By the beginning of the 10th century, the Carolingian Empire (though not Carolingian art) had disintegrated as a result of internal dissension and the attacks of external enemies - Norsemen in the west, and Slavs and Magyars in the east. With the election of Henry the Fowler, Duke of Saxony, as King of the eastern Franks in 918, a process of consolidation began. It culminated in the establishment of the Ottonian Empire under Henry's son Otto the Great, who was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in Rome in 962 and who gave his name to both the dynasty and the period. The Saxon Emperors reorganized the means of government, developing close cooperation between Church and State in which the Emperor acted both as divinely appointed ruler and as God's vicar on earth - Rex et Sacerdos (King and Priest) - while the great princes of the Church and their clergy acted as a civil service working in close harmony with, and indeed forming, the royal chancellery. Under the Ottonian dynasty the eastern Franks became the undisputed leaders of western Christendom. The princes of the Church, nominees of the Emperor, were not only spiritual prelates, but also feudal lords, and archbishops and bishops themselves took up arms for the Emperor. Bruno of Cologne, Otto I's brother, for example, held the Duchy of Lotharingia as well as the vital archbishopric of Cologne. To see Ottonian art in a German context, see: German Medieval Art (c.800-1250).

The Forty Martyrs of Sebaste (c.950)
10th century ivory relief sculpture
from the Ottonian period.
Bode Museum, Berlin.

The main artistic achievements
under Otto I, Otto II and Otto III,
included murals, iluminated
manuscripts, architecture and
architectural sculpture.
Echternach Gospels, Egbert Codex.
Ottonian culture was followed
around 1000 by Europeanwide
Romanesque art (c.1000-1200) and
later by Gothic art (c.1150-1375).

For details of the origins and
development of the plastic arts
see: History of Sculpture.

Another important development was the great movement of monastic reform. In 910, William, Duke of Aquitaine, founded a new kind of independent monastery at Cluny, and similar reforms were undertaken in Lotharingia by St Gerard of Brogue (ob. 959) and at Gorze by St John of Vendieres (ob. c975). The powerful, well-organized monastic houses, with an ever increasing income resulting from more efficient use of land, reached the peak of their power and influence somewhat later, but during the 11th century the established cooperation of Church and State began to break down. The "Investiture Conflict", when the Church, conscious of its growing econnomic strength, was no longer prepared to accept the appointment of bishops by the secular arm, was both symptom and cause of a new situation.

During the 10th century, however, the reform movement was still firmly under the control of the prelates who were often linked by blood and always by common interest to the Imperial power. It was these prelates who created great centres of medieval art, competing with the Imperial court itself in generosity and splendour.

Such centres, comparable to the courts of Carolingian kings, were created by Egbert at Trier, by Meinwerk at Paderborn, by Bruno at Cologne, and by Bernward at Hildesheim, as well as by the great ladies of the Ottonian aristocracy, like Mathilde, granddaughter of Otto the Great at Essen, and her sister Adelheid, who was simultaneously Abbess of no less than four convents - Quedlinburg, Gernrode, Vreden, and Gandersheim. If Charlemagne's early Christian art was mainly royal and Imperial, Ottonian art, allthough more broadly based, was still almost exclusively aristocratic.

The Egbert Codex, in the Stadtbibliothek, Trier, is a Gospel Lectionary - a service book with extracts from the New Testament arrranged according to the liturgical year - and was written and lavishly illustrated c.980 for Egbert, Archbishop of Trier from 977 until his death in 993. In the opening folio are the dedication pages. On the right, the Archbishop is enthroned and the manuscript is handed to him by two smaller figures of monks named in the inscription as Keraldus and Heribertus "Augienses" - probably the scribe and the illuminator. There is a dedicatory verse on the facing page.

Much controversy surrounds this book. Although the "Augia" of the inscriptions is usually accepted as referring to the monastery on the island of Reichenau in Lake Constance, it is by no means certain that the manuscript was produced there. It has been argued very cogently that it was created under Egbert's patronage in his city of Trier.

What is certain, however, is that it is not only among the finest illuminated manucripts to survive from the early Middle ages, but also that the Egbert Codex itself and the late antique model on which it is based were immensely influential on a whole series of splendid manuscripts produced for the court in the time of the emperors Otto III (996-1002), Henry II (1002-24), and perhaps even Otto II (973-983).

The earliest related book is the Aachen Treasury Gospels (Domschatzkammer, Aachen), which may well have been produced as early as c.980 for Otto II, or possibly for Otto III towards the end of the 10th century. If the Crucifixions in the two codices are compared - the unusual way the two thieves are crucified and the two soldiers throwing dice for Christ's cloak in the Egbert Codex reflecting the four small figures in the Aachen Gospels - they show that a similar model lies behind them. The same can be said for the Crucifixion scenes in the Otto III Gospels of c.1000 and the Henry II Lectionary which can be dated to between 1002 and 1014 (both in the Staatsbibliothek, Munich), where in each case similarities exist. Take, for example, the figure of Stephaton with a spear, on the right of the cross: it looks very like the same figure in the Aachen Gospels while the two figures of soldiers dicing seem to reflect a knowledge of the Egbert Codex rather than the Aachen book, and the thin border frame in the Otto III Gospels copies the Egbert borders precisely. No doubt the illuminators of the two later books knew both the earliest or the original prototype used for the Egbert Codex.

It is the Egbert Codex that reflects the early model most exactly. The use of the thin, red borders with lozenge-shaped gold ornament, and the whole concept of the painterly aerial perspective to be seen in the Egbert Codex, closely resembles one of those very rare survivals of illuminated late antique books, the Vatican Virgil, which dates from c.400. The earlier illuminations in the Egbert Codex, like the Annunciation on fol. 9v., have been attributed to an artist who has been called the "Gregory Master" after a superb leaf, once in a manuscript with the letters of St Gregory, dated 983, and now in the Musee Conde, Chantilly. It shows Otto II enthroned, in the same border and against the same softly painted infinity, and with a softly modeled figure so clearly in the late antique humanist tradition.

For details of 14th/15th century
Gothic manuscript illuminators,
see: Limbourg Brothers.

Characteristics of Ottonian Art

Ottonian art was the result of three major influences: a revival of the northern Carolingian artistic heritage, a renewed interest in northern Italian art, and a more direct contact with Byzantine art so brilliantly revived under the Macedonian emperors after the final abandonment of Iconoclasm in 842. The interest in their own Imperial past seems natural enough, and the influence of Italy was the direct result of political involvement with the papacy. This began with a first campaign in 951, when the Pope asked for Otto's help against the Lombards it resulted in Otto being crowned King of Lombardy at Pavia in the same year. A passionate interest in Italy and things Italian continued under Otto's successors, who have often been accused of neglecting their northern homelands, both politically and artistically. Not until the reign of Henry II (1002-24) did a German emperor again reside north of the Alps for any length of time. The intimate and personal contact with the Byzantine court led to the marriage of Otto's son to a Greek princess, Theophanu, one year before Otto the Great's death in 973. On Otto II's death in 983, this powerful lady became regent for her son Otto III, born in 980, and she continued to rule the Empire until her death in 991.

Ottonian Architecture

In architecture, however, Carolingian traditions predominated and were developed. The emphasis on western blocks with towers and on crypts continued, but a number of innovations were developed during the 10th century which all led towards a more precise articulation of architectural forms both internally and externally. Unfortunately, little survives from the earlier phases of this development, begun, no doubt, with the reconstructions and new foundations initiated by Henry the Fowler and Otto I - for example Henry's favourite foundation at Quedlinburg (post 922) and Otto's at Magdeburg, begun in 955.

These innovations include the elaboration and more extensive use of galleries, often, in the 9th century, restricted to use in the western blocks (Westwerk), the development of an alternating system of supports-columns and heavy piers which divide a wall into a repeating pattern of bays, and clearly defined crossings of transept and nave, again seen as four bays meeting and reflecting each other. Externally, wall arcades, blind arches around windows, and both horizontal stringcourses and vertical pilaster shafts were used to divide wall surfaces into well-defined areas to emphasize and explain structure. All this imposed on buildings a far more clearly expressed and self-conscious "design" of both space and wall. Proportions are often simple geometric relationships, harrmonious and easily understood.

One of the rare surviving buildings of earlier Ottonian architecture is St Cyriakus at Gernrode, founded by Margrave Gero in 961. The western part is heavily emphasized by two strong staircase towers flanking a large western block with an internal western gallery, very much in the Carolingian tradition. But externally, blind arcades, stringcourses, and pilasters divide up the wall surfaces into units, relating to windows, internal floor levels, and bay divisions. Internally, the crossing of a transept, which hardly projects beyond the aisle walls, is clearly defined by high arches carried on attached pilasters across the nave and the chancel. The nave is articulated by alternating columns and piers, and each bay of two arches in the nave is surmounted by a gallery opening, divided by four arches, carried on small columns, again separated from the next bay by a heavy pier. In all this a clear sense of harmony is expressed, achieved by balance and the regular repetition of geometric units. It is these qualities of order and harmony that were further developed during the 11th century, both within the Ottonian Empire and elsewhere, and were fundamental to the creation of the great Romanesque church.

Indeed, historians usually discuss the beginnnings of Romanesque architecture in terms of the abbeys of St Michael at Hildesheim and Limburg an der Haardt, one founded by St Bernward of Hildesheim in 1001, the other by the Emperor Conrad II in 1025. They find it difficult to make any valid stylistic distinctions between these and a more fully developed Romanesque building, like the second cathedral of Speyer, built between 1092 and 1106 by Henry IV, after its main outlines had been determined by Conrad II's Speyer, begun in 1030 and consecrated in 1061. Only in two respects was the great church of the late 11th and 12th centuries to go beyond the achievements of the 10th and early 11th-century builders. One was the ability to construct the high stone vaults of choir and nave, first by barrel or groin and then by ribbed vaults the other was the growing importance of sculptural decoration, which began almost to dominate purely architectural principles towards the beginning of the 12th century.

Ottonian Sculpture and Painting

In the Ottonian period, the decorative role of medieval sculpture remained concentrated on church furnishings - doors, altars, tombs, Easter candlesticks, and sepulchres - rather than indulging in the interpenetration of architecture: sculpture so typical from the Romanesque onwards.

It is true that more ephemeral decoration, such as painting and stucco, may have played a larger part in architecture than their rare survival allows us to assume, but where architectural sculpture does survive in some quantity, as for example on carved capitals, it is clear that architectural traditions rather than pictorial principles predominated. The ubiquitous Corinthian-derived capital and simpler forms like chamfered or cushion capitals - the latter perhaps originally decorated by painting - seem to be the only parts of the buildings that gave opportunities to the masons to exercise their carving skills. It was not until the second half of the 11th century, first on capitals and then in decorative moldings, figural decoration on portals, tympana, wall-surfaces, and especially on the west fronts of most churches, that the sculptural ability of craftsmen, for so long restricted to the relatively small scale of furnishings, were given new and vast fields to conquer.

The Ottonian desire to increase the articulation of architecture, to produce a structured sense of order and harmony, may also have been achieved by large, decorative schemes of wall-painting - but, alas, very few fragments have survived. The only major scheme of Biblical art still to be found north of the Alps can be seen in the church of St George of the monastery of Oberrzell on the island of Reichenau. Although much damaged and much restored, it is still clear that the large, plain surfaces of the nave walls above the arcades and below the clerestory windows were divided by broad bands decorated with illusionistic multi-coloured meander strips separating the arcade, with roundels in the spandrels, from the large scenes showing the miracles of Christ above them. Both in style and technique these paintings owe much to north Italy, as most major architectural decoration had done already in the 9th century. But they can also be compared to manuscript illumination of c.1000 especially to the work of schools patronized at the Imperial court which themselves owed much to the same sources. Large, imposing figures dominate the scenes, placed against architectural backcloths with buildings in rudimentary perspective as in late antique paintings. The horizontal strips of blue, green, and brown, of the background, are also derived from the same illusionistic late antique tradition.

Ottonian Illuminated Manuscripts

Book painting, one of the richest forms of Christian art produced during the Ottonian era, is far better documented by a surprising quantity of surviving illuminated manuscripts. It begins with what seems almost a self-conscious revival of early Carolingian forms, in the Gero Codex (Landesbibliothek, Darmstadt), a Gospel lectionary closely copied from the Lorsch Gospels of the Court School of Charlemagne (which survives in two halves, one in the Vatican Library, Rome, the other in the Biblioteca Documentata Batthayneum, Alba Julia, Rumania), and produced c.960 for a "Custos Gero", perhaps the later Archbishop of Cologne (969-76). The Codex Wittikindeus painted in the late 10th century at Fulda (Staatsbibliothek, Berlin) is another manuscript that clearly illustrates the strength of the early Carolingian tradition in the second half of the 10th century. The latter is almost indistinguishable in style from the Court School of Charlemagne, while in the Gero Codex there is a degree of simplification, a somewhat broader use of forms, an emphasis of essentials and the elimination of the at times rather fussy detail of Carolingian painting, as well as the use of a lighter, more chalky palette, which more clearly differentiates it from its Carolingian model.

The finest achievements of Ottonian illumination are connnected with the patronage of Egbert, Archbishop of Trier (977-93), and the Imperial court. The origin of this interrelated series of illuminated manuscripts has long been connected with the Imperial monastery of Reichenau, believed to have been the seat of the chancellery of the Emperors, but it has been argued more recently that most of the manuscripts were produced at Trier. What is quite clear is that the scriptorium worked both for Egbert and for the Emperors Otto II (973-83), Otto III (996-1002), and even on until the reign of Henry II (1002-24), and that it should be seen first and foremost as an Imperial scriptorium. (For a comparison with Irish masterpieces, see Book of Kells.)

One of the manuscripts of this closely interrelated group of masterpieces of book illustration - a gospel lectionary which sets out the readings from the gospels throughout the liturgical year, known as the Egbert Codex (Stadtbibliothek, Trier Cod. 24) - was certainly made for the personal use of Egbert. Born c.950 in Flanders, Egbert was made Archbishop of Trier in 977 by Otto II after only one year as head of the German Imperial Chancellery. He had probably entered the Imperial household under Otto I and went to Italy with Otto II and Theophanu in 980. He attended the Diet at Verona in 983, and, after the death of Otto II in the same year, supported the claim of Henry the Wrangler to the regency during the infancy of Otto III, who was only three years old when his father died. Egbert returned to Germany, and in 985 made his peace with Theophanu who had succeeded in her ambition to assume the regency. But Egbert played no major part in politics thereafter.

Under Egbert's rule, Trier became a flourishing centre for scholarship and the arts. The Egbert Codex was produced certainly after 977 - Egbert appears as an Archbishop on its dedication page - probably after 983, and before his death in 993. Both in style and iconography this codex is closely related to a number of manuscripts known as the "Liuthar group", named after the monk Liuthar. He is portrayed as the scribe in the gospels of Otto III, written between 997 and 1002, now in Munich (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek Cod. 4453). The other major manuscripts of the group are the early 11th-century lectionary of Henry II (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich) and the Aachen Treasury Gospels, often attributed to the reign of Otto III (c.1000), but more probably made for Otto II shortly before his death in 983.

This Imperial scriptorium drew on a combination of late antique and Byzantine influences. From the late antique tradition of northern Italy came the rich, atmospheric settings, the pale colour, the loosely painted figure-style, and the architectural details - all characteristics also found in the so-called "Gregory Master", named after the Registrum Gregorii (Musee Conde, Chantilly) who worked for Egbert in Trier in the 980s. Byzantine illumination contributed new, post-Iconoclastic iconographic themes, and provided models for solid gold-leaf backgrounds, increasingly popular in Ottonian painting. An even stronger reliance on Byzantine traditions, especially in the use of full and vivid brushwork, was found in the Cologne region, where the Gospels produced for the Abbess Hitda of Meschede (Landesbibliothek, Darmstadt Cod. 1640) and the Sacramentary of St Gereon (Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris Cod. Lat. 817) were produced in the early 11th century.

At the same time - indeed, already in Henry II's lectionary, but in an even more pronounced manner - in the somewhat later Bamberg Apocalypse (Staatliche Bibliothek, Bamberg) a hardening of forms occurs: a new insistence on flat colour with a strict formal balance, not unrelated to the search for pattern and harmony as in architectural design, which enabled powerful and expressive images to be created. A similar emphasis on pattern, although very different in character, being based more on an almost metallic brilliance and jewel-like details, was developed in another scriptorium which also enjoyed the Imperial patronage of Henry II, at Regensburg, where outstanding manuscripts like the Sacramentary of Henry II (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich) and the lectionary of Abbess Uta of Niedermunster (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich) were written.

Towards the end of the Ottonian period, around the middle of the 11th century, both at Salzburg and at Echternach, hardened forms again dominate, but here solid figures almost sculptural in three-dimensional solidity contribute yet another important characteristic as source material for the beginnings of Romanesque illuminated manuscripts of the 12th century. Outstanding among this Medieval manuscript illumination is the so-called "Golden Gospels" of Henry III (The Escorial, near Madrid) given to Speyer Cathedral, the burial church of his dynasty, painted at Echternach 1045-6, where there is also a strong dependence on the Carolingian traditions of the Tours school. At Salzburg, this "solid figure" style is much more profoundly influenced by middle Byzantine illumination, as can be seen in the lectionary from the library of the Archbishops of Salzburg (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich). This was followed by a new style of Gothic illuminated manuscripts (1150-1350).

Ottonian Ivory Carving

It is not surprising that during the Ottonian period, when art was so heavily dependent on both Imperial and aristocratic patronage, there should also have been major contributions in the luxury arts of goldsmiths' work and ivory carving. It has been difficult to attribute surviving work to the reign of the founder of the dynasty, Henry I, but a splendid ivory casket survives in the monastery of St Servatius at Quedlinburg that may well have been donated by him. Not only was this monastery his favourite foundation, begun in 922, and where both the king and his wife were buried, but three ivory shrines were recorded in its treasury as early as the beginning of the 11th century, and it seems more than likely that the handsome casket was one of them. An inscription on its base records that a restoration of it was undertaken under Abbess Agnes (1184-1203) and it is clear that some parts of the rich silver-gilt foliate filigree were added to it then. But the remainder of the metalwork - especially the oblong cloisonne enamels - would fit better into the early 10th century. Similar enamels were employed in the middle of the 9th century on the Golden Altar of S. Ambrogio in Milan.

The figure carving of the single apostles under arcades also shows both strong links with Carolingian traditions sespecially those of St-Gall c.900 - as well as the kind of thickening of form and more solid and somewhat more static treatment of figures characteristic of the transition from Carolingian to Ottonian styles at the beginning of the 10th century. More convincing still is the decoration of engraved snakes in the spandrels of the ivories in the Quedlinburg casket, now hidden under the metal mounts but revealed during a restoration, which can be compared to exactly similar decoration between arches in the Folchard Psalter, illuminated at St-Gall between 855 and 895.

During the reign of Otto I, material becomes more plentiful. In ivory-carving there is the more securely dated antependium (altar-frontal), commissioned by the Emperor for his new cathedral of Magdeburg begun in 955. Some 16 panels survive scattered in various museum collections and libraries reused as bookcovers. Among the surviving panels, (approximately 5 x 4 inch) most of which are decorated with scenes from Christ's ministry in the New Testament, there is a dedication scene (now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), in which Otto is shown, attended by St Peter and probably St Mauritius, the patron saint of Magdeburg, presenting the model of the new church to Christ enthroned. The figures are stiff and massive against a pierced background of heavy pattern, probably originally set against gilt-bronze. The borders are broad, undecorated, and flat, and were probably intended to be covered by decorated metal framework. Although it is known that for the building itself at Magdeburg Italian materials like columns and marbles were imported, the style of these ivories is not difficult to see as one derived from northern Carolingian traditions. When attempting to locate the style to a particular region, however, a perennial problem of Ottonian art arises - especially when dealing with court commissions. Either craftsmen practiced their art while on the move with the peripatetic Imperial court, or the Emperors gave their orders to the various abbeys patronized by them. In the end, it must be more important to discover in what kind of milieu artists formed their style, and what sources were availlable to them, rather than attempt to define the precise location of any given workshop.

In the case of one of the most important objects associated with Otto I, the great Imperial crown now in Vienna (Welttliche und Geistliche Schatzkammer), such an approach must lead to the conclusion that it is unlikely this masterpiece of the goldsmith's craft could have been made north of the Alps. The techniques of stone settings, and the large figurative cloisonne enamels found on four of the large eight panels hinged toogether to form the crown, have no antecedents in northern Europe. Only in Italy and in the Byzantine tradition could any craftsman have acquired these skills. It was also customary in the early Middle Ages for the Pope to provide the crown for Imperial coronations no one would have been more deserving of special papal generosity than Otto who had come to the aid of the Holy Father in his struggle against the Lombard kings.

Was the crown, then, made for Otto I's Imperial coronation in Rome in 962? The internal evidence of the crown itself lends strong support to this attribution. The arch that now spans the crown from front to back bears an inscription giving the name of the Emperor Conrad, who was crowned in 1027. The arch is clearly an addition to the original, quite different in style: the crown must therefore have been made for an earlier occasion. Yet another piece, now part of the crown, a small cross mounted rather awkwardly on the front, is by yet a different workshop, which can be paralleled in the court commissions of c.980 and is most likely therefore to have been added for Otto II after his succession in 973 - especially as Otto III was only three years old when his father died and only 16 when he assumed the Imperial title in 996: the crown is unusually large even for a fully grown man. There seems little doubt, then, that the crown was in its original form intended for Otto I in 962.

Although no exact parallel to the general form of the crown survives, it is true to say that large, figurative enamels with semicircular tops are found only on Byzantine crowns - like the 11th-century Byzantine crown of Constantine Monomachus, in the National Museum, Budapest.

Influence of Byzantine Art

An increasing interest in Byzantine fashions was clearly evident at the Ottonian court, especially after the marriage of Otto's son to the Byzantine princess Theophanu in 972. A large number of pieces of jewellery, including half-moon shaped earrings of pure Byzantine form and a lorum, a kind of breast ornament fashionable in Byzantine court dress, were found in Mainz in 1880 and named the "Gisela" treasure after the wife of the Emperor Conrad II, who died in 1043. The treasure may well have been lost or hidden in the 11th century, but the workmanship and the strong Byzantine connections make it far more likely that it had once belonged to a lady of the earlier Ottonian court, probably Theophanu herself. She and her husband, Otto II, are certainly shown in pure Byzantine court dress on an ivory panel (Musee Cluny, Paris), a close western copy of a Byzantine type of ivory. The Imperial pair are represented being crowned by Christ, exactly as on a panel on which Christ crowns the eastern Emperor Romanos and his consort Eudoxia (Cabinet des Medailles, Paris) probably carved in Constantinople between 959 and 963. Even the inscription on the Ottonian panel is for the most part in Greek.

Style, as well as fashion and iconography, fell under the spell of Byzantine art during the reign of Otto II. A superb, small panel (Castello Sforzesco, Milan) shows Christ in Majesty attended by St Mauritius and the Virgin with the Emperor to the left and Theophanu with her infant son on the right and the inscription below: "OTTO IMPERATOR". It was perhaps a gift from the Abbey of St Mauritius in Milan. Here the broad, massive forms, the flat relief, and the strict placing of the figure within a tightly drawn frame are all reminiscent of the style already seen on the Magdeburg antependium. But while the northern panels show a dry, linear treatment of drapery, the later panel has a smoother overlapping of folds, better understood modeling, and a far more subtle and sophisticated handling of relief - all derived from Byzantine models. The large ivory situla (holy water bucket), now in the treasury of Milan Cathedral, with an inscription stating it was made for Archbishop Gotfredus of Milan (975-80) to be given to the Emperor during his visit to Milan, is from the same workshop.

Ottonian Goldsmithery, Metalwork, Jewellery

Once metalwork at the court had been saturated by north Italian and Byzantine taste - neither Otto II nor Otto III spent much time north of the Alps - the influence of such work increased in aristocratic circles in Germany. Two workshops were created: one at Trier by Egbert, and another by Mathilde, grand-daughter of Otto I at Essen, where she was Abbess from 973 until her death in 1011. A series of three gold altar crosses, decorated with precious stones and cloisonné enamelling, all given by her to the Abbey, are still to be seen in the Domschatzkammer, but the major masterpiece of Ottonian goldsmithing was the great three-quarter-life-size reliquary of the Virgin and Child, now in Essen Cathedral. Gold sheet nailed to the wooden core of the seated figure, enameled eyes, and a jewel-studded halo decorated with filigree for the Christ child, enrich this astonishing cult-figure. She is sensitively modeled with fluid, broad flat forms, overlapping and sweeping across her figure, not unrelated to the Milanese ivories already mentioned. But there is something immature about her: the detail is not in complete harmony with the whole sculpture, perhaps because the more usual miniature scale of goldsmiths' work has here been enlarged to an almost life-size piece of freestanding sculpture.

At Trier, three fine pieces of goldsmiths' jewellery art survive of those commissioned by Archbishop Egbert all are technically related to those produced at Essen, especially in the use of cloisonne enamelling of astonishing quality and precision. While the earliest of the altar crosses at Essen was made for Mathilde and her brother Otto, Duke of Bavaria, after 973 and before Otto's death in 982, the workshop at Trier was probably not very active until after Egbert settled there in 985. But one piece, and certainly the earliest, the staff reliquary of St Peter (now in Limburger Domschatz), is dated by inscription to 980. The full length of the staff is covered with gold foil decorated with relief busts (now badly damaged) of ten popes and ten archbishops of Trier, while the spherical knop is enriched with small enamels showing Evangelist symbols, four busts of Saints - St Peter among them - and the 12 Apostles. A second work, and the major surviving commission, is the Reliquary of the Sandal of St Andrew (Domschatzkammer, Trier). The large rectangular box, which served also as a portable altar, over 17 inches long, has a fully three-dimensional foot covered in gold on top, decorated with a strap sandal set with gems, in imitation of the precious relic inside the box. Four very large cloisonne enamels with the symbols of the Evangelists are mounted in the sides and at both ends, while elaborate decoration of pierced gold repeat patterns, set off against red glass enriched with strings of small pearls, show in both technique and style very close relationships with Byzantine goldsmiths' work.

The third piece is smaller but of even more astonishing precision, and an unprecedented technical mastery of enamelling which covers all its surfaces: the reliquary of the Holy Nail of the Crucifixion (Domschatzkammer, Trier).

The same workshop, or at least one of the masters trained there, must also have been responsible for a gold bookcover commissioned by the Regent, the Empress Theophanu, beetween 983 and 991. She is represented on it, along with her son Otto III, as well as a number of saints all closely connected with the Abbey of Echternach, near Trier. The central ivory panel with a crucifixion was inserted into the cover when it was reused for a new manuscript during the reign of Henry III in the middle of the 11th century. Such close collaboration between Egbert and Theophanu would only have been posssible after their reconciliation in 985.

Another, and possibly somewhat earlier Imperial commisssion, the so-called Lothar Cross at Aachen (Domschatzkammmer), cannot be attributed to either of these two outstanding workshops with any certainty, but the shape of the cross, set with filigree and gems and small strips of blue and white step-pattern enamels, relates it to the Essen series, and it may well have inspired them. On the reverse of the Lothar Cross, a superb engraving of the suffering Christ on the cross again reveals the strong dependence on Byzantine models in court circles.

The life-size wooden crucifix figure (Domschatzkammer, Cologne) believed to have been ordered by Archbishop Gero of Cologne (ob. 976) has often been compared to this engraving, but the Gero Crucifix is a far more powerful image and perhaps the most seminal wood-carving of the Ottonian period. Christ is suspended from the cross, arms strained, and the severely modeled head falls on to his right shoulder. The sagging body twists first one way, then the other, and the sharply drawn loincloth jaggedly contrasts with the softly modeled, almost swollen flesh. The thin, twisted legs below are no longer capable of bearing any of the massive weight of the straining body. The harshness of its conception was to be of considerable importance for the next two centuries, and it foreshadows many of the most powerful Romanesque sculptural achievements.

A growing awareness of sculpture, both on the miniature scale of ivory-carving and of larger work for church furnishings, including work in both bronze and stone, became increasingly important during the 11th century. With the premature death of Otto III in 1002 the direct line of Ottonian emperors of the Saxon dynasty came to an end, and Henry II (1002-24), Duke of Bavaria, grandson of Otto I's brother Henry, was elected by the German nobles. In character, Henry was a very different man from his predecessors. At home in his native Saxony rather than in Italy, he enjoyed the chase, was a shrewd and practical politician with a passion for law and order, and a zealous reformer of the church. He had a reputation for piety which led eventually to his canonization in 1146. His gifts to the church were lavish, and the workshops assembled at the end of the 10th century, stimulated by contacts with Italy and the Byzantine tradition, were now fully employed north of the Alps for the first time. Among his gifts survive the Golden Altars for Aachen and for Basel (now Musee Cluny, Paris), the great pulpit for Aachen, the Reliquary of the Holy Cross for Bamberg (Reiche Kapelle, Munich), his favourite foundation, where there are four splenndid vestments, including two great copes, with figure scenes embroidered in gold thread and applique work in deep purple silk. In goldsmiths' work, like the Golden Altar of Basel and the Aachen pulpit, sheer scale is unprecedented. The five great figures at Basel, under an arcade and the full height of the altar, are in high-relief sculpture with a sculptural presence not generally found in major stone sculpture until the end of the 11th century the great pulpit seems to enlarge a bookcover to an almost heroic scale more than a yard in height. While gems are set on bookcovers, the pulpit has large crystal and semi-precious agate bowls mounted on it.

The outstanding contribution, however, to this new awareness of monumental scale and sculptural potential in church furnishings was made by the workshop created by St Bernward, Bishop of Hildesheim (993-1022). Early in his episcopacy, the workshop produced some very fine small-scale silver castings, including a pair of silver candlesticks, a crozier head made for Abbot Erkanbaldus of Fulda who was appointed in 996, and a small crucifix and Reliquary of very high quality made to contain relics of St Dionysius, acquired by Bernward in Paris in 1006 (all preserved in Hildesheimer Domschatz). After these early experiments in cire perdue casting, Bernward commissioned two major works: a hollow, cast bronze column nearly 13ft high which once supported a crucifix, and a pair of bronze doors nearly 16 ft high for his foundation of the Abbey of St Michael, dated 1015. With these, sculptors took the first steps towards the new monumental style of Romanesque sculpture, which itself paved the way for the apogee of church art in the form of Gothic architecture and its accompanying Gothic sculpture.

Resources For Medieval Art
For the succeeding 'Roman' style, see:
Romanesque Painting (c.1000-1200)
For the Byzantium-Italian style, see:
Romanesque Painting in Italy.
For the more linear French interpretation, see:
Romanesque Painting in France.
For a fusion of Spanish and Islamic styles, see:
Romanesque Painting in Spain.

Watch the video: TICE Art 1010: Medieval and Byzantine (January 2022).