The Carolingian Renaissance was the defining artistic movement of the Frankish Empire in the years dominated by the rule of Charlemagne. Most Carolingian works were created in Central Europe. The art was produced for the emperor and his heirs by the court and for the court.
Who were the Carolingian kings?
The Carolingian dynasty was the second Frankish dynasty founded by Charles Martel. The Carolingian Empire consolidated its power in the 8th century and extended over a large area that included West Germany, Gaul, the Alpine massif, and North Italy. The Carolingians were strongly influenced by Byzantium. Pope Stephen II legitimized the Carolingian empire by supporting the overthrow of the Merovingians. The Carolingian dynasty reached its peak in 800, after the crowning of Charlemagne. He became the first “Emperor of Romans” of the Western Roman Empire in over three centuries. In 814 he began the separation of the Carolingian Empire, which lead to the evolution of the Holy Roman Empire and the Kingdom of France.
Carolingian Art is also known as Carolingian Renaissance. Produced by the court circle and a small group of important monasteries. This circle shows the sophistication of design and an improvement in the quality of workmanship. The art was made in several centers, such as France, Austria, Germany, and northern Italy. Carolingian Renaissance showed the flourishing of culture after the barbarian invasions. It revives and emulates classical Mediterranean art styles and forms. The classical and Northern elements represent the human figures and set the stage for the rise of Romanesque and Gothic. By the 10th Century with the Cluny Reform, the production of art started again. New “Pre-Romanesque” styles developed in Germany with the “Ottonian art” and in England with the Anglo-Saxon art.
Illuminated manuscripts and metalwork
The most surviving works of the Carolingian dynasty are illuminated manuscripts. These contained a small number of full-page miniatures, which include evangelist portraits and lavish canon tables. Luxury manuscripts were decorated with the treasure binding: a kind of ornate covers in luxury metal set with jewels around ivory panels. A few of the grandest manuscripts were written on a beautiful purple parchment. The «Chronography of 354» was a Late Roman manuscript that was copied during the Carolingian period, some historians thought that this copy has gone lost in the 17th century. One of the important Carolingian examples of goldsmith’s work includes the higher cover of the Lindau Gospels. The precious cover of the «Codex Aureus of St. Emmeram» can be dated to 870 and associated with the «Holy Roman Emperor Charles II». Another example of Carolingian goldsmith’s work is the Golden Altar (824–859). The altar consists of four sides which are decorated with different images in silver and gold, framed by filigree, rares stones, and enamel.
Mosaics and frescoes
Mosaics added value to the rich atmosphere of the Carolingian religious architecture. Many mosaics were affixed into religious buildings, depicted scenes, or other religious elements. Unfortunately, very few frescoes remain from this period. Some frescoes included religious versions of the battles of Charlemagne’s campaigns. Stone, stucco, sculptures, and reliefs were defining features of the Carolingian palaces and churches. The murals were often a life-size representation of spiritual scenes.
Carolingian architecture is characterized by a
reminiscence of Roman classicism, early Christian, and Byzantine styles. The gatehouse of Lorsch Abbey is an example of classical inspiration for Carolingian architecture. This building has a triple-arched hall with an arcade facade and columns and pilasters above. Columns and arcades on either side of the gatehouse recall Roman Basilicas. Another surviving example of Carolingian architecture is the “Palatine Chapel”. This famous chapel was built with groin vaults and barrels, which represent late Roman methods of construction. The octagonal dome recalls the shape of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy, a perfect example of romanesque architecture.
By the end of Charlemagne’s reign, architectural projects increased. Some buildings integrate liturgical services and monastic architecture. The Plan of Saint Gall is a great example of how the architectural details of a Christian monastery were defined to establish a classic style.
The Carolingian dynasty obviously left its mark on the world in creating awe. The wealth they left behind would give the power for the future generations in art and religious movements.