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Grove Art: Subject Guide

Medieval Art and Architecture

Introduction

Ravenna, S Apollinare Nuovo, mosaic showing the Betrayal of Christ, c. 500; photo credit: Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NYThe thousand plus years between the division of the Roman Empire into Eastern and Western empires around the 4th century AD and the beginnings of the Renaissance in Europe are known as the medieval period. The era encompasses many artistic styles and periods, including early Christian and Byzantine, Anglo-Saxon and Viking, Insular, Carolingian, Ottonian, Romanesque, and Gothic. During the medieval period, the various secular arts were unified by the Christian church and the sacred arts associated with it.

This fascinating artistic period includes painted decorations from the catacombs in Rome, grand Byzantine monuments such as the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, famed mosaics in Ravenna, illuminated manuscripts and metalwork of the Insular art of Ireland and Britain such as the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Book of Kells. It also includes ivories, manuscripts and building projects of the Carolingian and Ottonian dynasties that produced such monuments as Charlemagne’s Palatine chapel at Aachen. Additional prominent works of this period include Romanesque architecture, such as the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela in Spain, and the great Gothic cathedrals at Amiens, Reims and Notre-Dame in Paris with their façade sculpture, stained glass, altarpieces, and treasuries of enamels, reliquaries and embroidered vestments. The sophisticated visual culture encompassed numerous media—architecture, sculpture, painting, textiles, shrines and ivories. The works of the medieval period remain a rich area of study for scholars interested in diverse interdisciplinary topics such as economic history, political and religious studies and the status of women in medieval society.

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