A History of English Art in the Middle Ages

By O. Elfrida Saunders | Go to book overview

Chapter IV THE SUBJECT-MATTER OF ROMANESQUE ART

THE number of subjects, biblical or theological, which had been represented in English art before the Conquest was not very considerable, if we may judge from extant examples. To the Evangelist pictures and Crucifixions of Celtic manuscripts early Anglo-Saxon art had added some Last Judgement drawings and one or two dedication pictures. Figures of David and scenes from his life had appeared in psalters, and a few manuscripts had already contained full-page pictures of Christ enthroned in majesty, attended by angels and surrounded by the four beasts, symbols of the evangelists. The Benedictional of St. Ethelwold, alone among Anglo-Saxon manuscripts, had contained a short series of New Testament scenes and others from the lives of saints.

In the Romanesque period the range of subjects was greatly enlarged; certain theological and symbolical themes, and certain cycles of Biblical scenes became general. The choice of subjects illustrates in a striking manner the doctrinal trend of religious thought at this time.

Christ in Majesty, seated on a rainbow as a symbol of His power, and surrounded by a mandorla as a symbol of His holiness, formed an element in the scheme of decoration of every church and almost every manuscript. Supported by angels and raising His hand in blessing, He dominates the painting of an apse, as in St. Gabriel's Chapel at Canterbury, or the sculpture of a tympanum, as on the Prior's Doorway at Ely (fig.25). In manuscripts he is usually surrounded only by the evangelist symbols; on the walls of churches the twelve apostles sometimes accompany him as celestial courtiers. At Kempley (Glos.) there is a suggestion of the Apocalyptic

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