Classical Inspiration in Medieval Art

By Walter Oakeshott | Go to book overview

II
THE NORTHUMBRIAN RENAISSANCE AND ITS BACKGROUND

THIS SERIES of lectures began with a summary discussion of the way in which classical ideas in general, and in particular some classical scientific ideas, were transmitted through the middle ages. The impression such a survey gives is of the remarkable, if often isolated, persistence of certain classical notions. In some form -- often but not always a distorted form -- some of them reappear again and again. Some, where the critical text was in Latin, were continuously available, if seldom understood, and it is difficult to predict where or when or why one suddenly emerges into prominence, with the result that we are confronted with a work to which classical canons may be applied. This is true of the arts also; and the recurrence of strongly classical work is more frequent in the early than in the later middle ages. From the 4th to the 7th century works are from time to time produced which are so thoroughly steeped in the classical tradition that they are almost impossible to date: works like the Brescia reliquary, some panels in the throne of Maximian at Ravenna, the Virgil Codex Vaticanus, the Castel Seprio paintings that will be considered in a moment (41; 34a, 39a, b, 40b); or we might add the Joshua Rotulus (40a), or at a much later date some of the classical imitations in sculpture of the 12th and 13th centuries. If an exact date were not available in literary sources for the 12th century Liège font (111-115), it might prove an almost insoluble problem for the antiquary to date it. So when at the end of our first lecture, classical art was spoken of as dying, that phrase calls for many reservations. In the style of the Poitiers sarcophagus (18d) it appears to be dead. But at that same moment it may be found elsewhere very much alive.

The so-called renaissance of the 8th and 9th centuries, however, is more than the sporadic reappearance of individual works influenced by classical models. And as the revival in literature and education in the 8th and 9th centuries in Western Europe provides both parallels, and also contrasts, with the revival in the arts, it is worth attempting, in spite of the obvious pitfalls, to provide a summary

-22-

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Classical Inspiration in Medieval Art
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • I - Classical Origins 1
  • II - The Northumbrian Renaissance And Its Background 22
  • III - The Carolingian Renaissance 41
  • IV - The Ottonian Renaissance And the Evolution 59
  • V - The Twelfth Century Renaissance (i) 76
  • VI - The Twelfth Century Renaissance Ii 96
  • List of Illustration 113
  • Acknowledgements *
  • Plates *
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