Classical Inspiration in Medieval Art

By Walter Oakeshott | Go to book overview

III
THE CAROLINGIAN RENAISSANCE

WHEN THE Canterbury illuminations at which we were looking towards the end of my second lecture were made, Charlemagne had already succeeded his father, who died in the year 768. During the next four decades he so extended his empire that it reached the Elbe in Germany and the Ebro in Spain; and included Bavaria, Lombardy and part of Carinthia. When he died in 814 it was as ' Augustus, Crowned by God, the great and peacebringing emperor of the Romans'. In crowning him with this title in the year 800, the Pope had offered him the 'adoration' due to an emperor, and before he died, Charles's claim to the imperial title was recognised by the Emperor of the East. Charlemagne, new representative of the old Rome as his title showed, was to win his place among the nine worthies of Christendom, worthies whose qualification is military success, like that of Joshua or Alexander or Caesar, or chivalrous bravery, like that of Hector. But it was not only as a great conqueror that he impressed his contemporaries: rather because his work meant the restoration of order in the political chaos of the times. And his own insistence on the need for a literary education arose in the first place from his awareness of the need for administrators; for monks who (as he told Abbot Baugulfus) would not only have good ideas, but would be able to express them properly on paper. Their suggestions might be sound, he told them, but their Latinity was not. Monasteries must therefore become educational centres. Incidentally, in Charles's view, a literary education was vital to a better understanding of the scriptures. But that does not seem to have come first with him. He was looking back, not to the golden age of Periclean Athens, or the Rome of Cicero or Virgil, but simply to an epoch when the ordinary man had been literate and civilised.

The revival of the arts at the court of Charles, however, does not originate only in a wish to restore the past. About forty years before Charles's accession, the Eastern Emperor, Leo the Isaurian, had begun a campaign to suppress the veneration of images. Under Leo's son

-41-

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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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