Classical Inspiration in Medieval Art

By Walter Oakeshott | Go to book overview

IV
THE OTTONIAN RENAISSANCE AND THE EVOLUTION

LATER ANGLO-SAXON art in England is a barren field for the gleaner seeking evidence of direct classical influence. Hardly any object and hardly any drawing can be shown to be inspired immediately by Roman or Byzantine art; and those which at first sight appear to be likely candidates, such as certain astronomical illustrations, owe their existence to Carolingian intermediaries. I know of one instance -- but only one -- where an Anglo-Saxon sculptor appears to be following an Italian work (19a, b), probably of the 8th century, but of none where a late Anglo-Saxon sculptor is taking classical or Byzantine sculpture as his model. And this is true also of what is artistically much the most important element in Anglo-Saxon illumination, the narrative drawing which is a delightful feature of late Anglo-Saxon books. We examined some examples of the Carolingian forms that such narrative assumes; the Lothair crystal (74b), illustrating in an intractable medium the story of Susanna and the elders, with a dazzling vitality which gives the impression of a work rapidly planned and as quickly executed -- instead of the product of a long and laborious process. We saw that the Utrecht Psalter (63-65) found its way to Canterbury in the 10th century; where it was copied early in the 11th by artists who appreciated the difference between the classical manner and that of the frissonnant. Professor Wormald names the style of a whole series of Anglo-Saxon drawings the Utrecht Psalter style, and this is a fair indication of the enormously important part that the Psalter played. The evidence indeed seems to suggest that the number of models available apart from the Utrecht Psalter was surprisingly small. Certainly no one picture has yet been shown to have copied ancient narrative drawing direct, in Anglo-Saxon England after A.D. 800.

A well-known example of this Anglo-Saxon narrative drawing comes from the New Minster at Winchester(82a, b) and dates from the twenties of the 11th century. The two pages form a single design, a sort of Last Judgment -- with a difference. The main scene is being watched with interest, and perhaps a certain smugness, by two priestly

-59-

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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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