The Role of Art in the Late Anglo-Saxon Church

The Role of Art in the Late Anglo-Saxon Church

The Role of Art in the Late Anglo-Saxon Church

The Role of Art in the Late Anglo-Saxon Church


BL An exploration of the role of early medieval religious art in its historical context, focusing on England from the reign of Alfred the Great to the aftermath of the Norman conquest. Tenth and eleventh century society expressed itself extensively through visual means, and the surviving material provides a rich body of evidence for the religious culture of the time. Combining visual and documentary evidence, The Role of Art in the Late Anglo-Saxon Church sheds new light on a wide range of magnificent art works and their functions, and offers fresh perspectives on the ecclesiastical history and beliefs of late Anglo Saxon England, with important implications for the study of early medieval civilization in general.


The art of the late Anglo-Saxon period (like that of any other era) was a fascinating mixture of novel elements and familiar ones, of variations and repetitions. Inevitably more attention has been devoted to the novelties and variations than to the traditions and repetitions. However, a just appreciation of the material, and, in particular, of the way it functioned, requires that it be considered as a whole, with as much attention being paid to the value and role of repetitions as to that of the innovations and variations. Certain decorative motifs appear to have been relatively ubiquitous, being repeated not only in individual media, but also from one medium to another, and this is precisely what we would expect. Because the phenomenon is commonplace and apparently inevitable, it tends to be taken for granted and almost disregarded; yet it remains an issue worth exploring. Why do closely similar ornamental designs appear time and time again, often in different contexts, and what does this tell us? the fact that certain figural subjects were particularly common, recurring in multiple versions at a given centre, and sometimes even on a single object, is equally worthy of our attention. Why was this the case? What was the relationship of the various depictions to each other? How did the multiplicity of images affect the viewer's perception of them individually and collectively?

Although some of the issues involved in the case of decorative motifs are also applicable to that of figural imagery, others are not. Accordingly it will be most convenient to treat the two fields separately. Let us begin with the former.

Repetition of decorative motif and the
CO-ORDINATED environment

Before assessing the implications of repetition, we should demonstrate that, despite the near-complete dearth of surviving evidence for several media, notably glass, metalwork, textiles, and wall-painting, and the relative paucity of extant stone sculpture and ivory carving, it is nevertheless quite clear that decorative motifs were indeed repeated from one medium to another. Reflecting the popularity of d . . .

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