Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Vision and Image in Early Christian England

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Vision and Image in Early Christian England

Article excerpt

George Henderson, Vision and Image in Early Christian England (Cambridge University Press, 1999). xviii + 292 pp.; viii + 94 plates. ISBN 0-521-- 55130-7. L55.00.

This important study deals with the period AD 6oo-800, the two centuries after the conversion of England, and looks at the ways in which the English developed means of expressing the impact that Christian beliefs and images had on them. George Henderson, emeritus professor of medieval art at Cambridge, begins with the well-founded assumption that all we have from this period are the broken remains of a densely crafted spider's web, `left lopsided with a mere tangle of its link lines', and embarks on the ambitious project of reconnecting these broken remnants. He therefore deals, not only with what has survived, but with what is likely to have existed, and, in trying to imagine what was lost, makes extensive use of early Christian art on the Continent and of hagiographical and other texts from England. What the Anglo-Saxons received and what they contributed, the influences from outside and the native, are treated here, in an exciting illumination of the whole period.

The introduction, `Approaches to images in the early Christian world', deepens our understanding of the relationship between word and image, refuting the popular modern belief that pictures replaced words for the unlettered. The complexity of many early Christian images gives the lie to this simplistic view and Henderson admirably elucidates a range of challenging images. The following chapter, `Secular impulses towards the insular manuscript style', deals in detail with connections between Sutton Hoo and the Book of Durrow, as well as with the Celtic and Pictish elements in the latter. …

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