Word and Image: An Introduction to Early Medieval Art

By William J. Diebold | Go to book overview

Introduction
The Character of Early Medieval Art

In a letter written in the year 600, Pope Gregory the Great declared, "[W]hat writing offers to those who read, a picture offers to those who look; in it they read who do not know letters."1 Gregory's text marks the chronological beginning of this book, an essay on the nature of visual art in Europe north of the Alps from 600 to 1050. More important, Gregory's letter also provides the book's conceptual foundation, the relationship between word and image in early medieval art. That theme is a telling entrée to my subject because, in the early Middle Ages, writing and pictures were inextricably linked. The understanding of the word/image relationship was continually shifting, and it will take the entire book to explore it in a nuanced way.

For now, I simply want to warn the reader that this book's very premise may seem strange; the modern tendency is to separate the verbal and the visual rather than to link them (many people today, for example, believe that the visual arts come from a hemisphere of the brain entirely distinct from that responsible for words and thoughts). In many ways I hope that this book's subject seems unfamiliar, for as much as early medieval art has resonated and continues to resonate with important currents in twentieth-century artistic production, much about it is odd, even bizarre, for the modern viewer; this is much of its appeal. The early medieval conception of art was strange, as were its forms. By the end of this book I will have given that

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Word and Image: An Introduction to Early Medieval Art
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Illustrations vii
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction - The Character of Early Medieval Art 1
  • 1 - Books for the Illiterate? Art in an Oral Culture 9
  • 2 - Art in the Service of the Word 45
  • 3 - Books for the Illiterate? 71
  • 4 - The Crisis of Word and Image 99
  • 5 - Inscriptions and Images: 127
  • Conclusion - "Brother, What Do You Think of This Idol?" 139
  • Notes 149
  • Further Reading in English 153
  • Index 157
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