Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Carolingian – Iconography in Religious Art

i·co·nog·ra·phy  /ˌīkəˈnägrəfē/
  • The use or study of images or symbols in visual arts.
  • The visual images, symbols, or modes of representation collectively associated with a person, cult, or movement.

Christ pantocrator mosaic Hagia Sophia, Wikimedia Commons

There are numerous symbols in religious art. The word ‘symbol’ will be a recurring theme from this time period forward. Although collectively called symbols, the word ‘icon’ may be used occasionally.

For now, let’s concentrate on a few symbols that are significant.  These symbols were created and used prior to the Carolingian period, but seem more visible in the Carolingian monastic abbeys perhaps due to Charlemagne's focus.   The use of symbols is seen in mosaics, illuminated manuscripts , stained glass, sculpture, in  frescos and textiles to name a few.  The artist of the time created art in whatever medium that they excelled in and used the symbols as identification to tell stories and a pictorial way to tell who the figure is. Since illiteracy was the norm, more people could recognize a symbol.

The symbols of the four Evangelists are here depicted in the Book of Kells.
The four winged creatures symbolize, clockwise from top left, Matthew, Mark, John, and Luke. Wikimedia Commons

Carolingian depiction from an Aachen Gospel, 820 Wikimedia Commons

Seen in the two images above are the first  four evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  They wrote four Gospels which are the first four books New Testament in the Bible. These four men are frequently represented by symbols.  They are normally, but not always, shown with wings.  The basic meanings grew over the centuries and are individually articulated below.  Above one can compare the way the evangelists looked from the Celtic manuscripts to the Carolingian depictions. They evolved, but symbolically the same thing.

The Ebbo Gospels are an example of the early Carolingian Gospel book known for an unusual style of illustration of the four evangelists.  It was produced in the ninth century at the Benedictine abbey of Hautvillers, near Reims.  There one can see the stylistic renderings of a few of the evangelists.

Fol 7v: The Evangelist St. Matthew with his symbol the angel. (Sic. Winged man)

Above, “Matthew the Evangelist, the author of the first gospel account is symbolized by a winged man, or angel. Matthew's gospel starts with Jesus' genealogy from Abraham; it represents Jesus' Incarnation, and so Christ's human nature. This signifies that Christians should use their reason for salvation.” (Wikipedia)  He is also frequently seen writing in a book.  Matthew: the man.

 Fol 47v: The Evangelist St. Mark with his symbol the lion. Gospels from Mainz, Now in the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in The Hague (The National Library of the Netherlands).Wikimedia Commons
Above, “Mark the Evangelist, the author of the second gospel account is symbolized by a winged lion – a figure of courage and monarchy. Mark has John the Baptist preaching "like a lion roaring" at the beginning of his Gospel. It also represents Jesus' Resurrection (because lions were believed to sleep with open eyes, a comparison with Christ in the tomb), and Christ as king. This signifies that Christians should be courageous on the path of salvation.” (Wikipedia)  Mark: the lion.

Fol. 104v and 105r of the Egmond Gospels. The evangelist Luke and his symbol, ca. 900 AD, Koninklijke Bibliotheek Website, Franco-Saxon illuminator, Wikimedia Commons

Above, “Luke the Evangelist, the author of the third gospel account (and the Acts of the Apostles) is symbolized by a winged ox or bull – a figure of sacrifice, service and strength. Luke's account begins with the duties of Zacharias in the temple; it represents Jesus' sacrifice in His Passion and Crucifixion, as well as Christ being High priest (this also represents Mary's obedience). The ox signifies that Christians should be prepared to sacrifice themselves in following Christ.” (Wikipedia)  Luke:  the ox

St. John, from the Coronation Gospels. Another Carolingian evangelist portrait in Greek/Byzantine realist style, probably by a Greek artist, also late 8th century.

Above, “John the Evangelist, the author of the fourth gospel account is symbolized by an eagle – a figure of the sky, and believed to be able to look straight into the sun. John starts with an eternal overview of Jesus the Logos and goes on to describe many things with a "higher" level than the other three (synoptic) gospels; it represents Jesus' Ascension, and Christ's divine nature. This represents that Christians should look on eternity without flinching as they journey towards their goal of union with God.” (Wikipedia) John: the eagle.

Folio 72 verso of the Codex Aureus of Lorsch contains an illumination of Christ in Majesty

"[…] the usual accompaniment to Christ in Majesty when portrayed during the same period, reflecting the vision in Revelations. They were presented as one of the most common motifs found on church portals and apses, as well as many other locations. When surrounding Christ, the figure of the man is usually at top left – above Christ's right hand, with the lion above Christ's left arm. Underneath the man is the ox and underneath the lion is the eagle. This both reflects the medieval idea of the order of "nobility" of nature of the beasts (man, lion, ox, eagle) and the text of Ezekiel 1.10. […].” (Wikipedia) 

Center of the ceiling of the "Velatio" cubicle: the Good Shepherd (also sheep and doves with olive branches in trees). Location: Catacomb of Priscilla, Italy, Rome. Date: Second half of the 3rd century, Wikimedia Commons

Above, "the image of the Good Shepherd, often with a sheep on his shoulders, is the most common of the symbolic representations of Christ found the Catacombs of Rome, and it is related to the Parable of the Lost Sheep. Initially it was also understood as a symbol like others used in art. By about the 5th century the figure more often took on the appearance of the conventional depiction of Christ, as it had developed by this time, and was given a halo and rich robes." (Wikipedia)

Lamb bleeding into the Holy Chalice, carrying the vexillum.Wikimedia Commons

Above, "the title Lamb of God for Jesus appears only in the Gospel of John, with the initial proclamation: "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" in John 1:29, the title reaffirmed the next day in John 1:36.[1] The second use of the title Lamb of God takes place in the presence of the first two apostles of Jesus, who immediately follow him, address him as Rabbi with respect and later in the narrative bring others to meet him." (Wikipedia)

The Holy Spirit depicted as a dove, surrounded by angels, by Giaquinto, 1750s.Wikimedia Commons

The four winged creatures that symbolize the Four Evangelists surround Christ in Majesty on the Romanesque tympanum of the Church of St. Trophime in Arles Wikimedia Commons

Although not exclusive to Christian art, the halo (nimbus, aureole, glory) is nonetheless a religious symbol. This halo surrounding the head of a person in art frequently indicates a holy, sacred person, angels and prophets. The halo has been used by non-Christian religions as well.  It is the concept of energy from God, divine light or grace of God, a window into heaven.

Nativity and Transfiguration of Christ, with cross haloes; the apostles, angels and prophets have
plain ones. (1025-50, Cologne). Wikimedia Commons

Above is a story full of iconography. Notice Christ is standing on a ‘firm foundation.’ Speaking of that, observe what the feet are resting on in religious art; stone/concrete is good and solidlike the church.  Look at the body language of the characters, the different types of halos.  What are the people holding, if anything, in their hands? How about figuring out who is an apostile, angel or profit?

Iconography has been around since the Paleolithic times. Unfortunately, those are studies the Thursday Art Group of 5 (TAG-5) visited prior to the start of this blog.  One may not always know what all the symbols mean, but it is definitely an artistic language. The next time you visit a museum or church, start seeing at what you are looking at with different eyes―a new appreciation of what you see may appear―especially those religious sections that frequently get passed by quickly or you don't pay too much attention to!  My thought is that to appreciate the art, one must know more about the art. One doesn't even have to like it.  This is art appreciation.

Mary B.

P.S.  As you may already have observed, there are just few actual images from the Carolingian period on this post. Since free and copyright free images are what I post, it can’t be perfect; the visual references seemed more important. Okay, I’m having my own pity party here people!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Carolingian Period – Monasteries

As mentioned in a previous post, monasteries are an important part of the Carolingian period. They were producing art! Here are a few to ponder:
The monastery was established to allow monks to live communally under the authority of an abbot (meaning: father), who would be the head or chief governor of the community. Benedict of Nursia (St. Benedict) established what is known as the Benedictine Order in ca. 529 AD. I say ‘known as’ because in my research I don’t believe it was his intention to start a religious order per se, but have it become a standard for individuals to live in equality for religious study; it just evolved that way since he was the first to write a book of rules to live by.

St. Benedict delivering his Rule to St. Maurus and other monks of his order,France,
Monastery of St. Gilles, Nimes, 1129, Wikimedia Commons.

The Rule required their members to participate in manual labor, sacred reading, writing, copying books, studying music for chanting, and teaching to name a few. The monasteries were the schools of the early middle ages (aka. early medieval period,) as well as being self-sufficient communities. The St. Benedict Rule was basically a practical instruction book on day-to-day living and organization of a monastic order.

 Hatton 48 fol. 6v-7r of the Bodleian library in Oxford.
This manuscript is a copy of St. Benedicts rule. Date: 8th Century AD, Wikimedia Commons

During the time of St. Benedict, manual labor was considered disgraceful and he wanted workers to have self-respect in whatever work they did by giving it the dignity that religion had at the time. This was the beginning of the work ethic. He essentially liberated working people from their association with slavery by recognizing work as being a self-sufficient activity which benefitted their entire religious community. You see, working people in that time period were considered slaves. There was a great disparity between the ‘haves-and-have-nots.’ Remember the St. Patrick post?
St. Benedict Rule's became a standard for Western monastic establishments.  Even though it was over two hundred years later, this standard was encouraged by Charlemagne (remember, Charlemagne was about setting universal standards in Europe for communication, in a monetary system, measuring system, and religious communal life to name a few).
The clergy in monasteries were often, but not always, scribes and scholars and had the skills of reading and writing at a time where universal illiteracy was the norm. The monastic libraries and scriptoria (where books were read, copied, illuminated and bound with ornamented covers) became centers of study and repositories of what remained of the literary culture of early Christianity. It is written history not oral history.
While the Benedictine monistaries were generally male, other religious orders allowed females (nuns), with an emphasis for them of useful work and sacred reading. Religious life became not only a calling for men but women as well. Women weren't exactly encouraged to follow this line of work. Then, a woman didn't have to be a virgin to join, just a single woman and that included widows.  Times were changing.  Women were even becoming saints!  I'm wondering now who the first woman saint was in this male dominated world.  Hmmmmmm.

Saint Gall (St. Gallen), Switzerland, was only one of these Abbeys that accepted women. Below is a proposed diagram for an ideal monastery sent to Saint Gall, Switzerland, ca.819 AD as a construction plan for their community. The original was in red ink on parchment.
 The Plan of St Gall Monastery/Convent, the only surviving major architectural drawing from the High Middle Ages Wikimedia Commons

Image: The diagram version of the Plan, Carolingian style Abbey of St. Gall Wikimedia Commons
(I have personally added a few of the names of the various modules as shown in "Gardner's Art Through the Ages."  See Books on the upper blog tab.)
This particular plan for a monistary/convent is set up in a series of modules which are in standard units of 2 ½ feet lengths. All modules are consistent-sized parts and multiples of parts, including the length of each monk’s bed, widths of paths in the vegetable garden, etc, to reflect orderliness; a rational philosophy built on carefully planned units. This is not unlike the division of books into chapters and subchapters, etc., a virtual outline. An ideal monastery provided all the facilities necessary for the conduct of daily life: a mill, bakery, infirmary, vegetable garden, and brewery, so that monks felt no need to wander outside its protective walls. Although this plan wasn’t followed explicitly at St. Gall, it is nonetheless interesting to look at its layout.

Something else of note is the size of the chapel. It was not only a chapel, but a temporary refuge for refugees, or pilgrims who were not allowed in other parts of the compound. It could temporarily house the family of a sick person in the hospital for the poor if they had traveled a great distance. It had to be large enough for people to gather and to benefit from the spiritual teachings; they were also saving souls―providing it was a speaking order. I'm sure there are some idiosyncrasies here that I'm missing. 
As a side note, Saint Paul is the Patron Saint of St. Gall. His symbol is usually a book or a sword. This shows a book. He is recognized not by his actual portrait, but by his symbol.

Image: Saint Paul writing. From an early 9th century manuscript, written in the Monastery of St. Gallen. Württembergische Landesbibliothek Stuttgart. This is believed to be one of the earliest depictions of St. Paul in European manuscripts. The picture follows an early medieval tradition of depicting the author of a text. The inscription says: "S(AN)C(TU)S PAULUS" and "sedet hic scripsit" ("he sits here and writes"). Wikimedia Commons

Currently, the library at St. Gall has one of the most complete medieval libraries in the world. Wikipedia says:
“As of 2005, the library consists of over 160,000 books, of which 2100 are handwritten. Nearly half of the handwritten books are from the middle ages and 400 are over 1000 years old."
Whew! There's so much more to tell.
Please note that this “history” is very brief and my intention is not to offend anyone that has more knowledge on the subject than me; I am not a religious nor a monastic historian. This is my blanket disclaimer that I am simply laying groundwork that will be prove important during the Carolingian period forward as most, if not all, art was religious in nature. It was a time of conversion, where the church began to take power. Charlemagne evidently wanted a standard religion—Christianity, his personal religion—he was in power. It was a significant turning point considering religious images were being destroyed at the same. (Byzantine Iconoclasm)
Mary B.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Venetian Connection

This image is quintessential Venice

     Venice - Water Reflections Author: Nino Barbieri, Wikimedia Commons

Like Hawaii, Venice is another well-known vacation destination.  What's the connection?  Simply water?  The destination part is a given.  At the same time in history that a group of people headed for Hawaii by boat, so did a group of Italian mainlanders head to what is now known now as the Republic of Venice.  Why did they go there? 
Venice was a safe haven; they were refugees. Groups of mainland Italians went to Venice to escape from conflicts and warring going on. They felt unprotected on the mainland.  I wonder if this is the reason Hawaii was settled―escape.

Unlike Hawaii with all its usable vegetation, Venice wasn’t an easy place to live because it was basically a swamp with all the accoutrements that swamps have―good and bad.  For example, there was plenty of fish to eat, but the mosquitoes were horrendous.  But, the best part was that invasion of these islets was much more difficult in the beginning.
Image: Venice in en:Italy on the Kitab-ı Bahriye (Book of Navigation) of en:Piri ReisWikimedia Commons
Located in the Adriatic Sea off Northeast Italy, the Republic of Venice is a series of 118 flat islands called islets.  Because islets are subject to tidal changes, as in they can be submerged, structures could not be directly built on the “land.” Under Venetian buildings are literally millions of submerged wood pilings/piles used for footings.  Brick or stone is set above these pilings, then structures could be built on that layer. There were no roads, only foot paths and bridges connecting the islets.  And yes, even then the lagoons between the islets were navigable by boat. It is said that “Rome was not built in a day” neither, obviously, was Venice. Thus, the Venice lagoon community began to be settled in ca. 421 AD; the same timeframe as the Hawaiian Islands were being settled. 

Architecture is another art form. The following images are from ca. 1851 and ca.2004. The first image is indicative of the kind of damage constant moisture leaves behind.  Believe me, it was difficult to choose only two images!
Above is a Daguerreotype of a Byzantine quadrifora in the façade of the Casa degli Zane, Venice. The Casa degli Zane is located in the Campo Santa Maria Mater Domini, a small square just to the west of the Grand Canal in Venice. John Ruskin is known to have used daguerreotypes extensively in the preparation of his encyclopaedic account of Venetian architecture, The Stones of Venice, published in three volumes in 1851 and 1853. Source: Author: John Ruskin, Wikimedia Commons

   Palace Ca’ Da Mosto on the Grand Canal in Venice and Bollani Erizzo at extreme right, Author: User:Nino barbieri, Wikimedia Commons

Venice plays a very important role in art history and trade. There will be many more references and connections made to Venice as we move forward in art history.  Speaking of moving forward, there is now a bridge from the mainland to these islands.

Here's a preview. The next blog post will be about symbolism, particularly religious symbolism.  St. Mark is the Patron Saint of Venice; their flag still shows the symbol of St. Mark―a lion.

Image: Venice, the Serenissima Republic banner on a building in the Grand Canal, Wikimedia Commons

This is just a pittance of information on Venice.  Entire books are written on the subject and ready for you to explore on your own.  For example, are you wondering about Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice?”  Hmmmm.  Me too!  I’m sure the story he created has an affinity with real life in Venice. Art includes writing and theater also. There's so much to learn!

Mary B.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Carolingian: In the Beginning

Tag-5 did something a little different this pastThursday.  Instead of the coffee shop, we went to Mary L.’s home for class and lunch.  It worked out well as we needed an extra jump start into our studies. Mary L. hooked up her laptop to the television; we got comfortable in her Family Room and started out by placing the word Carolingian into her preferred search engine.  Speaking of Comfortable, we had to tease Deborah J. because she looked like a Matisse model as she lounged on the chaiseso comfy she was!  This turned out to be so much fun—it’s difficult for five people to huddle around one laptop in a coffee shop and be able to read a small computer screen. 

As we read text from the computer via the television screen, questions of who, what, when, where and why surfaced.  It was so handy to bring up a new tab to explore the questions and have a discussion at the same time. Link after link was explored and it was decided there’s a lot to learn about the Carolingian period.  In this day-and-age instantaneous gratification is so much fun.

According to Wikipedia,   “The sense of renewal in a newly stabilized society was galvanized by an elite group of scholars gathered to the court of Charlemagne. For moral betterment the Carolingian renaissance reached for models drawn from the example of the Christian Roman Empire of the 4th century. During this period there was an increase of literature, writing, the arts, architecture, jurisprudence, liturgical reforms and scriptural studies.”

So, this is where and how we started .  More blog posts will be forthcoming about the Carolingian period .

A wonderfully prepared lunch after our study was enjoyed, at which Mary's husband joined us.  We left with a new excitement about studying this, relatively speaking, short period in history.

Mary B.

Carolingian Art - Paleography



You too can be found on one's own word processor under ‘fonts’ (this one is from Microsoft word).  And, I promise, I am not yelling—no matter how hard one tries, IT types ONLY UPPERCASE letters.  Thank you for your patronage,  and congrat's, Charlemagne, for having a font named after you!

Alcuin (pictured center), was one of the leading scholars of the Carolingian Renaissance, Wikimedia Commons

What does this have to do with art?  Script is lettering; it is calligraphy, it is writing, they are symbols of communication; and obviously needed for manuscripts.   They comprise the words written between the Illuminated Pages, and how history was passed down to us via scribes—by hand, before print—for religious and non-religious purposes.  It was so important that pictures were painted depicting it. This is one of the arts of which Charlemagne had great influence over.  It started in monasteries (new subject!). It is an art form and it is known as paleography.

Carolingian minuscule
 This is a retouched picture, which means that it has been digitally altered from its original version. Modifications: cropped detail. The original can be viewed here: Minuscule_caroline.jpg. Modifications made by "Paj". Wikimedia Commons

From the fantastic Medieval Writing website, Drs. Dianne and John Tillotson write: 
 "The development of Caroline Minuscule, or Carolingian minuscule, was a reform which increased the uniformity, clarity and legibility of handwriting. It was evidently developed in the late 8th century scriptorium of Charlemagne, or in those of the monasteries under his patronage, in the course of his conscious efforts to revive the literate culture of Classical Rome."
(Copyrighted text, Caroline Minuscule printed with permission of Dr. Dianne Tillitson)

Another description from Wikipedia says:  “[…] a "book-hand" first used at the monasteries of Corbie and Tours that introduced the use of lower case letters. A standardized version of Latin was also developed that allowed for the coining of new words while retaining the grammatical rules of Classical Latin. This Medieval Latin became the common language of scholarship and allowed administrators and travelers to make themselves understood across Europe.”[10]

During his reign, Charlemagne endeavored to bring about the respectable renaissance (rebirth) of society by providing a common language and writing style that allowed for communication across most of Europe. 
Today, the common language is English.
And, by hand or machine we can choose any lettering we wish!

Aren’t you glad to be able to communicate this way?

Mary B.

Additional information:
The Medieval Writing website has a superb glossary associated with the medieval period. While reading, just click on an underlined word and it will take you to a word definition.There are also numerous original images of texts with additional information on writing.   If you have an interest in calligraphy, or not, check it out!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Medieval Aloha

The TAG’s welcomed Mary L. back to art group Thursday (5/17/12). We all thought missing a Thursday meeting for this destination was acceptable!                                   

Diamond Head from the deck of the Mai Tai catamaran. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Mary L., her husband and grown children returned from a week vacationing in Hawaii.  Mary met her husband there 42 years ago and they hadn’t been back since.  It was enjoyable to hear her stories of fun, adventure, discovery and reminiscence they shared together as a family. You see, Mary is a great story teller and when she gets going she can have us roaring with laughter.

While in Hawaii, one of the places Mary visited the BishopMuseum on Oahu.

Photo of Bishop Museum — Hawaii, Attribution: Stan Shebs, Domain via Wikimedia Commons

She couldn't help herself and purchased a book on Hawaiian quilts in the museum’s gift shop titled The Hawaiian Quilt: A Unique American ArtForm by Linda Boynton Arthur, PhD. Since quilting is the genre under which the TAG-5 met, we were all interested in hearing her book reviewshe read/consumed it cover-to-cover before arriving back home on the mainland.  This book is not a typical “how to” quilting book, but is about the history of Hawaiian textiles, Hawaiian quilt origins and authentic Hawaiian history. The book has amazing image plates.
Mary read a passage from the book regarding the first people arriving in Hawaii from the Marquesas Islands ca. 300-700 CE. This is the same Early Medieval timeframe we have been studying in Europe—it is now etched in our brains.  As a side note, these two sets of islands are ~2,400 miles from each other. In her book, Dr. Arthur states:

“For the next 1,300 years, the Hawaiian Islands were unknown to both the Western and Asian Worlds.”
Even though contact with others was limited, if not nonexistent, there are so many similarities to other cultures such as: political hierarchy, spiritual beliefs, taboos, and myths used to explain life, creation and the world which is historically important to the majority of people. Fresh in our minds are the ancient Celts with their pagan beliefs and who shared similar worship practices. As with the ancient Celts, tattoos/body art held great spiritual and social significance for ancient Hawaiians. This is before Christianity entered into both cultures and things changed.

It is another reminder to not just look, but really observe what’s happening elsewhere in the world. Mary L. says:  
“Our studies are enhancing everything!  Boomclickeverything is more interesting and exciting, tying things together no matter where you go.”
Regarding a motif Mary L. observed at the museum, she says:

“I also must point out the 'Ohio Star' quilt motif on the ancient Kapa mat and the use of block printing not found elsewhere fits my constant harping that nothing is really new in design. “
Kapa mat,

In her book, Dr. Arthur states:
“Textiles of all kinds were considered items of personal wealth . . . Textiles were used in gift exchanges between chiefs and kings, for trading and as payment of taxes from commoners to chiefs.” “Textiles proclaimed social status.”  “The most valuable items for trade were the feather garments of royalty, followed by sleeping mats made of soft flax (maka loa mats), . . . and fabric made from barkcloth (kapa) used for clothing and bed covers."

Feather capes

“Kapa,” a cloth made by felting fibers from the inner bark of the paper mulberry tree, was used extensively before western textiles arrived in the islands.  Hawaiian kapa designs were more refined than Polynesia tapa. 

Hawaiian women used wooden mallets to pound strips of bark together to form sheets of various size, texture, and thickness, and finally, kapa was colored with dyes (red, charcoal, brown, yellow, black, pale blue, and pale green) made from native materials. Designs included block printing, a technique not found elsewhere in Polynesia before the arrival of Westerners.

Hawaiian quilting was introduced to the islands by the wives of missionaries in 1820.  The design was most likely influenced by the Baltimore Album Quilts popular circa 1840.  No, quilting as we know it is not ancient in Hawaii, but nonetheless significant and unique. We have always looked at these quilts in awe because of the amazing amount of handwork and design involved. Dr. Arthur’s book presents significant information and insight into this historical art form and it is particularly worth reading. 

Hawaiian quilt, Lei Mamo, unidentified maker, late 19th century, cotton, plain weave, appliquéd, quilted with running and overcastting stitches, Honolulu Museum of Art Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Who would have thought a simple vacation to Hawaii would reap this much information!

Mary B.

Additional information: