Wednesday, June 20, 2012

It's the Sutton Who? ?

No, it’s the Sutton Hoo and is considered the greatest archeological find in Anglo-Saxon history.  They are group of burial mounds of ca. 600 AD located on what was private property (the 225 acre Sutton Hoo Estate) overlooking the river Deben in the town of Woodbridge in Suffolk, England.   Initially, only two of the seventeen mounds were excavated in the summers of 1939.

 What did these mounds look like?
Part of the Sutton Hoo gravefield showing Mound 1 and others (foreground), Mound 2, reconstructed (middle distance) and Sutton Hoo House (distance). Author: Dr. Steven Plunkett, Wikimedia Commons
Prior to excavation, the mounds appeared as random hills located on heathlands.    As a side note, during WWII ditches were added to Suffolk heathlands to discourage enemy gliders from landing there.

Burial mound 2 at Sutton Hoo, England; as reconstructed after excavation to supposed original Anglo-Saxon form, looking east, showing the surrounding quarry-ditch. Wikimedia Commons

What was found in the mounds?

An archeologist found burial ships in the style of Viking “clinker built” ships  buried in the mounds.  It was only the second time in history that a burial ship had been found. 
Replica of the ship from the Sutton Hooship-burial 1, England. Author: Russell Scott, Wikimedia Commons

Long and slender, these ships were shallow with what appeared to be two bows. Not only were they used as burial ships, but as transport vessels.  Depending on their size, “clinker built” ships could carry just enough people to raid and pillage down European river systems and back home again.  On the other hand, they could swiftly move across large bodies of water.  

Screen capture of image from home movie, shot by Harold John Phillips, of 1939 excavation of Sutton Hoo burial ship. Permission for unlimited use granted by son William Phillips. Uploaded by grandson Jeremy Gilbert, Wikimedia Commons

Model of the Sutton Hoo ship-burial 1, England. The placement of the burial chamber is marked white.
Author: Steven J. Plunkett, Wikimedia Commons

The largest Sutton Hoo burial ship was 90 feet long.  Because most of the ship had rotted away, there was only an impression left of its structure in the soil, plus the metal nails.   

It also contained a hoard of treasures fit-for-a-king, and that’s who was buried there, a great king.  They found a sword, scepter, silver utensils, gold coins, jewelry including belt buckle, garment clasps, and a purse lid of precious metal with precious stones such as garnet, and intricate enamel work. 

Sutton Hoo purse lid, British Museum, Photo by Robroyaus, Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution License. The design elements are sitting on a newly created background as the original had rotted away.

Shoulder clasp (open) from the Sutton Hoo ship-burial 1, England. British Museum. Photo by RobRoyAus, Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution License. Gold and precious stones.

Shoulder clasp (closed) from the Sutton Hoo ship-burial 1, England. British Museum. Photo by RobRoyAus, Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution License.

Anglo-Saxon golden belt buckle from the Sutton Hoo ship-burial 1, Suffolk (England). 7th century AD. British Museum. Author: Michel wal Creative Commons Attribution License.

Bottom of hanging-bowl 2 from the Sutton Hoo ship-burial 1. Flickr, Photo by Russell Scott,Creative Commons Attribution License.  Metal fragments of the bowl have been positioned on a glass framework.

Replica of gold coins and ingots from the Sutton Hooship-burial 1, England. 37 coins, 3 blanks, 2 small ingots. Flickr, Photo by Russell Scott,Creative Commons Attribution License

Fragments of the Sutton Hoo large lyre. Reg. No. 1939,1010.203, Photo: Andreas Praefcke, Creative Commons

Replica of the Sutton Hoo large lyre. Maplewood, with electrotyped fittings, bone bridge and gut strings.
 Photo: Andreas Praefcke, Creative Commons

The most famous treasure was a helmet with full face mask. 

Sutton Hoo parade helmet ( British Museum, restored). Although based on late Romanhelmets of spangenhelm type, the immediatecomparisons are with contemporary Vendel Age helmets from eastern Sweden.wikipedia commons 
Helmet from the Sutton Hoo ship-burial 1, England. 7th century AD. British Museum.

These art treasures of ca. 600 AD, and more, are currently housed in the British Museum.

What about textiles and the Sutton Hoo?
“Textiles (around and on the central structure).  The burial chamber was evidently rich in textiles, represented by many fragments preserved, or replaced by metal corrosion products. They included quantities of twill (possibly from cloaks, blankets or hangings), and the remains of cloaks with characteristic long-pile weaving. There appear to have been more exotic coloured hangings or spreads, including some (possibly imported) woven in stepped lozenge patterns using a Syrian technique in which the weft is looped around the warp to create a textured surface. Two other colour-patterned textiles, near the head and foot of the body area, resemble Scandinavian work of the same period.”  Wikipedia Commons

Until next time,

Mary B.

      ·       Field Trip!!! (In my dreams):

      ·       Here’s a Kahn Academy link to the Sutton Hoo.
·        Here’s a highly academic connection between the Sutton Hoo and art history:
“Sutton Hoo is a cornerstone of the study of art in Britain in the 6th–9th centuries. Professor Henderson, summarising, calls the ship treasures 'the first proven hothouse for the incubation of the Insular style.' A full assemblage of objects of very varied origins are combined among the possessions of a person of the highest social degree. The gold and garnet fittings show the creative fusion of foregoing techniques and motifs derived from them, by a master-goldsmith working for such a patron.
From the gathering together of such possessions, and the combination or transformation of their themes and techniques in new productions, the synthesis of Insular art emerges. Drawing on Irish, Pictish, Anglo-Saxon, native British and Mediterranean artistic sources, Insular art is a fusion more complex than the purely Anglo-Irish expressed by ' Hiberno-Saxon' art. The 7th century Book of Durrow, first survival of the gospel-book series including the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Book of Kells, owes as much to Pictish sculpture, to British millefiori and enamelwork and Anglo-Saxon cloisonne metalwork, as to Irish art.
This fusion in the Sutton Hoo treasury and workshop precedes the (often royal) religious context of the scriptoria. There is thus a continuum from pre-Christian royal accumulation of precious objects from diverse cultural sources, through to the art of gospel-books, shrines and liturgical or dynastic objects in which those elements were blended. It is a parallel expression of the formation of English and Insular cultural identity, and the dissemination of royal values. That is part of the fascination of Sutton Hoo.”  Wikipedia Commons

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Papyrus / Parchment / Vellum / Paper

Surfaces—usually one looks at what’s on the surface rather than the surface itself, especially when it comes to books.  Since we’ve been exploring manuscripts produced in monastic scriptoriums, perhaps knowing more about those writing surfaces might be interesting.

Little did I know when I began looking for writing and painting surfaces related to the early medieval period (~600 AD – 1000 AD) there would be so much information available.  Things I wanted to understand were:  Who was using these surfaces? What was being used?  When it was being used? Where was it being used? And, why use one material over another?

Whoa! That’s way too much to post. 

However, if one is interested in a complete timeline (2,500,000 BCE to 2012 CE) on transcripts of all sorts, there is an extensive one on line and it’s fascinating. There is also a how-to guide on medieval bookbinding.  This site goes into a paragraph or so of history, for example, the word ‘book’ or ‘codex' is from the Latin word caudex, meaning ‘tree trunk’ and so forth. Also fascinating!

Roman-Style Wax Tablet:  

 National Museum of Wales (Cardiff). Part of a wooden writing tablet
from the ancient Roman fortress of Caerleon, Wales. Wikimedia Commons

Made of wood and covered with a layer of wax. Used during the Middle Ages as a portable and reusable writing surface.  Along with other treasures, these tablet books have been unearthed in bogs as far north from Rome as Hadrian’s Wall in England . . . with writing on them. My guess is that the bogs of England are a kin to the La Brea Tar Pits in California!


Papyrus plant (Cyperus papyrus) at Kew Gardens, London, England. Wikimedia Commons

Papyrus is manufactured from the paper-like fiber or pith of the papyrus plant. It is a woven material of fine threads. Not only was it first known to be used as a writing surface, but was also used for boats, mattresses, mats, rope, sandals, and baskets in ancient Egypt. It was made into long scrolls for long documents. Unfortunately, it is not pliable and is susceptible to moisture and excessive dryness.

The Heracles Papyrus (Oxford, Sackler Library, Oxyrhynchus Pap. 2331), a fragment of 3rd century Greek manuscript of a poem about the Labors of Heracles. Wikimedia Commons

In dry climates, papyrus is stable and rot resistant when stored properly.  Stored in humid conditions, the material can be destroyed by mold. In Europe, if this writing material lasted more than 200 years it was exceptional.  If it is not perfect quality, the writing surface is irregular and harder to write or paint on.

When books started being made, it was found that it was faster to turn a page than to keep rolling, unrolling, and rolling the scrolls again and again to find something fast.  Thus, parchment came into favor again. It could be made anywhere, not just imported from Alexandria.  


Detail of central European (Northern) type of finished parchment made of goatskin stretched on
a wooden frame Wikimedia Commons

Parchment is a thin material made from calfskin, sheepskin or goatskin. The skins are split. Different from leather, parchment is limed but not tanned. This papyrus substitute was developed around 250 BC when it became unavailable from its only source, Alexandria in Northern Africa.  It was commonly used for writing on, for documents, notes, or the pages of a book, codex or manuscript. Although parchment is also affected by environment causing buckling, unlike papyrus it can initially be folded to make individual pages.

Most parchment books would be bound with wooden boards and clamped with brass clasps or leather straps. These closures became decorative features even after paper made them unnecessary.

Sachsenspiegel manuscript of 1385 (sister manuscript of Harffer Sachsenspiegel),
photographed by Britta Lauer Creative Commons

Modern vegetable (paper) parchment is manufactured today from pulp wood fibers.


 The Marriage, 1350s, miniature on vellum by Niccolò da Bologna, 1350s,
National gallery of Art, Washington DC Creative Commons

Vellum is a finer-quality parchment and was generally made from split skin of a young animal, like calfskin, kidskin or lambskin, although other skins were used.  Vellum is similarly processed as parchment.  It is actually more durable than paper and documents such as diplomas were and are still written it.  Vellum is still used for Jewish scrolls, of the Torah in particular, for luxury book-binding, and various calligraphy documents such as The Constitution of Vermont shown below. Modern “paper vellum” (vegetable vellum [paper]) is not from mammal skin, but of plasticized cotton.

Vermont Constitution vellum copy, 1777. Attribution: Jim Hood a.k.a. GearedBull Creative Commons

Purple Parchment

Folio 7v from the Rossano Gospels, the Good Samaritan. Creative Commons

Known as 'purple parchment,' these manuscripts were actually written on a high quality vellum and dyed purple.  “This was at one point supposedly restricted for the use of Roman or Byzantine Emperors, although in a letter of Saint Jerome of 384 [sic.AD], he “writes scornfully of the wealthy Christian women whose books are written in gold on purple vellum and clothed with gems. . .” (^ Needham, 21). The lettering may be in gold or silver.  Later the practice was revived for some especially grand illuminated manuscripts produced for the Emperors in Carolingian art and Ottonian art, in Anglo-Saxon England and elsewhere.  Some just use purple parchment for sections of the work; the 8th century Anglo-Saxon England Stockholm Codex Aureus alternates dyed and un-dyed pages.”(Wikipedia)


  Well, I'm thinking this is another post ! !

Mary B.

Friday, June 15, 2012

I’m Proud to be a Neanderthal?

We started our Art History Group study with cave paintings three years ago.  This morning, Mary L. sent us a link to new information she discovered regarding cave art.  The article heading is:  "New dating method shows cave art is older: Did Neanderthals do it?" 

Cave paintings have always been attributed to the Paleolithic period (Homo sapiens), but a new method of dating these cave paintings suggests they may be from Neanderthal’s. 

Neanderthal (Homo neanderthalensis) forensic reconstruction by Arturo Balseiro for the book, 'Them and Us: How Neanderthal predation created modern humans' by Danny Vendramini. Kardoorair Press, Australia. 2009, Author: DannyVendramini, Wikimedia Commons

Homo sapiens à Quison (04), France, Author: Véronique PAGNIER, Wikimedia Commons

The old method of dating the cave paintings was through the radiocarbon testing.  Scientists are trying a method called uranium-series disequilibrium dating.  “Carbon dating” is not now obsolete; it means simply that there is now more than one way of dating these paintings.

Recent Thursday Art Group blog posts suggest how to become aware of artistic symbols relating to our current study, the Carolingian period.  As this MSNBC article suggests, cave paintings are the earliest symbols of our very, very ancient ancestors.  We may not know what they mean, but we generally know what they are (hands, horses, etc.).

Thanks, Mary L.
To read more on this fascinating story and see cave art images, go to MSNBC.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Carolingian Manuscript Art - Part Two

So began models or “schools” of images in religious art (like “schools of thought”).  The styles of art were used for different purposes, mostly for manuscripts such as The Gospels, prayer books, Psalters, book covers, etc.; however this art can also be found on coronation thrones, alters, and other decorative details revolving around religion.  Following are the main five schools of adornment.

The Ada School:
Dedicated to Charlemagne’s sister Ada, these manuscripts were illuminated, which means the incorporation of ornamental borders; elaborately adorned capital letters,  on initial pages (like a chapter marks a page) for the Gospel of Matthew; and showy illustrations of Evangelists portraits.  These were written on vellum in the Carolingian minuscule style (see post on Carolingian Art – Paleography dated 5/26/12).  Following are the three styles in the Ada school.

 Ada Gospels, c. 800, The reproduction is part of a collection of reproductions compiled by The Yorck Project. The compilation copyright is held by Zenodot Verlagsgesellschaft mbH and licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.
This is a page from a Gospel Lectionary.  A lectionary is a list or book of only portions of the Bible chosen to be read at a church service.  Coloring has become more important.  There will now be the addition of the color purple, as well as gold and silver leaf; colors have meaning. Notice the addition of capitals or columns on both sides of the portrait.  Notice the symbol above the portrait.  Are you able to identify who this is?  (Charlemagne died about 14 years after the Gospel Lectionary, and his descendents came to power, in 814 AD.)

Maître de la nouvelle école de la Cour de Charlemagne, Évangéliaire de Saint-Médard de Soissons. Saint Jean l'Évangéliste, Beginning of 9th century, parchment paper, The reproduction is part of a collection of reproductions compiled by The Yorck Project. The compilation copyright is held by Zenodot Verlagsgesellschaft mbH and licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License
This is a page from the Gospel of St. Médard of Soissons.  The details are more vivid, more precise.  Additionally, there are pictorial images of stories near the top corners.  

Virgin enthroned and Child with St John on the left and Zacharias on the right, front cover of the so-called Lorsch Gospels, Carolingian AD, elephant ivory on wood, source: Marie-Lan Nguyen (2012), Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license.
Above is an elephant ivory carving on wood book cover from the Lorsch Gospels.  It is based on the Gospel story portrayed from carvings on the Throne of Maximianus in Ravenna, Italy. From the linear segments, it almost appears to be three dimensional instead of being flat.

 The Palace School:
It is from Charlemagne’s palace school in Aachen, thus the name Palace School

Aachen Gospels, c. 820, The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. Wikimedia Commons
We’ve looked at this portrait of The Four Evangelists previously.   Look at it differently this time.  The artwork has its roots in the classical art style—perhaps Classical Greek, after all, they are all wearing togas!  Something else to notice is a rational light source which gives the bodies more depth instead of being flat forms.  This is new to the “art scene.” 

The Rheims School:
The archbishop of Rheims (Ebbo or Ebo) was also the librarian and councilor of Louis the Pious.  Louis was the king of Aquitaine and one of Charlemagne’s sons.  (It’ about who you know—connections, connections!) Louis the Pias and Ebbo had quite a history, of which you can research.  The archbishop helped the spread of Christianity in the north of Europe. 

This illustration of Saint Matthew, from the 9th century Ebbo Gospels in the Municipal Library, Épernay, France, depicts him writing a Gospel. Giraudon/Art Resource, NY. , Wikimedia Commons
This image (above) from the Ebbo Gospels was also shown previously, but not in this context. The Ebbo style of painting was painted swiftly with vibrant brush strokes.  This evokes an inspiration and energy unknown in classical Mediterranean portrait forms. The predominance of green paint is a departure from the norm.

Utrecht Psalter. en:Carolingian art from the 8th century, Original uploader was Stbalbach at en.wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons
The Ultrect Psalter, also Book of Psalms, is another Rheims School manuscript.  The naturalistic and energetic figure line drawings were entirely new, and were to become the most influential innovation of Carolinian art in later periods.   Note that it is drawn in brown ink and not painted.  It appears to be rapidly drawn, almost sketch-like.  There is only a hint of landscape in the background, but it’s understood.  Also, there is movement of figures in the drawing, they aren’t stiff and static.

The end of the Rheims school ended with the Treaty of Verdun in 843 AD.  This treaty divided Charlemagne’s original Frankish empire and laid the groundwork for the independent states of France and Germany.  When there is a treaty, there was a war(s) preceding it.  And, that’s exactly what happened. Brother against brother for power.

The School of Metz :
The time period for the Metz school is ca. 850-875.  Charles the Bald was the youngest son of Louis the Pius of the Rheims School.  A side note is that the word ‘bald’ was a tongue-in-cheek reference to his landlessness, not to a hairless head!   Charles the Bald had a son named Lothair, who became Abbot of St. Germain, a Benedictine Abbey located in southern France.  This abbey was home of the School of Metz, which is known for “other” types of manuscript art.  It was where the Gregorian chant had its beginnings which followed the  Rule of St. Benedict.  

This intaglio is made of rock crystal.  It is 4 ½” in diameter and is engraved with eight episodes from the Story of Susanna. It is shown against a red background so the images can be seen easier.  The engraved side of the crystal is slightly convex and the smooth side is flat.  The edges are beveled and it is encased in a round metal frame.

Ca. 869 AD. BnF, Manuscrits, Latin 1152 fol. 3v, École du Palais de Charles le Chauve, Wikipedia Commons
The image above is "Charles the Bald Enthroned."  Preserved in its original state, this Psalter combines the elegance of the copy and luxury paints an exceptional binding. The recipient, Charles the Bald, is seated on a throne and holding  a scepter and a globe, symbols of his office. The color purple, signifying royalty, with gold leaf highlights "attaching" his position to the strength and rule of the church.

Sacramentary of Drogo, Initial C adorned with the Ascension of Christ, ca. 845-855 AD.  Wikipedia Commons

The School of Tours:

The Abbey of St. Martin at Tours is where the School of Tours originated.  Remember the name Alcuin who was the leading scholar at Charlemagne’s Aachen Palace from part one? After his tenure with Charlemagne, he was made Abbot at St. Martin’s at Tours in 796 AD, where he remained until his death.  It was said by Einhard, Charlemagne’s biographer, that Alcuin was “The most learned man anywhere to be found.”  He is also considered among the most important architects of the Carolingian period and his pupils were many of the dominant intellectuals of the era. 

Out of the School of Tours came the large Bibles with illustrations based on Late Antique Bible illustrations.  The best example is called the Vivian Bible.  It was the first Bible hand made specifically for Charles the Bald ca. 845/846AD.  It was commissioned by Count Vivien, the lay abbot of St. Martin, and presented to Charles the Bald in 846 AD on a visit to the church.
Illustration from the 'Vivian Bible' presented Charles the Bald surrounded by his courtiers. Roberts J. M., The Age of Diverging Traditions, s. 144. (polish translation), Author: Saint-Martin Monks of Tours, Wikipedia Commons
The library at Saint Martin was destroyed by a Viking Raid in 853 AD.  Only one manuscript survived and that was the Vivian Bible.

Denis Abbey housed elaborate metalwork from the School of Tours.  Because church interiors were very elaborate, the metal of choice was gold.  As seen in the 15th century painting below, the Denis Abbey was home to a very ostentatious alter piece.  Not only was it gold, it was embedded with precious stones.
The mass of St. Giles (La Messe de saint Gilles),  ca. 1500 AD, The National Gallery, London, Wikimedia Commons.
Why show this painting instead of an image of the real alter?  That’s all there is to show that it actually existed because Denis Abbey was destroyed during the French Revolution  in 1789-1799 AD.  Another battle/war between the haves-and-haves-not. In this instance, it was the Roman Catholic churches apparently on the “haves” side. From this plainting one can see how important adornment was to church interiors; it became their symbol of high regard, worship, adoration and respect. 

Art is starting to depict what is happening (St. Giles saying mass above).  This sounds flippant, but there were no cameras to capture moments in time.  Historical context is a way to view art.  It still is.  (Okay, I’m really starting to sound a little like Sister Wendy―in a didactic sort of way. Eeeikes!)

Mary B.

P.S.  I was thinking about symbols while driving my car this morning.  We are overloaded with them!  The golden arches are probably the most in-your-face symbol.  If one looks, you will see they are still very much being used, and we are considered a literate.  Another I noticed was directional arrow on a sign. Those symbols, ha, they will always have their place in our lives―imagery without words!