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Carolingian Art
Stretching from Barcelona to Hamburg and from Rome to Utrecht, a new empire grew, ruled by Charles the Great, or Charlemagne, who consciously tried to restore a Christianised Roman empire and revive the glory of Rome. Charlemagne is credited with preserving much of what is known of antiquity. His monks collected, restored, and transcribed ancient texts in their scriptoria and libraries. Artistically, the Carolingian period (named after the emperor) is best known for its manuscript illuminations and the splendid covers for Bibles and Gospels. These works show the human figure reintroduced into the artistic vocabulary, but in a decorative and symbolic manner. Admirable for the use of pattern and abstracted form to make pleasing configurations, the works do not interpret the figure but use it to propagate a preordained truth.

The Carolingian artists also created precious reliquaries and objects connected to the Mass, and many of these still survive. The large scale narrative wall paintings that Charlemagne revived inside churches are now lost, but while they existed, these Carolingian artists laid a solid foundation for the Middle Ages.

Contributed by Gifford, Katya
13 April 2002

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