Art Timeline  
  1 c. 15000 - 5000 BC Prehistoric Art
  2 5000 BC - 5ОО BC The Art of the Ancient Kingdoms of Egypt - Aegean Art
  3-4 5ОО вс - 12th century The Art of the Greeks
  5-6 5ОО вс - 12th century Italic Art
  7-8-9 12th century (1100-1199) The Early Christians  Art - Byzantine Art
  10-11 13th century (1200-1299) Gothic Art
  12 14th century (1300-1399) Gothic Art - International Style
  13 15th century (1400-1499) The Early Renaissance
  14 16th century (1500-1599) The High Renaissance
  15-16 16th century (1500-1599) Mannerism
  17-18-19-20 17th century (1600-1699) Baroque
  21-22 18th century (1700-1799) Rococo
  23-24-25-26-27-28-29 19th century(1800–1899) Neoclassical - Romanticism
    19th century (1863-1899) Impressionism Timeline
    19th century (1860-1899) Simbolism
    20th century(1900-1999) ART OF THE 20TH CENTURY
12th century (1100-1199)

The Early Christians Art
Barbarian Art
Byzantine Art
From Carolingian to Romanesque Art
see also:
Bayeux Tapestry
Hagia Sophia
From Carolingian to Romanesque Art
  From Carolingian to Romanesque Art

Carolingian Art
Ottoman Art
Romanesque Art
The Early Christians Art
The Christians differed from the religious sects of the Jewish people - the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Essenes, and the Qumran community -in three ways. Firstly they believed that the Scriptures were completed with the coming of the Messiah. Secondly they accepted women as participants in common prayer. Thirdly they followed the policy of attempting to convert Gentiles. Within the multicultural arena of the Roman Empire, they found points of reference with other religious beliefs: the monotheism of the Stoics, who believed in the spiritual majesty of the Greek God Zeus; the individual salvation promised by the mysteries of Demeter and Dionvsus, whose symbols - ears of corn and wine - came to indicate the bread and wine of the Eucharist; the cult of Isis (a similar figure to Mary), the mother who offers comfort, represented on her throne with the young Harpocrates; and spiritual motifs in Orphic and Pythagorean practices. It was to take centuries, however, before this adaptable religion found favour in a wider realm.

Adoration of the Magi,
detail from the silver reliquary
of the Saints Celsus and Nazarius,
fourth century.
Museo del Tesoro del Duomo, Milan


The sepulchre of Antiochus I of Commagene (34bc) on the peak of Nemrud Dagh in Turkey depicts the Persian god Mithras with Greek and Hindu divinities. The meeting of these cultures gave birth to an elaborate initiation rite that established itself in the imperial age. It tied in well with the Syrian cult of the Sun God, which the emperor Aurelian had assumed as the official state religion, inaugurating the grandiose Temple of the Unconquered Sun on the Quirinal (ad274), one of the seven hills of Rome. Diocletian considered Mithras to be the "protector of the empire". The mysteries of Mithraism were enacted in underground crypts, representing the grotto (symbol of the heavenly vault) where the god had been born from the rock (emblem of the earth). However, the exclusion of women deprived the cult of the popular support that was afforded to the Christian faith. This involvement of the whole family unit laid the foundation of the social system on which the success of the religion ultimately depended. Though in Western Europe the name of Mithras can now only be found buried beneath the churches and in shrines, the name lives on in the branches of Zoroastrianism in Iran and India. Present-day knowledge helps to provide an astrological explanation for the animals that appear in the paintings and carvings of many Mithraic shrines featuring the sacrifice of the Bull. The Crow. Scorpion. Snake. Lion, and Dog all represent constellations in depictions of the night sky. together with the personifications of the Sun and the Moon. In the fresco pictured here, Mithras is flanked by Cautes and Cautopates, whose torches - symbols of life and death - are raised and lowered respectively.

Fresco from the Shrine of Mithras, Marino,
Rome, third century

Wall mosaic showing
Christ with a radiating crown,
Mausoleum of the Julii,
Vatican Tombs.
Vatican City, third to fourth century

The Christians in the Roman Empire

In ad35, shortly after the crucifixion of Jesus, the Emperor Tiberius (ruled ad 14-37) ordered the senate to recognize Christianity. The assembly opposed it, and the senatorial decree prohibiting the cult - non licet esse cbristianos - initiated a campaign of persecution. It was during the reign of Claudius (41-54), that the apostle Peter went to Rome. One of his letters in later years confirmed the decision of Claudius' successor Nero (54-68) to incriminate the Christians for "illicit superstition" prior to the fire in ad64. Flavius Clemens, cousin of the emperor Domitian (81-96), was the first Christian to become consul, but in ad95 he was put to death for being guilty of and Trajan (98-117) tried to find a compromise between the protective policies of his predecessor and the oppressive designs of Domitian. He put a stop to persecution but ordered action to be taken against anyone who. when called before the court, refused to offer sacrifice to the gods. Hadrian (117-138) decreed that Christians should be punished only if they actually broke the law. Under Marcus Aurelius (161-180), the situation was again ambiguous. Montanist heretics, opposed to the belief that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, damaged temples and statues of divinities, but the emperor failed to distinguish between this radical anarchy and the behaviour of the Christian majority. They were accused in general of "outright opposition". The emperor Commodus (180-192) generally assimilated the Christians into the empire. During his rule, for example, underground cemeteries were established. There was keen interest in religious matters at the court of Septimus Severus (193-211), and the obsession of the empress Julia Domna with the cult of the Sun God struck a monotheistic note. There was an image of Jesus in the lararium (a shrine to the spirits protecting a place) of Alexander Severus. Christians now began to participate in political life, and the duty of administering the catacombs was given to organized funeral associations. In the early stages of Christian decorative art. the tone was one of harsh dogmatism, as exemplified in the writings of Tertullian (active between 197 and 220). and symbolism revolved around the concepts of holiness and salvation. Motifs were based on narrative episodes from the Old and New Testaments. Philip the Arabian (244-249) was arguably the first Christian emperor, and sarcophagi inspired by the new faith are dated to his rule. Images of philosophers and scholars represented the intellectual qualities of the dead, and agricultural and pastoral scenes derived from Virgil were interpreted as a vision of paradise. Gradually, the Hellenistic tradition was abandoned. In sculpture, incorporeal forms were lost in space and shadow, with emphasis instead on the symbolism of a few selected objects. The sarcophagus of the Via Salaria (Museo Pio Cristiano) blends the rustic motif of rams with groups of people reading, two disciples, and the deceased's wife with her servants. In the centre is the Good Shepherd, allegory of Christ. The increasing power of Christianity troubled its opponents. Decius (249-251) ordered all citizens to worship the gods, and, in an empire scourged by pestilence and famine, Valerian (253-260) renewed general persecution. He issued edicts against the clergy in an attempt to dismantle the entire structure of the Church. Decorative art was influenced by the thinking of some of the individuals who were subjected to persecution: Cyprian of Carthage, bishop and martyr, a moralist who developed the philosophy (based on Lucretius) of a world that had grown old and tired, and Novatian. who initiated theological speculation. The authority of the bishops, recognized by Valerian, provided an excuse for Gallienus (260-268) to revoke the notion of the primacy of the bishop of Rome and establish the jurisdictional rights of individual Christian communities. Christianity was the religio licita ("permitted religion") and Christian officials were relieved of the obligation to worship idols. In painting, the subject of salvation was supplemented by deeper issues. Extreme human conditions were examined in the disobedience of Adam and Eve, the patience of Job, and the dedication of Abraham. The principle of a guiding providence was celebrated in the story of David armed with a sling, Tobias with the fish that restored his father's sight, and Jonah rescued from the belly of the whale and spared to convert the city of Nineveh. The last is the only prophet with whom Christ compares himself and his mission during his sermons (Matthew 12: 39-41). He is depicted as a teacher, as well as a central figure in the ranks of the apostles.
Diocletian (284-305) returned to the original belief in the sacred nature of the empire and excluded Christians from the army in ad297. Galerius (305-311) extended Valerian's policy of extermination, destroying churches, burning scriptures, and convicting adherents. In ad306, peace returned to Italy with Maxentius and to the western provinces with Constantine (306-337). who defeated Maxentius in ad312, bearing the monogram of Christ on his soldiers' shields. The following year, he issued the edict of tolerance. The church soon made an impact on cities with its new ceremonial buildings, climaxing with the building of St Peter's basilica (ad3I9-24).

Relief of St Peter and St Paul,
fourth to fifth century.
Museo Paleocristiano Nazionale, Aquileia

Christ the Teacher and Shepherd of a Flock,
fresco, mid-third century.
Ipogeo degli Aureli, Rome



Peter and Paul were buried after their martyrdom in the communal necropolises situated respectively in the Via Cornelia on the Vatican Hill and on the Ostiense. So too were other Christians until the donations of land by adherents of the faith led to the building of coemeteria or "resting places", where the deceased could await resurrection. In the Middle Ages, the name "catacombs", derived from a sign under the basilica of San Sebastiano on the Appian Way, was applied to these underground cemeteries. More than 60 such catacombs were built in locations around Rome, each consisting of mile upon mile of galleries in tufa, a form of limestone. Starting from old caves or wells, they descended to a depth of up to five levels. Branching off the galleries were innumerable burial niches (loculi), arched recesses (arcosolia), and chapels to accommodate the more important tombs. In the time of Theodosius, the diggers who carried out the work belonged to an organization and handled the sale of plots.

Gallery with burial niches and arched recesses,
first level of the Priscilla catacombs, Rome,
second to third century



The Sarcophagus of Jumus Bassus. Treasury of St Peters, Vatican City

Detail from the Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus.
Treasury of St Peter's, Vatican City

Junius Bassus, prefect of Rome, had recently been converted when he died in ad359. His sarcophagus was a masterpiece of technique and inventiveness. Its subject matter and style spanned two ages, blending elements of both classical and Christian art. The work was arranged on two layers, the lower level with arched sections and the upper with lintels. The entry of Christ into Jerusalem mirrors the arrival of the emperors. The three central scenes of the upper panel are static and solemn, in contrast to the narrative vivacity of the others: this recalls the contrast between the symbolic appearances of the emperor and the depiction of the military activities on the column of Marcus Aurelius. In the centre, the sovereignty of Christ is supported by the personification of Heaven. The arrest of Peter (on the left) is placed on the same footing as that of Jesus (on the right), in consideration of the fact that St Peter's basilica was chosen as the site for the monument. The hand of God appears in the upper left corner to halt Abraham as he prepares to sacrifice his son: the direction of the gesture makes a diagonal line across the sculpted surface, which concludes with Paul being led to his martyrdom, facing outward like Abraham. The two extremes of the other diagonal, however, arrive at the seated, inward-facing figures of Pilate (above), and Job (below). On one side of Christ's entry the Fall of Man is shown, and Daniel in the lions' den is shown on the other.

Gilded base of a glass vase inserted into the plaster of a burial niche, catacombs of Panfilo, Rome, third century. Here, Saint Agnes is depicted between with columns, with doves, stars, and scrolls


In order to avoid an elitist form of decoration, the burial niches of the catacombs developed an artistic style that was neither technically nor economically demanding. Besides the paintings on the ceilings and walls, the rectangular sepulchres, hemmed in by areas of marble and brick, provided a great opportunity for artistic experimentation. Here, the ideas of the faithful were concentrated within a confined space, surrounded by the natural frame of the tufa. Initially, the space was left undecorated, as was customary in the expectation of the imminent return of Christ. But attention to the deceased persons increased as hope for the reincarnation faded. In some cases, the name of the person was inscribed in the mortar. The illiterate tried to reproduce the evocative and protective value of inscriptions by using sequences of enigmatic signs. Articles buried in the tomb were chosen not so much as comfort for the deceased but as souvenirs of past lives and relationships. In the plaster, items of nostalgia were fixed, such as bracelets, necklaces, dolls, ivory statuettes, and small domestic items such as buttons, pins, and coins. These objects were of no great symbolic significance and had meaning only for the family of the deceased. Catacomb decoration was not the work of a particular school of artists but of individual believers who. by assembling and reconverting humble belongings, managed to express themselves in a spontaneous and intimate way. From a means of giving recognition to anonymous tombs, this custom went on to kindle new styles. The addition of bright materials, shells, pieces of glass, and coloured marbles meant that these subterranean creations came to life in the light of the blazing lanterns.


Under Greek rule, the Jews had struggled to retain their identity as a people, but the Romans recognized their religious practices as lawful. The destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman emperor Titus (ad70) led to a widespread diaspora ("dispersal"), with large-scale immigration to Italy, where the Jews were permitted to observe their rites. Excavations at Pompeii uncovered the writing on the wall of a member of the Jewish community, who, during the catastrophic eruption of Vesuvius (ad79), had scribbled "Sodom and Gomorrah". During the reign of Hadrian, the Jewish rising in Palestine (ad132-135) widened the rift with the Christian community of Jerusalem, which was loyal to the Romans. In Rome, there were at least 12 synagogues, one fine example surviving to this day at Ostia. The inscriptions in the Jewish catacombs were initially in Aramaic and Greek but then superseded by Latin. Alongside these writings, other features of Jewish rituals were found in the architecture of synagogues, or on ceramics and gilded glass vases - for example, the seven-branched candelabrum (menorah), the dove, the palm, and the ampulla of oil. All these symbois became associated with the conventional funeral repertory, sometimes contained within a narrative influenced by local styles. For instance, in one painting from the Jewish cemetery of Vigna Randanini, the mythical singer Orpheus merges with the psalmist David, and the background contains liturgical subjects

Stone slab that closed the burial niche of a baby,
with Hebrew symbols and the Greek inscription
"Judas, aged seven months, lies here ",
catacombs of Via Portuense,
fourth century Museum of Hebrew Inscriptions, Vatican City

Barbarian Art

The term ''barbarian " loosely defines a broad range of peoples and art styles that existed
alongside the ''civilized'' cultures of the Mediterranean, China, and the Near East. Barbaras is Greek for "foreign", but literally meant "stammering", after the itnfamilar sound of tongues other than Greek. As barbarian cultures were fundamentally non-literate, we know them primarily through the rich material culture and art they produced.

The influence and exchange I of ideas and art styles between "barbarian" and "civilized" cultures was a continual process. The Greeks and the Etruscans were in contact with three primary groups of "barbarians" - the Celts, Scythians, and Thracians. Modern knowledge of these cultures is largely derived from archaeological investigations, although one literary source - Herodotus, the Greek geographer and historian writing in the mid-fifth century bc -vividly describes Scythian culture. The vast Roman Empire dealt with different groups of "barbarians" that superseded the above - the later Celtic populations, the Sarmatians, and groups of Germanic-speaking peoples who had migrated from the north to southern Russia and Eastern Europe. In the late fourth century ad, Hunnic tribes from Inner Asia, the "ultimate barbarians", arrived in southern Russia. This forced the Germanic and Sarmatian populations west and initiated the historical process known as the Migration Period, which transformed the Roman Empire into medieval Europe.

The Celts

The "Keltoi" to the Greeks or "Galli" to the Romans were Indo-European speaking peoples whose culture spread from the upper Danube and eastern France south to north-ern Italy, the Iberian peninsula, and North Africa; west to the Low Countries and the British Isles; and east to the Balkans and Asia Minor. The first manifestation of Celtic art appears on the objects found in more than a thousand graves excavated at Halstatt, a salt-mining settlement in the Alps, near Salzburg in Austria. In this Bronze Age phase, which began in the late second millennium and continued until the mid-sixth century bc, the "art" consisted largely of functional but highly sophisticated metalwork designed for personal adornment and to embellish weapons, and horse and chariot fittings. It was probably produced under princely patronage and is primarily geometric and non-representational in nature. The second, Iron Age phase, lasted from about 500bc to the Roman conquests in the late second and early first century bc and is called La Tene, after a settlement and votive deposit on the shores of Lake Neuchatel in Switzerland. Early La Tene styles derive from classical decorative and vegetal motifs, such as palmettos and scrolls. but these incorporate animal figures and human heads into their curvilinear structure. Depending on the region, these styles evolved in different ways with the representational elements often becoming more cryptic and abstract, and the continuous geometric designs more fluid, often underpinned by complex, compass-based patterns. Some stylistic variants were completely linear, engraved on flat surfaces, while others were more plastic and naturalistic. The artists still worked primarily in metal, favouring gold, copper alloys and iron, sometimes adding inlays of coral, amber or enamel. Personal jewellery for both men and women, arms, armour and horse trappings were elaborately decorated, as were everyday articles such as mirrors and vessel fittings. Torcs or neckrings were status symbols in many Celtic societies, which together with long hair, beards, and trousers, came to signify "barbarian" in Greek and Roman representations. Celtic artists also worked in wood and stone, producing large representational sculptures of both humans and animals; many of these appear to have been used in cult temples or as grave markers. After the Roman conquest, abstract variants of the Celtic style survived primarily in the remote British Isles, to be invested with new vigour by artisans in the second half of the first millennium ad.

Stone statue of a warrior wearing a torc, Castro do Lezenho,
Boticas, Portugal,
first century bc to first century ad.
Museu Nacional de Arqueologia e Etnologia, Lisbon

Bronze disc covered with embossed
gold sheet inlaid with coral and enamel, Auvers-sur-Oise,
early fourth century.
Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris

Gold torc from the chariot
burial of a princess,
Waldalgesheim, Germany,
second half of the fourth century bc.
Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Bonn


The territories beyond the Greek cities around the Black Sea were occupied by Thracians in the west and Scythians to the north and east. The latter traded wheat, fur. slaves, gold, and amber from the north. Scythian burial mounds in southern Russia were storehouses of everyday Greek pottery buried side by side with breathtaking gold jewellery, vessels, and fittings reflecting both classical and barbarian traditions. Some items, such as necklaces, earrings, and ritual vessels were purely Greek in both style and function; other ornaments, such as large pectorals and combs, were Scythian forms decorated in Greek style; yet other objects were purely Scythian in both decoration and function. Some objects in the second category, which must have been made by Greek craftsmen for Scythian clients, bear naturalistic images of the Scythians themselves, engaged in battle, milking mares, and shoeing horses. These contrast with abstract and stylized representations of animals used to decorate horse harnesses and with representations of animal combat, which derive ultimately from ancient Near Eastern sources. A similar admixture of Greek, Persian, and barbarian traditions also characterizes the objects from Thracian tombs on the western shores of the Black Sea, concentrated in Bulgaria, In contrast to the Scythian finds, many of these were fashioned in silver, probably reflecting local mineral resources. The sheer quantity of precious metals and their exuberant decoration may have reflected "barbarian" taste, but in general the decoration of all of these luxury goods is of the highest standard.

Gold phalera with a feline attacking a stag, Ol'gino Mound,
fifth century bc.
Museum of Archaeology at the Ukraine National Academy of Science, Kiev

Gold comb showing a battle, Solokha kurgan, Ukraine,
early fourth century bc.
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg

The Art of the Steppes

Felt saddle cover with applique depicting an elk, Kurgan 2, Pazyryk, Altai, Siberia, fifth century bc. The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg. The arcs enclosing dots used on the haunches are a typical steppe motif derived from Iranian art

The steppe, the vast grasslands that stretch across Eurasia, was in ancient times, as it is now, home to nomadic and semi-nomadic pastoral peoples of both Caucasian and Mongolian stock. They were in contact, both peacefully and aggressively, with the great settled civilizations of the ancient world - the Assyrians and Persians, the Greeks and Romans, and the Indians and Chinese - and their art was a rich blend of their own cultural symbols with those classical traditions. Much of the art they produced was small, portable metalwork and wood can-ing, suited to their lifestyle and stylistically conservative for many centuries. The primary tribes with which the Western civilizations were acquainted were the Scythians, their successors the Sarmatians, and, finally, in the early medieval period, the Huns. The Iranian-speaking Scythians are first mentioned in Assyrian sources around the middle of the seventh century bc. Within two centuries, their territories stretched from the Danube to the Don and north to the boundary between the forest and steppe, but their cultural sway extended south-east into the Caucasus and west to the Dobruja with a far eastern branch in Siberia. Herodotus described the everyday life of the Scythians, who drank mare's milk and interred their dead beneath massive earthen mounds, accompanied by human and animal sacrifices. His observations have been borne out by excavations of these mounds or kurgans, the underground chambers of which were filled not only with sacrifices but splendid golden grave goods. In the east, a spectacular group of Scythian burials in wooden chambers was discovered in the Altai mountains in Siberia. The permafrost preserved human bodies, including one entirely tattooed man, and horses still wearing their elaborate wooden bridles and headgear. Colourful felt textiles, such as three-dimensional stuffed swans designed to hang from the top of a tent, illustrate the richness of the nomadic lifestyle, while a knotted woollen rug, the oldest in existence, testifies to long-distance trading contacts between the Scythians and Achaemenid Persians. The animal style developed by the Scythians was powerful and stylized, depicting animals and birds with their most important attributes (horns, paws, and beaks) exaggerated. It was applied to personal status symbols such as belt buckles, horse trappings, and weaponry such as akinakes (short swords), battle axes, and bow cases. The Iranian Sarmatians continued a stylized version of this animal ornament, often executed in repousse gold sheet accented with turquoise inlays. Ornaments in this style, dating from the second century bc to the second century ad, have been found across a large region stretching from Afghanistan to the Caucasus and across southern Russia. Graffiti, dating from the Roman period, depict Sarmatians as mounted horsemen carrying long spears and with both themselves and their horses encased in suits of armour. Like the Scythians, their leaders were buried beneath massive mounds. Recent excavations in the Ukraine at the kurgan complex called "Datschi", near Azov have unearthed large quantities of gold ornaments and vessels studded with semi-precious stones in a polychromatic style that influenced later Migration Period art.
The Huns, who appeared without warning at the Sea of Azov in ad 369, were traditionally regarded as the most brutal and physically ugly of all barbarians. They probably spoke a proto-Turkish tongue and, although their origins remain obscure, there can be no question that one of their primary artifacts - large footed bronze cauldrons with loop handles - can be traced across the steppe to the northern borders of China. In the late fourth and early fifth centuries, they formed alliances with Sarmatian and Germanic tribes and often fought with the Romans against other barbarians. They succeeded in extracting large subsidies in gold from the Roman government, both in payment for their services and to keep them at bay. Once their power base was established in Pannonia, the Hunnic federation under Attila (died ad 452) began plundering and raiding further to the west, remaining undefeated until a disastrous battle at the Catalunian Fields in France, where the allied Huns. Ostrogoths, and Burgundians suffered heavy losses. We know almost more about them from historical sources than from archaeology, as they cremated their dead and founded no settlements. Their most splendid ornaments were fashioned of gold sheet studded with cabochon garnets. Many of these took non-classical forms, such as diadems, temple pendants, and whip handles.

Large gold stag plaque from a shield,
Kostromskaja kurgan, Krasnodar region, late seventh or early sixth century bc.
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg



Severinus Boethius (c.ad480-525), a Roman of noble birth, was a philosopher and translator of classical Greek who served as consul to Theodoric, the Ostrogothic ruler of Italy. Accused of siding with the Byzantines against the Ostrogoths, he was condemned to death. Before his execution, he was imprisoned at Pavia, where he wrote De Consolatione Philosophiae (The Consolation of Philosophy). Various early Romanesque manuscripts illuminated in Germany, France, and England depict the imprisonment of Boethius. He is shown suffering at the hands of the guards, as in this image, but also consoled by Philosophy and the Muses in others. He became a key figure in later medieval schools of thought and education. His work forms the basis of the Quadrivium, the four mathematical branches of the seven liberal arts - arithmetic, geometry, astronomv, and music.

Boethius in prison, from De Consolatione Philosophiae, 11th century.
Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris



Theodoric built in the grand Roman manner at Ravenna, the capital of the Western Empire, in the fifth century ad. A nave mosaic at Sant'Apollinare Nuovo depicts his palatium (imperial residence.) with a triple arched entrance projecting from a colonnaded facade. Each arch originally contained a figure below a hanging crown of laurel leaves - Theodoric in the centre, flanked by his wife, family, and court. The portraits were replaced by curtains after Justinian's reconquest of Italy. Theodoric's tomb, probably begun the year before he died in ad526, is the only monument in Ravenna to be built of dressed limestone blocks. The building is decagonal in plan with a lower storey of ten arched niches and a complex, unfinished upper storey. The ground floor was cross-shaped and groin-vaulted, while the upper floor was circular and topped with a monolithic dome weighing more than 233 tonnes. The dome is encircled by 12 pierced spurs, each inscribed with the name of an apostle.

Nave mosaic depicting the palatium of Theodoric,
before ad526.
Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy

Votive crown with hanging pendants spelling the latinized name of Recceswinth
(ruled AD 653-72), gold with sapphires, pearls, and garnets, Guarrazar.
Museo Arqueologico Nacional, Madrid

The Goths

Historical sources combined with archaeological evidence suggest that the Goths originally lived around the Baltic Sea on the islands off the coast of Sweden and in modern Poland. Sometime in the third century ad. these Germanic-speaking tribes began to move southwards into the Ukraine, where they amalgamated with the local agrarian people and formed an integral part of the Chernyakov culture. Their characteristic artifacts included humpbacked bone combs and bow fibulae with flat semicircular heads and long footplates. The Goths established themselves along the northern shores of the Black Sea and gradually expanded south and west into the province of Dacia, abandoned by the Romans. In the fourth century, they were converted to the Arian form of Christianity by Ulfilas, a missionary who translated the Bible into Gothic. Two primary groups of Goths were known to the Romans in the fourth and fifth centuries -the Visigoths (eastern Goths) and Ostrogoths (western Goths). When Hunnic tribes from Inner Asia moved into the Crimean penninsula in the 370s, the Goths fled, along with other tribes, crossing the Danube in 376. Allied with Huns and Alani (a Sarmatian tribe), they defeated the Roman Empire in a decisive battle at Adrianople in 378, killing the Roman emperor Valens. Visigoths were settled in Thrace and the Ostrogoths, Huns, and Alans in Pannonia, in roughly the area of western Hungary. Discontented Visigoths under Alaric invaded Italy in 401. sacking Rome in 410. The Visigoths were allowed to settle in southern Gaul and eventually took control of the Iberian peninsula. The Ostrogoths, under their leader Theodoric, marched to Italy, where he was proclaimed King and allowed to govern the Western Empire. The later fourth and fifth centuries, before these kingdoms were established, are known as the Migration Period, and the distinctive art produced by the Goths at this time consists largely of portable personal possessions such as weapons, jewellery, and horse trappings. The wealthiest examples of these were fashioned of gold decorated with garnet cloisonne; like the Franks, their leaders probably had access to such gold and gemstones as a result of their close relationship with the Eastern Roman government in Constantinople. The everyday material culture of the Ostrogoths in Italy, revealed largely by female grave goods, is closely similar to that produced while they occupied Pannonia - the women secured their garments with large bow fibulae and wore rings and earrings in the classical manner. Unfortunately, their stable government and patronage of the arts was cut short by the reconquest of Italy by Justinian, finalized by 555. Visigothic culture, on the other hand, developed steadily in southern France and the Iberian peninsula and is well-represented by grave goods from large inhumation cemeteries dating from the sixth to the eighth century. Large bow fibulae continued to be worn by women, along with earrings and distinctive square buckles. The latter were decorated initially with semiprecious stones and then increasingly with glass. Eventually, they were made solely of copper alloy, engraved with scenes derived from early Christian iconography borrowed from the Byzantine empire. The Visigoths officially converted to Catholicism under Reccared in ad589. A group of splendid votive hanging crowns, regal offerings, to the Church of Toledo in the first half of the seventh century, was found at Guarrazar, near Toledo. Fashioned of gold embellished with semi-precious stones, their form derives from a fusion of imperial and sacred traditions. The excellent preservation of a few seventh-century churches in northern Spain testifies to a tradition of high-quality building and sculptural ornamentation which prefigures the Romanesque. The invasions of the Arabs in 711 overwhelmed all of southern Spain, but a reduced Visigothic kingdom survived in Asturias and southern France into the ninth and tenth centuries.

Objects from the burial of Childeric, including gold and garnet cloisonne sword fittings, buckles, coins, and a copy of his signet ring. Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris

The Franks

The Franks were a political amalgamation of many smaller Germanic tribes who lived between the Weser and Rhine rivers. From the second to the fourth century ad, in exchange for the defence of the northern frontier, they were allowed by the Roman Empire to cultivate fallow lands in the heartland of Gaul. Their gradual infiltration ensured that provincial Roman industries, such as glassmaking, pottery, and metalworking, continued without interruption. These crafts are well-preserved in burials in large Frankish cemeteries known as row-grave cemeteries. Weaponry and belt sets in male graves reflect late Roman army styles, while female ornaments are closer to native Germanic traditions. One of the most important finds of the early medieval period is a burial mound discovered in 1685 outside Tournai in Belgium. A signet ring in the grave was inscribed with the name of the Frankish ruler Childeric, who was succeeded by his son, Clovis, in about 481. Many of the finds were later stolen, but a gold crossbow brooch and garnet cloisonne ornaments suggest that Childeric served in the Roman militia, the civil and military bureaucracy in the provinces. The Merovingian dynasty he founded takes its name from his semi-legendary father, Merovech. From the sixth to the eighth century, the Merovingians ruled the Low Countries, northern Germany, and most of France, with their dominions divided into two kingdoms, Austrasia and Neustria. In the sixth and seventh centuries, their buckles, brooches, and weaponry were decorated with garnet cloisonné and Christian imagery. This mixture of Germanic and classical traditions continued in the decoration of manuscripts and reliquaries from the seventh to the ninth century. The Merovingians maintained a monetary economy, investing their wealth in the construction of churches, monasteries, and abbeys, thereby preserving the heritage of stone carving and architecture. Key monuments that survive from this period are the Baptistry of St Jean at Poitiers, and the crypt at the Abbey of Jourre, founded by the daughter of a barbarian noble, which still holds the elaborate stone and plaster sarcophaghi of its abbesses. In 751, Pepin. mayor of Austrasia. deposed Childeric III to found the Carolingian dynasty.

King Edgar, Christ, the Virgin Mary,
and St Peter in the Statute of Winchester,
British Library, London


Accounts of the settlement of England by different Germanic tribes given by the Venerable Bede, an early eighth-century monk, have been largely borne out by modern archaeology. Comparison of metalwork and pottery found in England with Continental types suggests that the Saxons came from between the Elbe and Weser rivers in Lower Saxony, the Angles from Angeln (modern Schleswig-Holstein), and the Jutes from the Jutland peninsula and perhaps southern Scandinavia. The causes and nature of the arrival of these tribes in the fourth and fifth centuries is complex — some served as mercenaries for the Roman army but the majority probably came as invaders to a land that was ill-defended by the later Roman Empire. Saxon sea-pirates had been raiding the southern coasts of England since the third century"; eventually, in the fifth century, considerable numbers of immigrants colonized large areas of England. By the sixth and seventh centuries, the Saxons, the Angles, and the Jutes had evolved distinctive regional variations of dress and art. As with other Germanic tribes, we understand their art primarily from their grave goods. The women wore either large bow brooches with square-heads or circular brooches of various forms. These were decorated with abstract human and animal figures in a style known as "chip-caning". In areas such as Kent, which had close trading links with the Franks, the brooches were often decorated with garnet inlays. One of the most outstanding finds of the entire early medieval period is the grave of an Anglian chieftain buried in a large sailing ship beneath a mound at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, East Anglia. He was interred with a full set of regalia and weaponry, much of it decorated with gold and garnet cloisonné; silver tableware imported from Byzantium; and symbols of his authority such as a standard and sceptre. Gold coins in his waist-purse, each representing a dillerent Frankish mint, suggest that he was buried sometime in the late 620s. Although his style of burial was purely pagan, by that time, the process of Christianization was well-advanced in England. By the middle of the seventh century, the practice of inhumation with grave goods ceased and our knowledge of Anglo-Saxon art is based upon splendid illuminated manuscripts from monasteries in Northumbria. Some early examples of these, such as the carpet pages from the Lindisfarne Gospels, still bore animal interlace and geometric patterns derived directly from metal prototypes, mixed with classical motifs from the Mediterranean world. These styles were further developed in monastic scriptoria in Ireland, where native Celtic impulses produced intricate linear patterns underpinned by complex geometric compass work. Some of these interlaced patterns were translated into stone carving, where they appear on large stone crosses dating from the seventh to the ninth century.

Chi-Rho monogram from The Gospels of Matthew, The Book of Kells, c.ad800. Trinity College Library, Dublin Carpet page introducing St Johns Gospel, The Lindisfarne Gospels, c.ad698 (Cotton MS Nero D.iv). British Library, London

The prophet Ezra as a scribe, from the
Codex Arniatinus, an Anglo-Saxon
manuscript illuminated in Italo-Byzantine
style, before ad716 (Amiatinus I, fol. Vr).
Biblioteca Medicea-Laurenziana, Florence


It was politically advantageous for the aristocracy of the Germanic tribes to convert to Christianity and the Christian church grew immensely wealthy from donations in the sixth and seventh centuries. Two hundred monasteries existed south of the Loire when St Columbanus. an Irish missionary, arrived in Europe in 585. and by the end of the seventh century, over four hundred flourished in the Merovingian kingdom alone. Monastic foundations served as the springboard for the conversion of the pagan Germanic peoples, with missionaries travelling widely across Europe. Monastic scriptoria played a key role in the transmission of the Latin language and classical culture, copying and illuminating not only religious texts, but also medical and scientific treatises from the ancient world. The Codex Amiatinus was copied from a Vulgate version of St Jerome brought from Rome to England in 678; the large Anglo-Saxon copy was being taken back to Rome by Ceolfrid, abbot of the twin monasteries of Jarrow and Monkwearmouth in Northumbria, when he died at Langres in 716.

Marble panels from a presbyterial enclosure, eighth century. Abbey of San Pietro in Valle, Ferentillo

The Lombards

Gilt-bronze plaque, possibly from a helmet, identified by an inscription as belonging to King Agilulf (AD591-615) enthroned between attendants and acolytes. Val de Nievole, near Lucca, Italy. Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence

The Langobards (literally long-beards), or Lombards, as they became known, lived around the Elbe river in the first and second centuries ad. Contemporary Roman accounts describe them as warlike and they were responsible for many raids into the Roman province of Pannonia. They eventually moved into lower Austria and settled south of the great bend of the Danube in the Carpathian Basin, alongside the native population and another Germanic tribe called the Gepids. With Byzantine aid, the Lombards defeated the Gepids in the mid-sixth
century and in 568 occupied northern Italy, where they founded the last "barbarian" kingdom in the region that still bears their name. They established their capital at Pavia, and although they never took Ravenna or Rome, autonomous Lombardic kingdoms were founded at Spoleto near Rome and at Benevento near Naples. Prior to their migration into Italy, we know their culture primarily from excavated inhumation graves in Austria and Hungary. These reveal that they shared many key aspects of material culture with neighbouring Germanic tribes like the Franks, Alamanni, and even with the Anglo-Saxons, who had been their neighbours in the north. Men were buried with belt sets and weaponry, often decorated in animal-style, while women wore radiate bow fibulae
decorated with animal heads and geometric motifs in cast "chip-carving" and sometimes with garnet inlay. In the first phase of their occupation of Italy, these cultural traditions remained unchanged. By the early seventh century, however, female jewellery shifted almost entirely to Byzantine-style ornaments while the decoration of male belt sets remained closely related to contemporary Germanic styles to the north. Unlike the Ostrogoths, the Lombards were converts from Arianism to Catholicism and their graves often contained distinctive stamped gold crosses. They became patrons of Christianity, erecting both grand basilicas and small cross-plan churches and monasteries. Rich ornamentations in marble, stucco, and fresco have been preserved in the interiors of some of these buildings. Some, such as the famous relief panel depicting the Adoration of the Magi at Cividale are uniquely Lom-bardic in their very stylized and linear treatment of figures surrounded by interlace. The marble panels at San Pietro in Valle, dedicated by Ilderico II, Duke of Spoleto from ad739 to 740. depict a figure holding a chisel labelled "URSUS MAG-ESTER FECIT", a rare and early instance where a medieval artisan has signed his work. Other carvings reflect Byzantine styles or, as in the case of the seventh and eighth century frescos at Santa Maria Antiqua in Rome and Castelseprio, classical painting styles. All of these form a critical link between the ancient world and the styles that evolved in the Romanesque and Gothic periods. The Lombards in the north were defeated by the Franks under Charlemagne, while the lesser southern principalities survived until the conquests of the Normans in the 11th century.

Adoration of the Magi from the altar of the Duke of Ratchis, San Martino, Cividale, c. 740.
Christian Museum and Cathedral Treasury, Cividale del Friuli

Rock carving depicting warriors and ships, Vitlycke, Bohuslan, Sweden Bronze Age


"Viking" is a generic name applied to the seafaring raiders from Scandinavia whose invasions terrorized Britain and Europe from the ninth to the eleventh century ad. They were the last true pagans, perceived as such by the Christianized Germanic kingdoms, and their extensive oral sagas, written down in the high Middle Ages, were sources of pagan myths and social traditions for the early medieval period. Although the Norse were settled agricultural peoples, their primary means of communication was by sea. Improvements in shipbuilding in the early medieval period meant that long-distance travel and trade became increasingly practical. The raicis by Norsemen from across Scandinavia, which began in the late eighth century, were not co-ordinated in any overall fashion but had as their initial goal the acquisition of precious metals to be used as bullion in a non-monetary economy. Many hoards of gold and silver ornaments, often cut up for melting down, survive from the early Viking period. Lightning raids, particularly of the treasuries of wealthy monasteries, were often followed by settlement. A network of trading stations was established in the Baltic, along the rivers of Russia, in Iceland. Greenland, Ireland, northeast England, and northern France. Superb Viking metalwork, executed with complex animal interlace in various styles, was mirrored in wooden carvings such as those found in a burial at Oseberg, Norway, which include elaborately decorated carts, sledges, and a ship. They also erected large standing stones decorated with carved, narrative figurai scenes and/or runes, the native alphabet.

Box brooch made of partially gilt bronze, covered with silver and gold decorated with niello,
filigree, and granulation.
Martens Grotlingbo, Gotland, Sweden, eleventh century.
Statens Historiska Museum, Stockholm

Byzantine Art
As the Roman power base shifted to the city of Constantinople, previously Byzantium, Byzantine art spread through eastern Europe. There was also a great influence from the Near East, and from barbarian art and Persian
culture. The common language, or Koine, spoken throughout the Roman world, faded and Greek became the language of the empire.

The emperor Constantine founded Constantinople in AD324, dedicating the new city to the Virgin Mary. Gradually, in the centuries that followed, Roman culture became influenced by the East and the "barbarian" cultures of northern Europe. Respect for tradition was passed down without question or criticism, evident in the fact that the Greek language of a fifth-century writer is virtually indistinguishable from that written in the 12th century. Byzantine art displayed the same constancy: in the fifth and sixth centuries, it developed a formal expression that was manifested in thousands of works of art that came to be regarded as sacred and immutable. This survived the eighth and early ninth centuries (when those who venerated graven images were terrorized by the iconoclasts), and was revived in the late ninth century.


The Armenian people enjoyed a long period of prosperity between their conversion to Christianity and the Mongol invasion of the 13th century. Throughout Armenia and neighbouring Georgia there was much important and original architecture, with historical links to the traditions of the peoples who had long dominated the region - the Persians and Romans - and with the Byzantine koine from the fifth century. By the tenth century, Armenian architecture was developing along independent lines. Advanced building techniques, notably the use of concrete domes and vaults on stone walls, led to many remarkable monuments that still survive, despite earthquakes and wartime destruction. Earlier than in other regions, Armenian church architects employed the basic-plan of a central dome on a square base, a theme that was elaborated on many times. The dome, set on a circular or polygonal drum, is often supported by four pilasters, and the interior contains pilasters with arches and niches. In many cases, the plans of the buildings are quite complex, such as those of the church of Kazkh. Those that follow the Greek cross type sometimes have terminal apses and corner pieces between the arms. The fascinating ruins of the old Armenian capital, Ani, include rectangular, domed and polygonal churches. There are also castellated monastic complexes. Much of the ornamentation was carved from stone, and in some cases was inlaid in a style incorporating Persian. Arabic, Syrian, and Byzantine elements. Armenian architecture had a lasting influence on later styles in the Caucasian region.

Monastery of Marmashen, 10th-13th century.
Following the decline of Armenian power, monastic buildings gained in importance,
and became the places where culture was preserved.
The building next to the church, the gavit, was used not just for worship but also for assemblies and meetings


Churches on Torcello, in Venice

Churches on Torcello, in Venice, are remnants of the Byzantine "cities of silence". which were tantamount to museums in the declining Byzantine culture of the ninth century. Buildings of brick, the most typical material of Byzantine architecture, rise up from the grey waters of the lagoon, the brick interspersed with thin layers of stone or decorated with marble-lined openings. The cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, founded in 639 and rebuilt in 1008, has a 9th-century portal and a crypt with an 11th-century architrave and bell tower, all of which are constructed of marble. Inside, there are columns with 11th-century capitals and a huge mosaic. The Last Judgment (late 11th to 12th century), on the west wall. In the apse, which dates from the original church, other mosaics from the same period include the Twelve Apostles and the Virgin and Child. Another church. Santa Fosca, has a floor plan in the shape of a Greek cross.

The Last Judgment, wall mosaic. Torcello Cathedral, Venice, late 11 th-12th century

Christ in Majesty between the Archangels Michael and Gabriel, mosaic in the vault of the chapel's apse.
Torcello Cathedral, Venice, 13th century.
The island of Torcello was the spiritual centre and bishopric of the lagoon before Rialto-Venice


Two pages from the Gospels, 1204-05, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vatican City.
This Coptic and Arabic manuscript was produced in Cairo. It shows St Mark and. in imperial dress, St Michael

Another important late-antique and high medieval culture that continued with little change until the ninth century was Coptic ait, produced by Christians in the Nile valley area of Egypt and stretching in some cases to modern Ethiopia. However, there was no influence of ancient Egyptian art. since Alexander had all but annihilated the dynastic cultures. The principal points of reference in the ancient world were the cities of Constantinople and Alexandria, and their influence extended to this region. Byzantine styles and themes can be seen in many small objects of Coptic art. These include linen textiles decorated with medallions that bear coloured figures — these were used both for burial and ecclesiastical clothing - as well as many small paintings on wood, a variety of inlaid woods, and finely worked miniatures of sacred books. The influence of Coptic art was to last beyond the Islamic conquest of Egypt.

Decorative tunic sleeve border, ninth to tenth century.
Museo Nazionaie di Antichita, Ravenna, Italy.
The polychrome wool border stands out against the cobalt blue fabric