Italy Figurative Arts 4

No monument of the great Carolingian sculpture has come down to us, none of the bas-reliefs that according to a contemporary poet represented in the palace of Ingelheim the most notable facts of ancient history and the wars of Charles Martel, Pepin and Charlemagne. Therefore, it is not possible to measure in its extension the civil movement of the Carolingian time towards the ancient, towards Rome. The name of Rome runs on Alcuin’s lips; boasting Aachen: “the new Rome”, he says, “touches the stars with its colossal vaults. The pious Charles designates the destination of each place, and presides over the construction of the high walls of the future Rome ”. The emperor in supervising the building of the royal chapel in Aachen, with the columns and marbles taken from Rome with the consent of Pope Adrian, had to meditate on the laws of ancient art. The historical of him Eginardo, sending a coffin imitated by the ancient to his son, he inculcated him to study Vitruvius. Angilbert, a disciple of Alcuin in the abbey of Saint-Riquier, made use of columns and precious weapons he had transported from Rome; and Aarone, bishop of Auxerre, who returned with the emperor from Italy in the year 800, raised a ciborium as an example of the others seen in the city.

According to, the goldsmith’s masterpiece in the Carolingian age is the golden altar of the basilica of Sant’Ambrogio, a gift from Archbishop Angilberto II, who had it made by Vuolvinio. This distinguished prelate who invited some French monks “ad illuminationem suae ecclesiae”, gave us with that monument the greatest essay of the flourishing civilization in the convents of France, of the art forms determined in Corbie, crossed by the Alps together with the calligraphic forms of Tours and with the codes of the abbey of Fulda.

This gold and silver altar, supposedly a Romanesque work due to the architecture lacking a Byzantine character, was contrasted with the frontal of the cathedral of Città di Castello with which it has no artistic affinity. It is the result of a refined art, which draws its advantage from classic materials and shapes; in the cross of the lateral face, on the left, are included an upside-down gem with a Cupid and a second one, also upside-down, with a sphinx, a precious stone engraved with a winged head, and another with Greek writing. Thus continues the goldsmiths’ method of setting ancient gems in gold and enamels; and, as in the Carolingian miniatures, for example in the book of the Gospels of Louis the Bonario (Bibliothèque Nationale of Paris, Lat. 8850), the gems and cameos form part of the decoration. The classic forms, not yet vanished, you can see on this altar: the archangels, the angels, the blessed, Ambrose before being bishop, the gentleman to whom he stamps his sick foot, the men to whom he preaches, have the chlamys hooked to one shoulder; the steed on which Ambrose rides seems to have been studied from ancient bronzes; and the parallelepiped cruciform altars, with votive crowns hanging above, the gemstone predellas and the blanket of the corpse of Ambrose in circles or oculi , the decorated with simple spirals or volutes, from which other volutes are born, the baptism by immersion of the Saint, on whose head the water is poured by means of an amphora, Saint Martin who falls swaddled into the tomb, are all forms which demonstrate the tradition of the ancient still alive.

From the century VII to IX the art of carving in bone and ivory produced tablets, sacred diptychs, which served as a cover for illuminated manuscripts, for example the tablet with the repeated name of Duke Orso (around 752) in the museum of Cividale, the diptych of Rambona of the Abbot Olderico (around 898).

Byzantine art, while the West was lightened by Carolingian glimpses, entered the second golden age, which extends up to the century. XII; and, endowed with great conservative strength, she kept the architectural types determined towards the time of Justinian, especially when the Byzantine Empire flourished under the Macedonian dynasty. In those prosperous days, Basil I erected Hagia Sophia of Thessaloniki, typical for the central dome, he presented “the church to Christ her immortal spouse, as the bride adorned for the wedding feast, embellished with fine pearls, gold, the splendor of silver, with iridescent marbles in a thousand tones, with mosaics and silk fabrics “. The great central dome dedicated to the Almighty became the generating principle of church buildings, and small domes crowned it,

In Italy, particularly due to the Norman conquest, which united Puglia, the Capuan principality and Sicily, the first rebirth of our art took place, due to the association of the Romanesque civilization with the Byzantine and with that of the Muslim East, which welcomed the Asian elements of the Nile, Euphrates and Tigris regions. That rebirth, which had its culmination in the arts and letters under Frederick II, spread throughout Italy, in Rome in the art of the Cosmati who dressed the church marbles in Arabian drapes.

The splendors of Byzantine art lit up Palermo, for the mosaics of the Palatine Chapel and Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio, Cefalù for the others of its cathedral, Monreale and Venice for those of their basilicas, which nevertheless expressed the sunset of the Byzantine art. Together with the golden mosaic paludings, this art advanced into the West due to the illuminated manuscripts, menologists, homilies, octateuchs, jumps, where the ancient Greek forms revived under canopies with peacock feathers, among showers of flowers, of gems, of stars. And it crept through the shining fabrics, the golden embroideries, the silvery damask, which adorned the solemn doors of the churches of Montecassino, San Michele on Monte Gargano, San Paolo fuori le mura in Rome, Salerno, San Marco to Venice.

The Byzantine sculpture in ivory, with diptychs, triptychs, reliquaries, little boxes, sacred icons, supplied from the century. X to XII specimens to all of Europe, serving to spread the renewed art of Byzantium in the West. And the ivory carvings were accompanied by goldsmiths, with a profusion of enamels, embossed, multicolored, gemstone figures.

Such wealth is reflected in Venice in the Treasury of San Marco, especially in the golden altarpiece of the Basilica, with enamels taken in part from the Templon, monastery of the Almighty, in Byzantium.

This imperial metropolis had emerged from the long iconoclastic winter, with a codification of the artistic elements inherited from the sixth century, naturally developed, but, in the second golden age (IX-XI century), while not reaching the height of the century of Justinian, his art radiated into the West, where it had a wider and more penetrating influence.

Italy Figurative Arts 4