Romanesque Illuminated Manuscripts
Medieval Illustrated Gospel Texts: St Albans Psalter, Winchester Bible.

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Illustration of The Three Magi,
from the Romanesque illuminated
manuscript The St. Albans Psalter (1140)
A masterpiece of Medieval art of
the 12th century.

For details of art movements
and styles, see: History of Art.

Illuminated Manuscripts: Romanesque Era


Byzantine and Carolingian Influence
Ottonian Painting

Medieval Book Painting Series
(1) Medieval Manuscript Illumination (c.1000-1500)
(2) Romanesque Illuminated Manuscripts (c.1000-1150)
(3) Gothic Illuminated Manuscripts (c.1150-1350)
(4) International Gothic Book Paintings (c.1375-1450)

NOTE: For details of the world's most ancient illuminated Christian manuscript, see: the Garima Gospels (390-660) from Ethiopia.

The Prophets and the Beast for
the Abyss (1000-1020) from
The Bamberg Apocalypse,
one of the most important
examples of medieval painting
from the Romanesque school
of manuscript illumination.

Byzantine and Carolingian Influence

Before the emergence of Romanesque art, manuscript illumination had flourished under the auspices of the Emperor Charlemagne (c.768-814) and it was to Carolingian books that later painters turned for their inspiration. Earlier, some very fine illuminated manuscripts had been produced in Ireland and England at the beginning of the eighth century (Book of Durrow c.680), which show initials with an abundance of geometric interlace and Celtic designs worked with exquisite and minute care. Representations of the human figure, seen, for example, in the Lindisfarne Gospels in the British Museum, are complete stylizations with no feeling for depth or perspective. (See also: the Lichfield Gospels and the Irish book known as the Echternach Gospels.) Irish monks travelled to Europe, taking their books with them, and this anti-figural style was still dominant in the many monasteries they founded right up to the time of Charlemagne.

Charlemagne, in his attempt to model himself on the Caesars and rival the treasures of Byzantine art, showed a conscious desire to revive the Antique and gathered round him numerous advisors, scholars and artists. He welcomed the Greek painters who could no longer work for the Byzantine Emperors, and the theologian Alcuin of York was one of his trusted counsellors. Carolingian painting presents a synthesis of the different styles available to the artists and shows a combination of Byzantine influences, the Early Christian style of Roman art, as well as the works carried abroad by the Irish missionaries and deposited in libraries at such places as St Gall in Switzerland, Bobbio in Italy, Fulda and Wurzburg in Germany and Luxeuil and Tours in France.

It must be remembered that Carolingian art was not bounded by the present-day frontier of any one country; it was a European style of art extending over a great area from Italy to the English Channel and beyond. Each scriptorium had its own special style of making illuminated manuscripts, emphasizing one or another particular prototype. For instance, the scriptorium at Reims produced books illustrated with scratchy line drawings that owe much to Early Christian examples, whereas the so-called Palace School at Aachen produced lavish psalters written on rich purple vellum in direct imitation of books of the Byzantine Emperors. The history of illuminated manuscripts shows that the presence of a single illustrated text in a monastery could have a very strong influence on the work of a whole generation, a fact that will become self-evident in the discussion of English eleventh-century manuscripts of the south of England. For all its diversity, Carolingian Christian art has an international character that will not be seen again until the appearance of the so-called International Gothic style of the fifteenth century.

See also: Book of Kells (c.800), many of whose illustrative designs stem from Celtic art and their love of abstraction.



Ottonian Book Painting

The Carolingian Empire went into decline late in the ninth century, and eventually Western Europe was divided into a number of distinct countries; the late tenth century and the early eleventh century see the emergence of individual, national styles. The mantle of Charlemagne fell onto the shoulders of the Ottonian dynasty in Germany in 936. These Ottonian Emperors modelled themselves closely on their great predecessor and Ottonian art is in many respects a revival of Carolingian aesthetics. The Emperors were great patrons of the arts and were fortunate to have intelligent bishops like Egbert of Trier and Bernward of Hildesheim to encourage their artistic interests. It was the Emperors themselves who commissioned great books to be written, and although the manuscripts were not destined for the patron himself, certain scriptoria became noted for their outstanding Bible art and books written there were presented to other abbeys as an act of devotion on the part of the Emperor. This enlightened patronage gave rise to a very fine school of manuscript illumination.

Despite the fascination of the Carolingian achievements, Ottonian book painting is not simply a lifeless copying of its works. Many novel features emerge and there is a new emphasis on the use of line and graphic art; there is a new interrelation of figure, background and border, and the picture surface is intentionally flattened to give a stronger narrative impact. However, the interest in ancient prototypes and Christian Byzantine art is reaffirmed, purple vellum or painted purple backgrounds are used and books are often bound in Byzantine ivory covers.

A Sacramentary from Fulda in the University Library at Tubingen, written and illustrated in the tenth century, shows an interesting transition from the Carolingian to the later Ottonian style. It has a calendar page showing figures that represent the Four Seasons surrounding a central medallion which contains a symbol of the Year. The borders contain the Labours of the Months. The figures are swathed in toga-like draperies that suggest a knowledge of Late Classical painting, so popular in Carolingian times, but the total lack of any background perspective hints at the impending changes in Romanesque painting.

Several main centres of illumination flourished in Germany under the Ottonian dynasty (936-1024). Perhaps the most important school was situated at Reichenau on Lake Constance, but others flourished at Trier and Echternach in the valley of the Moselle, at Regensburg on the Danube and at Cologne on the Rhine. The style of painting that developed at these places during the late tenth century and early eleventh century was to last long after the end of the Ottonian Empire, and it formed the basis of German manuscript illumination until the advent of the new Gothic style towards the end of the twelfth century.

In the tenth century the monastery at Reichenau probably had books of the Late Classical period in its possession. The Codex Egberti (Stadtbibliothek, Trier), a Gospel book written for Archbishop Egbert of Trier c.980, contains a series of illustrations in the text that reflect the quiet repose of Early Christian and Late Classical works. It has pale pastel colours and a certain purity of line. The hands of more than one artist were employed, but it seems that the most classical artist was the inspiration for the others. Stylistic evidence suggests that this master soon moved to Trier, possibly at the personal request of Egbert, as this manner of painting does not persist at Reichenau.

A much more characteristic book is another work commissioned by Archbishop Egbert, the Psalter now in the museum at Cividale del Friuli, Italy. This Psalter, known as the Egbert Psalter or the Codex Gertrudianus, has thirty-seven full-page illustrations showing portraits of fourteen of Egbert's predecessors, paintings of the donors and large illuminated initials. A figure of the monk, probably Ruodpreht the illuminator, is set against a solid background of red instead of the shaded grounds of the Codex Egberti, and the folds of the drapery do nothing to increase the reality of a kneeling man. A picture of St Uitvino shows the bishop standing in the position of a Byzantine Orant and the area behind him is filled with a grille studded with foliage motifs; both the donor and the bishop are enclosed in a formal border of dazzling gold. The coloured backgrounds seem to be imitations of the precious purple vellum of the books of the Byzantine Emperors. The initials of this work are equally lavish and letter 'B' of the word 'Beatus' fills a whole page. Again it is placed on a patterned ground and at each projection the foliage of the infillings spreads out in a tight interlace to grasp the border; the colours glow with the brilliance of enamels.

The Gospels in Florence (Biblioteca Laurenziana) are laid out in characteristic format. The first six openings of the book are filled with the Eusebian Canons, relating the corresponding passages from the four Gospels. At the beginning of each of the Gospels is a full-page illustration of the Evangelist seated at his desk with the symbolic representation behind; St John the Evangelist is seen in just such a manner. In addition to these standard illustrations this book has a painting of the Ascension. Both paintings reveal a compromise between the Codex Egberti and the Psalter in Cividale del Friuli. The figures are set against a shaded ground to suggest pictorial perspective and yet the rounded hillocks in the Ascension are formalized to produce an entirely decorative effect. The faces have a latent visionary, introspective quality that is more fully conveyed in two slightly later books: the Gospel Book and the Apocalypse written for Emperor Henry II and his wife as a gift for the cathedral at Bamberg between 1002 and 1014.

The scenes from the Life of Christ in the Gospel Book show another step away from the classical tradition, for here the background is now divided into three bands of solid colour, so that there is no longer any conception of depth; the figures and draperies are drawn with a hard, flat precision. Scenes from the Apocalypse are admirably suited to this visionary manner of painting, which sacrifices much to obtain dramatic impact. The Vision of the New Jerusalem in the Bamberg Apocalypse is reduced to its bare essentials, thus ensuring a most striking effect. The figures are set against a solid ground of gold, and the scene is drawn with a remarkable economy of line.

Perhaps the most serene subjects in Ottonian manuscripts can be found in a group of works written under the auspices of Archbishop Egbert at Trier. The sobriety of the Codex Egberti from Reichenau has already been noted and it seems that one of its masters went with Egbert to Trier. Books in this group can be found today in the Bibliotheque Nationale and the Sainte Chapelle Library in Paris, also in Aachen and in Prague, but it is headed by the works of the so-called Master of the Registrum Gregorii. Only two pages survive from this manuscript. The first of these shows St Gregory in his study watched by the deacon Petrus (Trier, Stadtbibliothek). St Gregory is set in a small building and is separated from his servant by a draped curtain supported on classical pillars. The simple outlines and solid structure of the scene give this painting an entirely different feeling from the flat but expressive forms of the Psalter written at Reichenau for the same archbishop. The other fragment of this book, which is now kept at the Musee Conde, Chantilly, shows an enthroned Emperor, either Otto III or Otto II, holding an orb and sceptre. The Emperor is surrounded by four allegorical figures of women who represent the subject countries of the Ottonian Empire. This is modelled on the books of the Byzantine rulers and we must not forget that the homage paid to Byzantium led to marriages with Byzantine princesses and to the employment of their scholars as tutors in the royal household.

Echternach is situated only a short distance up the river Moselle from Trier, and the interaction of influences is hardly unexpected. A comparison between the Lectionary in Brussels (Bibliotheque Royale) and the Chantilly page from the Registrum Gregorii shows some similarities. Both scriptoria used architectural settings and simple drapery, but the treatment of the Echternach manuscript is harsher, the colours more bold and there is a far more superficial understanding of the classical prototypes. Here, for instance, the capitals on the little building are decorated with strange grotesques, rather than Corinthian acanthus. It is not known where the Evangeliary at Brescia (Biblioteca Queriniana) came from, but evidence points to Echternach. The illustrations of this book seem to be of a slightly later date than the Brussels Lectionary, with influence from Reichenau present in the gold grounds and the harsher draperies. Despite the high quality of the books from Echternach, the style lacks the dazzling invention of the Reichenau school just as it lacks the purity of the Trier works.

The ideas that came to fruition at Reichenau had the greatest single impact on the other scriptoria in Germany. The indigenous style of Cologne, for example, was based on books from the Palace School of Charlemagne. The handling of the illustration in a work such as the Hitda Codex of the Cologne School is loose and painterly. There are indications of beautiful landscapes and a naturalistic sense of colour. Then suddenly the style changed; the simplest explanation is the establishment of closer contacts with Reichenau. The Evangeliary of Abdinghof (Berlin, Kupferstichscabinett), for example, dates from the middle of the eleventh century. The painting of Christ giving his mission to the Apostles shows figures drawn with bold lines and the stiff, powerful draperies of the earlier Reichenau style.

The scriptorium at Regensburg flourished in the monastery of St Emmeran under the patronage of the Emperor Henry II. The Carolingian books already there, notably the Codex Aureus of Charles the Bald, played a major role in the formation of the Regensburg style. The Sacramentary of Henry II (1002-1014) now in Munich (Staatsbibliothek) seems to be a direct interpretation of the Codex Aureus by an artist trained in Byzantium. St Gregory has a purely Greek face with a sharp aquiline nose and the folds of his robe are drawn with crisp angular lines, yet the artist uses white to denote highlights, a heritage from Carolingian painting, and the foliage ornamenting the border gives a richly decorative effect. The Evangeliary of Abbess Uota of Niedermuster (Munich, Staatsbibliothek) which includes a page showing the Abbess offering her book to the Blessed Virgin Mary, must have been written between 1002 and 1035. The scenes have the same wealth of decorative ornamentation as the Sacramentary, but the Crucifixion has a new symbolic character. The competence with which the paint is handled is of the highest order, but in place of the stark drama of the event, as seen in Reichenau books, we now have a symbolic figure of Christ surrounded by allegories of Light and Darkness, of Life and Death, and the figures of the soldiers at the foot of the Cross are supplanted by symbols of the Church and Synagogue.


Romanesque Manuscript Illumination in Germany

When Henry III died in 1056, Germany entered on a long period of turmoil and conflict with the papacy. In this unsettled atmosphere the emperors had little time to commission books and the mainstream of royal patronage was interrupted. Scriptoria at such places as Reichenau and Regensburg faded away; at least the books produced there show a decline in quality, and new centres became important. During the Ottonian period the stylistic advances made in Germany tended to spread towards the West but after the middle of the eleventh century the position was to some extent reversed. The Ottonian style was modified by Western ideas. The Cluniac reforms brought new ideas to the monasteries in Swabia and Hirsau. Weingarten maintained a fine tradition of illumination during the whole of the twelfth century; its books show Anglo-Saxon and Flemish influence, because the Countess Judith of Flanders presented the abbey, the family monastery of the Guelphs, with books from Flanders and Southern England. (See also: German Medieval Art c.800-1250.)

During the twelfth century Austria came to the forefront of developments in that part of Europe. Salzburg produced a large corpus of illuminated manuscripts and the best examples of its style can be seen in simple outline drawing executed in monochrome. New monasteries were founded and old monasteries were reformed in this area along the Danube ; books from Admont and Mondsee, Zwettl, Heiligenkreuz and Klosterneuburg testify that this was a great age in Austrian miniature painting. The Zwiefalten Passional includes illuminations in which the artist can be seen struggling for powerful effects of plasticity although he still has recourse to earlier prototypes. (See also: Miniaturist Painters.)

The abbey of Helmarshausen in Saxony was under the direct patronage of the uncrowned king of Northern Germany, Henry the Lion (1129-1195), and here again we see the growing increase of influence from the West, in particular from the school of Mosan art, near Liege in present-day Belgium.

The spread of ideas did not confine itself to the western areas of Germany; for the manuscripts from Cluny must in part be responsible for the developments in Bohemia as early as 1085. Bohemia, which was to become a centre of great importance in later centuries, also produced a local school at this time. Among the greatest examples of Bohemian painting are the Vysehrad Evangeliary (Prague, National University Library) and a copy of St Augustine's De Civitate Dei (Prague, Capitoline Library). The paintings in the Evangeliary have the naivety of popular art but the brushwork is handled with an assured rapidity that removes the illustrations to a higher plane. This is particularly noticeable in the St Augustine manuscript, which is more profound and shows a greater variety than the Evangeliary. From now on Bohemian painting became stylistically affiliated to the Rhineland.

Towards the end of the twelfth century the attempts at obtaining effects of plasticity and movement became far more satisfactory; this must in part be due to the second wave of Byzantine influence, full of humanity and naturalism, that revitalized the artistic developments in Germany, as elsewhere, and formed the basis of the Gothic style.

Romanesque Manuscript Illumination in England

The style of manuscript illumination in England underwent a far more radical change during the eleventh and twelfth centuries than it did in Germany. In Germany, artists of the twelfth century turned again and again for their inspiration to Ottonian painting, but in English twelfth-century illumination only the native feeling for line survives from the Anglo-Saxon tradition.

As in Germany, the English artists of c.1000 were dependent on Carolingian examples, but a comparison of two contemporary manuscripts from Winchester and Trier shows that each school chose a very different example to follow. The Registrum Gregorii at Trier and the Benedictional of St Aethelwold in the British Museum were illustrated at about the same date. In the Trier work a real attempt has been made to set the figures in space. Drapery is simple and contours are suggested by a few shaded lines; the illustration is rigidly confined within a sober border of solid colour. In contrast the scene of the Marys at the Sepulchre, from the Benedictional of St Aethelwold, seems complicated and untidy. Figures spread over into the borders and mingle with the acanthus foliage of the painted frame. Here emphasis is placed on line and the rapid, impressionistic drawing gives the illustration a sense of vitality and urgency very different from the sobriety of the German work.

Several different styles of Carolingian illumination were familiar to the artists of the early eleventh century, but it is significant that the Utrecht Psalter should have been the only work to make any great impact in England. This is a book abundantly illustrated with outline drawings and is known to have been at Canterbury during the Middle Ages. A direct copy of it was made c.1000 (British Museum) and in it one can see how perfectly this Carolingian style suited the indigenous feeling for calligraphic style design.

Anglo-Saxon artists developed a style of their own that has seldom been surpassed in delicacy and vigour. This style is well illustrated in the books of Archbishop Robert of Jumieges. In all these, the acanthus foliage spreads unchecked in and around the frames of the illustration, earth and sky are suggested by rapid strokes of the brush, and everywhere the draperies look as if they are caught up by the wind. In a Psalter in the British Museum the tragedy of the Crucifixion is beautifully expressed in this restless, delicate technique. Here there is no colour, merely the rapid strokes of a fine pen.

The conquest by the Normans in 1066 did not immediately affect the native style of manuscript illumination, but the Norman bishops brought foreign books with them and thus introduced new continental ideas. Gradually a harder, more painterly style emerged. A copy of St Augustine's De Civitate Dei (Florence, Biblioteca Laurenziana), illustrated at Canterbury in the early twelfth century, hints at the beginnings of a new style. In the small figures the Anglo-Saxon drapery style remains and the figures seem as animated as ever, but the decoration of the border is more controlled, and the portrait of St Augustine is quite different. This is a figure set against a flat, patterned background; the hair is reduced to a formal coronet of curls, the stylized ear is shaped like a scallop shell and the drapery, particularly over the knees, is reduced to a solid block of geometric pattern.

The English manuscripts discussed so far originated from the scriptoria at Canterbury and Winchester, but now attention must be turned to St Albans and Bury St Edmunds. During the second quarter of the twelfth century a Psalter was illuminated at St Albans (now in the Hildesheim Godehard Dombibliothek) that was to have a decisive influence on the development of Romanesque painting in England. The St Albans Psalter (Albani Psalter) has over forty full-page illustrations as well as many decorated initials. In the paintings the figures are well spaced within the rigid framework of the surround and the elongated, monumental figures are now clothed in heavy hanging drapery that defines the body beneath it. The scenes are painted in strong, sombre colour, very different from the pale washed colours of Pre-Conquest manuscripts. Clearly the artists must have been strongly influenced by some Ottonian or Byzantine model. It is certain that this book was made at St Albans, but its influence at once extended to Bury St Edmunds, as can be seen in a Gospel book now at Pembroke College, Cambridge. The illuminations are not strongly coloured as in the Albani Psalter, but the facial types and the new treatment of drapery owe much to the Albani Psalter. Several other English manuscripts betray the same influence, notably a Psalter written for the nuns of Shaftesbury (British Museum). On the whole, however, the Albani style proved too severe for English taste, and it was eventually superseded by more congenial alternatives.

In the middle of the twelfth century, a second copy was made at Canterbury from the Utrecht Psalter. The impressionistic realism has now been supplanted by pattern, the delicate flicks of the pen that suggested the ground have been replaced by formal shapes, the faces and drapery are reminiscent of the Albani style, and although the illustrations are still in outline, inks of several different colours have been used. Each scene is now confined within a patterned border, where before the figures were scattered around the text.

Among the finest books of the twelfth century is the great Bury Bible (Corpus Christi College, Cambridge). Bibles like this offered new scope to artists, and were certainly famous even in their own day. The Bury Bible shows a total absorption of the Albani style. Figures are arranged in their setting with the same feeling for space, but here the drapery of the Albani Psalter has been developed in a characteristically English way, producing an effect of damp folds clinging to the form beneath. The paintings are executed in exquisitely bright colours and the pages gleam like jewellery or precious metals.

The 'damp fold' treatment of drapery, used almost realistically in the Bury Bible, was adapted by other painters into a more and more decorative type of abstract art. The Lambeth Bible, illustrated at Canterbury, shows the degree to which this schematization was taken, reducing the plastic form to flat geometric patterns. In the Bury Bible, the artist attempted to suggest depth by varying the background colours, as the Ottonian painters had done, but in the Lambeth Bible the figures are placed against a ground of solid colour. For those who think of Romanesque art as a conscious move away from realism, this must surely be a major work.

There is stylistic evidence to suggest that certain artists travelled from one scriptorium to another. At Winchester, another great Bible bears witness to this. Today it is bound in three volumes and presents a synthesis of the development of painting during the latter half of the twelfth century. It is probable that this book - The Winchester Bible - was illuminated at St Swithuns, Winchester, and parts of it compare closely with another Winchester book - the St Swithuns Psalter (British Museum) - but in the Bible the work of at least six different illuminators can be distinguished. The earliest of these, the so-called Master of the Leaping Figures, painted figures with a great sense of movement and vigour, using the 'damp fold' convention in a manner akin to that of the master of the Bury Bible. An almost contemporary artist, the Master of the Apocrypha Drawings, displays a crisper feeling for line and, it seems, intended his designs to be heightened with only a pale wash of colour. The later illustrations of the book are markedly different and show a decisive Byzantine influence. There were direct contacts between England and Sicily during the third quarter of the twelfth century, while the realism and classicism of the latest artist, appropriately known as The Master of the Gothic Majesty, heralds the birth of a new kind of figure painting to which the name Gothic is applied. The first outstanding achievements of this new realism are to be found in the Westminster Psalter (British Museum), c.1200, in which five full-page paintings show figures designed with a new solidity and strength. The new style also appears in a Bestiary (British Museum), in which all the formalized drapery conventions of the Romanesque style have been abandoned in favour of something altogether simpler and softer.

It is perhaps appropriate that a discussion of eleventh and twelfth-century manuscripts should end with a reference to the Paris Psalter (Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris). Although essentially another copy of the Utrecht Psalter, here the paintings are fully coloured, the figure style has moved away from the decorative patterning of Romanesque art, and only the iconography survives intact. This work clearly shows the changes in style that have taken place during the centuries, each phase of the development producing works of very high quality. The stage is now set for the gentler, more fluent style of English Gothic illumination.


Romanesque Manuscript Illumination in Spain

There were two kinds of Christian in Spain during the ninth, tenth, and eleventh centuries; those in the north were free, constantly struggling to retain their independence against the Moslems of the south, but in addition there were many Christians living under Moslem rule. These people were known as Mozarabs. It is hardly surprising that Mozarabic art owes much to Arab influence, although one book of the late ninth century, the Bible of Monasterio della Cava dei Terreni, shows fairly strong influence of Carolingian art. It seems that, at first, they only used decorated initials. But only a handful of books datable before the end of the ninth century have survived. (Note: For Spanish murals, see: Romanesque Painting in Spain c.1000-1200.)

The best-known early Spanish manuscripts are connected with Abbot Beatus of Liebana who lived during the eighth century. He is remembered chiefly for his Commentaries on the Revelations of St John the Divine - the Apocalypse - and his studies of the Prophecies of Daniel. These two books, which describe a mysterious world full of menace, were extremely popular among the troubled Christians in Spain, and form a basis for a large proportion of the illuminated books that survive today. There are no less than twenty-three illustrated copies of the Beatus Apocalypse and many of the scenes still retain their startling colours after a thousand years.

One such Apocalypse is the treasured possession of Gerona Cathedral. This is signed by the Presbyters Senior and Emeritus and by Ende 'Pintrix'. It is dated 975, and is abundantly enriched with scenes from the Life of Christ, Apocalyptic visions and numerous decorative birds and animals. Here is Mozarabic art at its very best, a work of dazzling originality with brilliantly coloured backgrounds of complementary hues. The illustration of the Fall of the Thunderbolts endorses the instructive purpose of these books. It is a scene described in Revelations, Chapter 4, and the artist has closely followed the biblical text which tells of the twenty-four Elders 'arrayed in white garments; and on their heads crowns of gold'. The text, 'out of the throne proceed lightnings and voices of thunder', is written around the central medallion of the enthroned figure who points to the sealed book. St John himself is seen lying in a trance in the foreground of the painting. This didactic quality is very typical of Mozarabic art and in a sense foreshadows the French 'Bibles Moralisees' of the thirteenth century.

Other fine Mozarabic manuscripts, apart from the Beatus Apocalypses, include the Codex Vigilano or Albeldense and the Codex Emilianense, both now kept in the Escorial Library. They are books containing the acts of the Christian Councils and the latter is simply a copy of the Codex Vigilano. On the last page of the Codex Vigilano figures of kings and queens are shown in separate panels and the bottom row contains Vigila, the chief scribe, with his assistants Sarracino and Garsea. The very orderliness of the page and the grace of the draperies suggest some non-Spanish influence, and it has been thought that this manuscript was illustrated by a foreigner deeply imbued with Spanish feeling and technique. The Codex Emilianensis was begun the year in which the Vigilano was completed, and already the artists have returned to a purely Mozarabic style. The narrative paintings spread haphazardly over the whole page and the human form is interpreted in a purely calligraphic way. The names of Velasco, Bishop Sisebuto and Notary Sisebuto replace the authors of the Codex Vigilano.

Unless we are lucky enough to know the date of a book, as in the case of the Gerona Beatus, the precise dating of Spanish manuscripts is difficult, but in general the eleventh and twelfth-century illuminations show a gradual infiltration of trans-Pyrenean influence. A copy of the Beatus Apocalypse from Silos (British Museum) of c.1100 shows a more naturalistic interpretation of the subject-matter and the decorated initials have a southern-French character.

This bold, highly original manner of painting was more influential than one might expect. It had a strong impact on the neighbouring scriptoria of Southern France (the Apocalypse of St Sever, for instance) and on the art of Portugal, but it also spread further north and can be seen, rather suprisingly, in books made in the scriptorium of St Omer in Northern France. The Apocalyptic scenes in the Liber Floridus of Lambert of St Omer (Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale) reflect the Spanish love of brightly coloured backgrounds.

Romanesque Manuscript Illumination in Italy

We must now turn from Spain, where the Christian monks had to devise a style of their own without the guidance of tradition and prototype, to Italy, a land with an almost unbroken heritage of religious art from Early Christian times and directly in contact with the Eastern Empire of Byzantium. In the days of the Ottonian Empire, Southern Italy was a bone of contention between German and Byzantine interests; the struggle was further complicated by the arrival of the Normans during the eleventh century. Stylistically, this is reflected in the art of the Benedictine Monastery of Monte Cassino, south of Rome. The abbot, Desiderius (1057-1085), had connections with Constantinople; he sent there for artists skilled in mosaic art, with which to decorate the church which he rebuilt, and commissioned several items of Byzantine metalwork, such as a golden antependium decorated with scenes from the Life of St Benedict. How far the Eastern influences affected the work in the scriptorium at Monte Cassino can be seen in the Life of St Benedict and St Maur (Rome, Vatican Library) written during the abbacy of Desiderius. It is illustrated with over a hundred small scenes from the lives of the saints. They are lively outline drawings filled in with colour washes and the debt to Byzantium is surprisingly superficial. Some of the initials show a knowledge of the Ottonian Sacramentary of Henry II, but there are no direct connections. (For Italian wall murals and altarpieces, see: Romanesque Painting in Italy c.1000-1200.)

A phenomenon occurring in Southern Italy is the appearance of the Exultet Roll. This is a long strip of parchment containing the Easter Hymn which was sung by the priest during the Benediction of the Paschal Candle. The roll was illustrated with appropriate subjects for the faithful to look at as the manuscript was unrolled over the lectern. The illustrations are, of course, upside down to the reader. The Bari Roll, datable before 1028, is typical and shows the personification of Earth. These monumental figures were probably the artist's own creation and are without an apparent source of inspiration, but the borders decorated with medallions and the Beneventan script are reminiscent of the art of Monte Cassino.

It is clear from the style of mural painting in several churches in Rome that a series of large Bibles was written there. These 'Atlantic' Bibles often have full-page illustrations and their very scale allows broad brush-work and almost gives them the quality of fresco painting. One such book is the Bible at Cividale del Friuli. For the late eleventh century this is a rather primitive style of art. Folio 1 shows scenes from the Creation; the narrative is ranged in horizontal bands and in each scene the most important figure is singled out against a darker strip of colour. Byzantine influence is apparent in the facial types but it has not stirred the spirit of the artist, who uses a simple repetition of forms (the two figures of God the Father are almost identical) and shows a sketchy unconcern for outline and drapery. A more refined example of these Atlantic Bibles is the Giant Bible (Munich, Staatsbibliothek) given to the Abbey of Hirsau by Emperor Henry IV about 1075. In general, Italian miniature painting is closely connected with the current trends in wall-painting, and this book has illustrations that are very like fresco cycles in Rome.

In spite of these Bibles, however, Central Italian manuscript illumination of the Romanesque period does not reach the glorious heights attained by the Anglo-Saxons or the Ottonian school. In contrast, it seems to be almost a minor type of painting, not especially regarded. A great number of books had simple ornamentation of the initials and can be classified into groups only after a painstaking examination of particular motifs.

In the north, however, the artists were more susceptible to extraneous influences than they were in the conservative cities of the south. The scriptoria, unlike those further south, were already active in the early part of the eleventh century, and such a book as the Sacramentary of Ivrea, c.1010, shows the acceptance of the German style. At least four different hands are discernible in this manuscript; one artist uses realistic expressionism derived from a Carolingian manuscript like the Golden Psalter of St Gall, another shows closer affinities to the Ottonian style, and yet another gives his figures the mournful faces of Spain.

A late eleventh-century example of North Italian painting is the Missal (Milan, Biblioteca Ambrosiana). The large 'V of the words Vere dignum is faced by a rendering of the Crucifixion. The tight interlace at the corners of the framework, the 'Greek Key' and palmette decorations in the borders and the facial types suggest a wide variety of sources, characteristic of North Italian painting.

The Romanesque style of painting lasted a very long time in Italy, and in contrast to the rapid development elsewhere, there was no radical change until the emergence of a totally new kind of Proto-Renaissance art - the frescoes at Assisi and the works of Giotto, which paved the way for the full-blown Early Renaissance painting of the quattrocento. A manuscript in Florence (Biblioteca Laurenziana) has initials and script that suggest an English twelfth-century provenance, but one page, left blank by the original artists, was decorated with scenes from the Trials of Job by an Italian artist of the thirteenth century. Poor Job, covered with sores, is sitting on the dunghill, watched over by his three friends. Minions of Satan taunt him from above and in the top corner we see the devastation of his house and family. The narrative effect is strong but it is hard to realize that this is contemporary with the sophisticated elegance of thirteenth-century France.

There was, however, an important if isolated group of medieval artists in the court of Frederick II in Southern Italy and Sicily (c.1220-50). Frederick himself was a great patron of all branches of the arts and was interested, perhaps for political reasons, in reviving the Antique, an interest that is reflected in the Romanesque sculpture of his artists at Castel del Monte, near Capua. He also wrote a very detailed treatise on the art of falconry, and the illustrated copy in the Vatican of c.1250 has a series of delightful drawings executed with a vivid spontaneity and originality. A copy of Hippocrates' treatise on plants (Florence, Biblioteca Laurenziana) reveals a mood far removed from the stylizations of Northern and Central Italy, and must surely originate from the circle of Frederick.


Romanesque Manuscript Illumination in France

Any consideration of French Romanesque architecture requires the student to look at buildings in regional groups, each with its own peculiar characteristics. This approach is equally essential for the study of the illumination of the period. A country bordered by Germany, Italy, Spain and England, nations that produced such a diversity of styles in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, can hardly be expected to have a homogeneous national art. Moreover, the France of the eleventh and twelfth centuries was broken up into several separate feudal principalities. Until the establishment of the schools in Paris in the thirteenth century there are many differing trends in the art of manuscript illumination in France.

The arts seldom flourish during a time of stress, and after the decline of the Carolingian Empire, France suffered many years of invasion and pillage until the succession of the Capetians in the late tenth century. The monastic reforms promoted by Abbot Odilon (996-1048) and Abbot Hugh (1049-1109) of Cluny stressed the importance of the letter of the Benedictine Rule and enforced a stricter, more devout life in the monasteries. In this calmer atmosphere the scriptoria again began to produce fine work. The Carolingian heritage lies behind most of the Romanesque scriptoria of France, but for further inspiration the artists turned either to their neighbours or to books brought to their monasteries by travelling dignitaries of the Church. (Note: For French mural paintings, see: Romanesque Painting in France c.1000-1200.)

The main customers for illuminated gospel manuscripts were the abbeys and monasteries run by the growing number of religious orders. These patrons also financed the creation of a wide range of other liturgical and ecclesiastical objects. A good example is the Stavelot Abbey in present-day Belgium which became a major patron of religious goldsmithery and metalwork The Stavelot Triptych (1156), for instance, is a beautiful piece of Romanesque metalwork created for the Abbey by members of the Mosan school of art possibly including Godefroid de Claire (de Huy) (1100-1173). See also works by the more famous Nicholas of Verdun (1156-1232).

In the south of France there is a strange, thin type of foliate interlace used in initials and borders. This purely decorative motif forms a link between many of the different scriptoria there and helps to tie them into a related group. A Beatus commentary on the Apocalypse from St Sever (Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale) is a French copy of the Spanish books. Here the Mozarabic influence is very strong, with motifs clearly drawn from Arabic inspiration. The figures are set against vivid backgrounds of red and yellow or of green and blue, and the precise handling gives the effect of sharply-cut enamels. St Sever is situated not far south of Bordeaux and the artist, Stephen Garcia, is a man deeply imbued with ideas from across the Pyrenees, but the initials are embellished with the long, emaciated tendrils of foliate interlace that originated in Albi and Toulouse.

In considering French painting, the importance of the Pilgrimage routes must not be underestimated. There were prescribed routes across France leading to the shrine of St James at Santiago de Compostela in north-western Spain. Along these routes important monasteries prospered; large churches were built for the use of the pilgrims and we can assume that certain voyagers left gifts rather than money as offerings. The Abbey of St Martial at Limoges was one such Pilgrimage church which no doubt received many visitors from foreign lands. Thus the books from its scriptorium reflect not only the south of France but also the works of the Ottonian masters. A great Bible from St Martial (Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale) dates from c 1100. It is the work of a very talented artist, with well balanced, clear compositions. The figures stand in architectural settings rather like those of the Apocalypse of St Sever and colour is carefully used to give the maximum decorative effect.

The southern-French forms spread a surprisingly long way north, to Anjou. The Angevin group of manuscripts comprises a Bible, a Psalter, and a Life of St Aubin from the abbey of St Aubin at Angers. These books are connected with the work of a certain Fulco, who was employed (1082-1108) to decorate the priory of St Jean at Chateau Gontier. Allowing for the difference in scale and technique these works all seem to have been executed under the inspiration of the one man. The Life of St Aubin (Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale) has a heaviness that reflects the art of Poitou. The draperies are solid and have sharply-cut folds that give the appearance of being made of a far stiffer material than mere cloth. These powerful and impressive illustrations, with their fine, strong colours, are the very essence of Romanesque painting.

Illumination in Burgundy at this time presents a rapid series of changes in style. Unfortunately most of the manuscripts from Cluny were lost when the abbey was destroyed during the French Revolution. The abbots of Cluny had close personal contacts with the German Empire and with Rome. Rhenish initials decorate the few books that remain, and in the paintings the figures are handled with a sympathy and care surpassed only in Byzantine books. Naturalistic use is made of the 'damp fold' convention and one is led to suspect the presence of Eastern artists. The St Hildefonsus manuscript, now at Parma, seems to originate from Cluny. It is, however, illustrated in a purely German style and again suggests that foreign artists were working at Cluny.

On the other hand, the early manuscripts of the new Cistercian monastery at Citeaux show three very different styles following one another in rapid succession. The first two styles can even be seen in a single manuscript. This is the large four-volumed Bible known as the Bible of St Stephen Harding (Dijon, Bibliotheque Municipale), written and illustrated in the early years of the twelfth century. The first two volumes have elaborate historiated initials and coloured illustrations. St Stephen Harding, an Englishman from Sherborne, who became Abbot of Citeaux in 1109, was no doubt responsible for the abrupt change in style. The new style has all the spontaneity of the best English illuminations. Curious ugly faces and fat humorous figures find their closest parallels in such a book as the Shaftesbury Psalter (London, British Museum) which also comes from the West of England.

Historiated initials in a copy of St Gregory's Moralia in Job (Bibliotheque Municipale, Dijon) are equally English in character with light, bright colours and very animated figures. The initial 'R' which fills the whole page is composed of two elegant athletes, one standing on the other's shoulders, about to attack a fine dragon. The initial 'P' has a complicated group of men fighting and animals biting each other.

Another Burgundian manuscript, almost contemporary with the Bible of St Stephen Harding, is the Bible of St Benigne (Dijon, Bibliotheque Municipale). This has initials, painted in strong colours on a gold ground, which contain scenes related to the text. The 'Q' at the beginning of the Gospel according to St Luke has a half-human, half-symbolic figure seated at a desk while the 'H' at the beginning of the book of Exodus is elaborated with a picture of Moses before Pharaoh. There is no lightness or pale colouring here, no subtle sense of humour, but heavy foliage and thick interlace. This book is also interesting because it includes some slightly later additions by a master at Citeaux who painted a Madonna and Child and the Tree of Jesse in a copy of St Jerome's Commentary on Isaiah (Dijon, Bibliotheque Municipale) in a style that was quite new and full of naturalism and grace.

St Bernard, the severe Cistercian Abbot of Clairvaux, issued in 1134 his famous Condemnation of the pictorial representation of religious subjects. But his pronouncements had surprisingly few far-reaching effects on the illumination of manuscripts although some Cistercian books, notably the Bible of St Bernard (Troyes, Bibliotheque Municipale), abandoned every kind of narrative scene and all but the simplest colours. St Bernard's Bible is a masterpiece of elegant restraint with exquisite script and finely painted initials.

Between 986 and 1004 the Abbey of St Bertin at St Omer in northeastern France was ruled by Abbot Odbert. The name Odbert suggests an Anglo-Saxon origin, and the books written during his abbacy show a very strong inclination towards the English style. The Gospels of St Bertin (Boulogne, Bibliotheque Municipale) must surely be the work of an Englishman; the drawing has that same delightfully rapid technique, that feeling for movement and expression, found in the Benedictional of St Aethelwold. Odbert himself was also an artist and he has added his name to a Psalter now in Boulogne. Other books by him include an Aratus (Leyden), several Gospel Books, and a book of the Lives of St Bertin, St Folquin, St Silvin and St Winnoc (Boulogne, Bibliotheque Municipale), all saints connected with the Abbey of St Bertin. The illustration of St Bertin with his companions reveals the strange character of Odbert. His portrayal of the human face has the hallmark of his style; these faces recur continually throughout his work and seem to have a constantly worried, quizzical expression. He has drawn his inspiration from a variety of sources and integrates his prototypes into a highly individual style. The architectural frame is a mixture of Ottonian and English motifs, while the decorative medallions contain contorted animals of Irish origin. Yet the figure style is curiously static with no suggestion of the wind-blown draperies of Anglo-Saxon art. Odbert shows an accomplished feeling for colour, which he uses with good decorative results.

The effect of the Norman Conquest on English illumination has already been considered. In Normandy, the Conquest heralds the birth of the true Romanesque style, although the exact role played by England is rather complex. In fact, the English influence soon fades, and new ideas give rise to quite individual styles at places like the Mont St Michel. We have seen that the stylistic developments can be traced at Canterbury in its four copies of the Utrecht Psalter. Similarly there are three copies of the Life of St Amand from the Abbey of St Amand at Valenciennes (now in the Library at Valenciennes).

The first of these dates from the end of the eleventh century and sets the pattern for the other two. Forty scenes from the Life of the Saint are spaced among the text and handled in a rather simple, painterly manner. The second Life is much more stylized. It is the work of an assured artist of the mid-twelfth century, who at times uses a strange drapery convention. He cuts off a whole area of the drapery with a thick line and inside this he models the shape beneath with paint. This is a technique that brings to mind the art of enamels and stained glass. We must not forget that this particular area of north-eastern France and the valley of the river Meuse were renowned for their wonderful metal-work, both in enamel and in bronze, and this may well have influenced the illuminators. The third Life of St Amand, produced at the end of the twelfth century, marks the culmination of the Romanesque style at St Amand. It has only seven illustrations, but each is of extremely high quality. The choice of colours - old rose, brilliant yellows, blues and purples - is magnificent and the elegance and sophistication foreshadow the advent of Gothic art - the coming new style.

Also from St Amand comes a Bible in five volumes (Valenciennes, Bibliotheque Municipale). Each volume opens with a full-page initial set against a carpet of foliage decoration. The 'A' that opens volume four is signed by Savalo, Monk of St Amand. The initial is made up of an elaborate arrangement of dragons' bodies set against a background of foliage, with animals and human beings clambering about among the branches. The tortuous delicacy of the page is again reminiscent of the fine chasing of metalled surfaces.

The influence of England in this area does not end with the eleventh century. From Liessies, there are two Evangelist portraits from a Gospel Book (Avesnes, Societe Archeologique) that have very close affinities with the English Lambeth Bible. The curious drapery conventions are very similar, although the faces resemble those in books from St Amand more closely. Although the Avesnes Leaves are still essentially Romanesque in style, it is significant that they should show close artistic connections with England. It is in this milieu that the new Gothic style will be born.

Illuminated gospel texts from the Romanesque era can be seen in some of the best art museums in the world.


• For more about the chronology of Romanesque painting and sculpture, see: History of Art Timeline.
• For information about Medieval painting, see: Homepage.

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