Medieval Art in Art Through the Ages

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The medieval art of Western European origin spans a time period of over 1000 years, which includes the substantive and technical influence on the part of the Middle East and North Africa. During the period, the art of the Warrior Lords, Christian Art, Carolingian Art and Ottonian Art represent four distinct phases of socio-cultural evolution and artistic expression, ranging from more functional and primitive intricacies to artistic forms designed to further socio-political order and power.

Christian Art emerged at some point in the Medieval period. As Christianity grew in popularity within a world gradually adapting to a monotheistic faith, Roman traditions of architecture and iconography. The classical style of the Greeks, however, was largely abandoned, as portraiture emerged as a distinct form of Christian Artistic expression, as did fresco depictions and mosaics, many of which are still found, largely intact in their original form. Previously paganized motifs were adjusted and incorporated into the Christological Artistic form of expression. Generally, the proliferation of graven images became common, as Old Testamentary restrictions on the production of artistic symbols gave way to a new age.

The earliest forms of Medieval art traced to Western Europe illustrate a cultural and artistic blending of Celtic, Bavarian, Christological and Greek styles. These centered around functional and relatively small works created by itinerant tribes migrating through the region. The interlace twining patterns found on these forms of art, which largely feature animal patterns and metallic ornamentation, has come to be known as the art of the Warrior Lords, to be distinguished from Carolingian art, which is derived from the Frankish Empire, and produced largely for the pleasure of those with royalty-equivalent status, in addition to places of worship with privileged status. As such, the sophistication and intricacy of design for these works were of unusually high quality.

As the ancestor of Carolingian art (during the time of Charlemagne), Ottonian Art was produced under the same Frankish banner, which had rejuvenated its belief in the Church as the seat of the Empire. Templates of Late Antique and Byzantine nature served as the foundations from which Ottonian art emerged, much of it reflecting connectivity between Empirical ruling classes and the church itself, from which the latter derived much of its authority. As just one example of hos Ottonian Art sought to deepen the association between the Church and the State, illuminated manuscripts of the period became highly popularized, as they were commissioned directly by members of the ruling class for the purpose of deepening the public eye’s connection between the authority of God and that of the ruling class’s members. By creating a visual link between some heavenly authority and the right to rule, those in power appropriated Ottonian Art and the church itself as a means of subliminally strengthening their right to power.

As detailed above, the art of the Warrior Lords, Christian Art, Carolingian Art and Ottonian Art emerged as four distinct periods of socio-cultural expression through art, dominating our understanding of the Western World’s artistic origins in the Medieval age. What began with Christian Art’s move from the prohibition against graven images was contributed to by the more functional and discreetly ornate styles of the Warrior Lords. With Ottonian Art building upon its Catholingian foundations, Art thus began to emerge as a tool by which the ruling class could better link itself with the Holy Order of the Church, thereby lending credibility to the ruling power. As these periods evolved, so too did the manner in which their artistic expression took form; from the frescoes of Christian Art to the more portable Warrior Lord designs to the illuminated manuscripts designed to further the connection between Empire and Church, Medieval Art was as much a revolution in style as it was in expression.


Fred S. Kleiner and Christine J. Mamiya, Gardner’s Art Through the Ages the Western Perspective, 12th ed. (Belmont: The Thomas Corporation, 2006), 321-337.