Germanic Art and Its Influence Essay

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The abstract characteristics of Germanic art prior to this work are now relegated to supporting positions and in the midst of the geometric designs and patterns is the figure of St. Mark, preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Germanic tribes have thus submitted themselves to the religious and political doctrine of both the Church and its anointed emperor in Charlemagne.

The Carolingian Renaissance followed the unification of France and Germany under the rule of Charlemagne. Charlemagne was himself a kind of vassal of the Pope, being crowned Holy Roman Emperor by the pontiff on Christmas Day in 800 AD (Haaren 103). Charlemagne devoted himself to developing architecture and schools that would teach his subjects in the way of Christian morality. This was similar to the Macedonian Renaissance, which preceded the Great Schism of 1054 and cleaved the Church into two branches -- the Roman and the Byzantine. The Macedonian Renaissance was centered in Byzantium, and its "progress did not lie in any major expansion of the educated class in Constantinople" but rather in the development of an elite corps of civil and religious servants who produced some fine volumes concerning the Classics of Greek antiquity (Treadgold 88). Unlike Charlemagne, whose objective was to invite all subjects to partake of learning, the Macedonian Renaissance was class centered. This may be because of the particular Byzantine culture. Under Charlemagne, however, education was promoted and the finest educators were invited to Aachen, where the Emperor held his court, to develop a curriculum.

Alfred the Great King of Wessex was another Germanic leader who was reared on the Germanic Christian art -- which undoubtedly formed him in his early years and led him towards a kind of piety. As Vernon Staley states, "Alfred the Great defended [England] against the heathen Danes, till they too were received into the bosom of the Church" (p. iii). Indeed, Alfred displayed a knack for intelligence and virtue at an early age and became an avid reader, mesmerized by the kind of illuminated manuscripts the monks and Germanic craftsmen were producing at the time. These artworks certainly influenced him to devote his life to the Church: "While still very young Alfred was sent by his father to Rome to be anointed by His Holiness, the Pope…With imposing, solemn ceremony he was anointed by the Holy Father. Afterwards he spent a year in Rome receiving religious instruction" (Haaren 136-7). When the Danes invaded the country, Alfred led a glorious defense against them and showed great determination and ingenuity against the marauders: "He built and equipped the first English navy, and in 875 gained the first naval victory ever won by the English" (Haaren 137).

Even though Alfred's victory was short-lived, and the Danish invaders moved to extend their hold over England, Alfred later proved his mettle when disguised as a harpist he entered the enemy camp and learned a great deal about the Danish and afterwards secured a great victory in battle. At the end of the battle, Alfred was victorious and the Danish king was brought before him. Alfred then revealed his identity as the harpist. With true Christian charity, Alfred offered Guthrum freedom if he and his men would convert to the true religion. King Alfred commissioned a jewel in that same century (the 9th) that was "of gold with a cloisonne enamel portrait, symbolizing 'Sight' or 'Christ as the Wisdom of God'" (Johnson 136). Here, then was what Germanic art at the end of the 9th century was all about: Christian devotion.

In conclusion, Germanic art from the 7th to the 9th centuries underwent a transformation from tribal jewelry and geometrical ornamentation to Christian symbolism and spiritualized ornamentation. The Church incorporated the designs and ideas of the Germanic tribes and gave them a spiritual purpose and directive, which in turn influenced the next generation of kings and rulers -- as they did with Charlemagne and Alfred the Great in England and on the Continent. Thus, Germanic art became a tool of the Church and a great inspirer of the imaginations of the rulers of Christendom -- as well as the next generation of craftsmen and monks.

Works Cited

"Basket Earring." The Walters. Web. 4 Mar 2012.

Haaren, John. Famous Men of the Middle Ages. NY: American Book Company, 1904.


"Hiberno-Saxon Style." Web. 4 Mar 2012.

"Medieval Art." Talk. Web. 4 Mar 2012.

Staley, Vernon.…[continue]

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