21 Facts About Anglo-Saxon art


Anglo-Saxon art covers art produced within the Anglo-Saxon period of English history, beginning with the Migration period style that the Anglo-Saxons brought with them from the continent in the 5th century, and ending in 1066 with the Norman Conquest of England, whose sophisticated art was influential in much of northern Europe.

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Anglo-Saxon art survives mostly in illuminated manuscripts, Anglo-Saxon architecture, a number of very fine ivory carvings, and some works in metal and other materials.

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Opus Anglicanum was already recognised as the finest embroidery in Europe, although only a few pieces from the Anglo-Saxon art period remain – the Bayeux Tapestry is a rather different sort of embroidery, on a far larger scale.

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Anglo-Saxon art taste favoured brightness and colour, and an effort of the imagination is often needed to see the excavated and worn remains that survive as they once were.

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Metalwork is almost the only form in which the earliest Anglo-Saxon art has survived, mostly in Germanic-style jewellery which was, before the Christianization of Anglo-Saxon England, commonly placed in burials.

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However Anglo-Saxon art society was massively disrupted in the 9th century, especially the later half, by the Viking invasions, and the number of significant objects surviving falls considerably, and their dating becomes even vaguer than of those from a century before.

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The Anglo-Saxon metalwork produced in the Salzburg area of modern Austria has a manuscript counterpart in the "Cutbercht Gospels" in Vienna.

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Benedictional of St Æthelwold is a masterpiece of the later Winchester style, which drew on Insular, Carolingian, and Byzantine Anglo-Saxon art to make a heavier and more grandiose style, where the broad classicising acanthus foliage sometimes seems over-luxuriant.

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Anglo-Saxon art illustration included many lively pen drawings, on which the Carolingian Utrecht Psalter, in Canterbury from about 1000, was highly influential; the Harley Psalter is a copy of it.

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Anglo-Saxon art culture was coming into increasing contact with, and exchanging influences with, a wider Latin Mediaeval Europe.

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Anglo-Saxon art drawing had a great influence in Northern France throughout the 11th century, in the so-called "Channel school", and Insular decorative elements such as interlace remained popular into the 12th century in the Franco-Saxon style.

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Anglo-Saxon art brooches are the most common survivals of fine metalwork from the earlier period, when they were buried as grave goods.

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Anglo-Saxon art's work had a miracle associated with it – the lay goldsmith Godric stabbed his hand with an awl during the work on the large shrine at Evesham, which was miraculously healed overnight.

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Anglo-Saxon art taste revelled in expensive materials and the effects of light on precious metals, which were embroidered into fabrics and used on wall-paintings.

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Anglo-Saxon art crosses have survived less well than those in Ireland, being more subject to iconoclasm after the English Reformation.

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Typically, Anglo-Saxon art crosses are tall and slender compared to Irish examples, many with a nearly square section, and more space given to ornament than figures.

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The largest group of Anglo-Saxon art sculpture is from a former abbey at Breedon-on-the-Hill in Mercia, with a number of elements of different dates, including lively narrow decorative strip friezes, many including human figures, and panels with saints and the Virgin.

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Textile arts of embroidery and "tapestry", Opus anglicanum, were apparently those for which Anglo-Saxon England was famous throughout Europe by the end of the period, but there are only a handful of survivals, probably partly because of the Anglo-Saxon love of using threads in precious metal, making the work valuable for scrap.

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Anglo-Saxon art glass was mostly made in simple forms, with vessels always in a single colour, either clear, green or brown, but some fancy claw beakers decorated with large "claw" forms have survived, mostly broken; these forms are found in northern continental Europe.

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Relatively little Anglo-Saxon art survives from the rest of the century after 1066, or at least is confidently dated to that period.

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Energy, love of complicated twining ornament, and refusal to wholly respect a dignified classical decorum that are displayed in both Insular and Winchester school Anglo-Saxon art had already influenced continental style, as discussed above, where it provided an alternative to the heavy monumentality that Ottonian Anglo-Saxon art displays even in small objects.

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