AP®︎/College Art History
- Introduction to the middle ages
- Christianity, an introduction for the study of art history
- Architecture and liturgy
- The life of Christ in medieval and Renaissance art
- A New Pictorial Language: The Image in Early Medieval Art
- Catacomb of Priscilla, Rome
- Basilica of Santa Sabina, Rome
- Santa Sabina
- Jacob wrestling the angel, Vienna Genesis
- Rebecca and Eliezer at the Well, Vienna Genesis
- A beginner's guide to Byzantine Art
- San Vitale, Ravenna
- Justinian Mosaic, San Vitale
- Hagia Sophia, Istanbul
- Hagia Sophia, Istanbul
- Theotokos mosaic, apse, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul
- Hagia Sophia as a mosque
- Deësis mosaic, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul
- Virgin (Theotokos) and Child between Saints Theodore and George
- The Lindisfarne Gospels
- The Lindisfarne Gospels
- The Bayeux Tapestry
- The Bayeux Tapestry - Seven Ages of Britain - BBC One
- Church and Reliquary of Sainte‐Foy, France
- Chartres Cathedral
- Bible moralisée (moralized bibles)
- Saint Louis Bible (moralized bible)
- The Golden Haggadah
- Röttgen Pietà
- Röttgen Pietà
- Giotto, Arena (Scrovegni) Chapel (part 1)
- Giotto, Arena (Scrovegni) Chapel (part 2)
- Giotto, Arena (Scrovegni) Chapel (part 3)
- Giotto, Arena (Scrovegni) Chapel (part 4)
Introduction to the middle ages
By Dr. Nancy Ross
The Lindisfarne Gospels, left: Saint Matthew, portrait page (25v); right: Saint Matthew, cross-carpet page (26v), c. 700 (Northumbria), 340 x 250 mm (British Library, Cotton MS Nero D IV)
The dark ages?
So much of what the average person knows, or thinks they know, about the Middle Ages comes from film and tv. When I polled a group of well-educated friends on Facebook, they told me that the word “medieval” called to mind Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Blackadder, The Sword in the Stone, lusty wenches, feasting, courtly love, the plague, jousting and chain mail.
Perhaps someone who had seen (or better yet read) The Name of the Rose or Pillars of the Earth would add cathedrals, manuscripts, monasteries, feudalism, monks and friars.
Petrarch, an Italian poet and scholar of the fourteenth century, famously referred to the period of time between the fall of the Roman Empire (c. 476) and his own day (c. 1330s) as the Dark Ages. Petrarch believed that the Dark Ages was a period of intellectual darkness due to the loss of the classical learning, which he saw as light. Later historians picked up on this idea and ultimately the term Dark Ages was transformed into Middle Ages. Broadly speaking, the Middle Ages is the period of time in Europe between the end of antiquity in the fifth century and the Renaissance, or rebirth of classical learning, in the fifteenth century and sixteenth centuries.
North Transept Rose Window, c. 1235, Chartres Cathedral, France (photo: Dr. Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Not so dark after all
Characterizing the Middle Ages as a period of darkness falling between two greater, more intellectually significant periods in history is misleading. The Middle Ages was not a time of ignorance and backwardness, but rather a period during which Christianity flourished in Europe. Christianity, and specifically Catholicism in the Latin West, brought with it new views of life and the world that rejected the traditions and learning of the ancient world.
During this time, the Roman Empire slowly fragmented into many smaller political entities. The geographical boundaries for European countries today were established during the Middle Ages. This was a period that heralded the formation and rise of universities, the establishment of the rule of law, numerous periods of ecclesiastical reform and the birth of the tourism industry. Many works of medieval literature, such as the Canterbury Tales, the Divine Comedy, and The Song of Roland, are widely read and studied today.
The visual arts prospered during Middles Ages, which created its own aesthetic values. The wealthiest and most influential members of society commissioned cathedrals, churches, sculpture, painting, textiles, manuscripts, jewelry and ritual items from artists. Many of these commissions were religious in nature but medieval artists also produced secular art. Few names of artists survive and fewer documents record their business dealings, but they left behind an impressive legacy of art and culture.
When I polled the same group of friends about the word “Byzantine,” many struggled to come up with answers. Among the better ones were the song “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” sung by They Might Be Giants, crusades, things that are too complex (like the tax code or medical billing), Hagia Sophia, the poet Yeats, mosaics, monks, and icons. Unlike Western Europe in the Middle Ages, the Byzantine Empire is not romanticized in television and film.
Approximate boundaries of the Byzantine Empire, mid-6th century (underlying map © Google)
In the medieval West, the Roman Empire fragmented, but in the Byzantine East, it remained a strong, centrally-focused political entity. Byzantine emperors ruled from Constantinople, which they thought of as the New Rome. Constantinople housed Hagia Sophia, one of the world’s largest churches, and was a major center of artistic production.
Isidore of Miletus & Anthemius of Tralles for Emperor Justinian, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, 532–37 (photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
The Byzantine Empire experienced two periods of Iconoclasm (730-787 and 814-842), when images and image-making were problematic. Iconoclasm left a visible legacy on Byzantine art because it created limits on what artists could represent and how those subjects could be represented. Byzantine Art is broken into three periods. Early Byzantine or Early Christian art begins with the earliest extant Christian works of art c. 250 and ends with the end of Iconoclasm in 842. Middle Byzantine art picks up at the end of Iconoclasm and extends to the sack of Constantinople by Latin Crusaders in 1204. Late Byzantine art was made between the sack of Constantinople and the fall of Constantinople to the in 1453.
In the European West, Medieval art is often broken into smaller periods. These date ranges vary by location.
|Early Medieval Art||c.500–800|
Essay by Dr. Nancy Ross
Want to join the conversation?
- Is the holy grail a real thing or an object that has powers or a real object but doesn't hold such powers.
*I am pretty sure it is not the second one.*(5 votes)
- To believe the grail myth you must first assume that Jesus was a historical figure that lived. Then you have to believe that someone kept the cup that he drank out of last. Then you have to assume that it was made out of a material durable enough to survive to modern times. Then you have to assume that it wasn't broken beyond recognition because of age or human carelessness. Then you have to assume that it wasn't lost sometime in antiquity. Finally you have to believe that as a religious object the relic holds some power. So no, personally I don't believe the grail legend, but there are plenty who do.(15 votes)
- So what exactly is the Dark Ages? I've heard about it a few times in books but never understood what it was. Is it art? Or a religious sort of thing created back then?(3 votes)
- A simple explanation:
Two thousand years ago, the Roman Empire ruled Europe. They made many technological advancements and kept Europe stable. But Rome weakened over time. Due to internal weakening and external invaders (Barbarians, Persians, etc.) Western Rome finally collapsed in the 5th/6th century.
After the collapse, Europe was very unstable. If you lived in this time, would you rather learn to read and write and paint pretty pictures, or produce food and protect your family? Because of the many disruptions from invasions and war, most people chose the second option. This is why we have little art, architecture, etc. from this time period.
So to many people, the years 500-800 are called "dark" because of the lack of culture, meanwhile historians call it "dark" because it is not well-known due to the lack of historical records from that time. So it is a cultural and historical thing. :)(9 votes)
- Were iron maidens used in the medieval time?(4 votes)
- I didn't think Vincent Price was quite as old as that.Edgar Allen Poe has a lot to answer for.(2 votes)
- can someone please explain what b.c and a.c. and that stuff is? and a helpful way for remembering too. Thanks!(0 votes)
- B.C. stands for Before Christ
A.D. stands Anno Domini (which means "In the year of our Lord" in Latin)
C. or ca. stand for Circa and in Latin means "around" or "about.(9 votes)
- So the word Byzantine something to do with the word Christian? I've been looking up the word but I haven't found anything.(2 votes)
- That is incorrect. Byzantium was a former Greek village -- Emperor Constantine turned it into a great city (Constantinople, modern Istanbul). It was the center of the Eastern Roman Empire, which is also called the Byzantine empire.
The reason Byzantine is associated with Christianity in art history is because Eastern Roman art was tremendously influential throughout medieval Europe. So medieval christian art is often described as "Byzantine," meaning it usually has flattened perspective, stylized gestures, and vivid color.(3 votes)
- How is that part of the world went from a period of people who were thriving and developing in civilization, during ancient history, where they even had a plumbing system to the such a dark period in history?(3 votes)
- The Roman Empire had been a unifying presence across the majority of Western Europe, when it fell, it left what was once one large community into divided factions of smaller groups spread across the land. Without the overarching powers to create order, smaller groups and 'countries' began to form. Much of what is considered Roman culture was absorbed into these now smaller communities but the lack of connection between them meant waring factions/less communication/more vulnerable to attacks and a more inward looking view of life. This is where the church became so significant. It was the one power base left and it became the responsibility of the church to preserve not only the learning of the Roman Empire but to try and unify the now fractured groups of tribes under one religion.(1 vote)
- what is iconoclasm, and how did it effect Byzantine art?(2 votes)
- Why did they call it the dark ages? And why was it so important?(2 votes)
- Why did they call it the dark ages?
- Renaissance Humanists thought the "middle ages" were not as great as the Roman Empire
- Protestants thought it was a time when the papacy was tyrannical and corrupt
- Enlightenment thinkers (who were often anti-clerical) thought it was a time of fanaticism
None of these opinions is correct, but this is where the idea of the "dark ages" derives from.(2 votes)
- Were all of the living people in the dark ages?(1 vote)
- What do you mean? Of course people in the dark ages were alive, there can't be dead people walking around...(4 votes)
- Was the Iconoclasm of (730-787 and 814-842) because of the up and coming Islamic faith and that it is forbidden, or was there other reasons?(2 votes)
- There were other reasons for Iconoclasm than merely Islamic influence. See Khan Academy's excellent essay on this fascinating issue: https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/medieval-world/byzantine1/beginners-guide-byzantine/a/iconoclastic-controversies
In short, there were political reasons as well: long-lasting debates about the role of images in Christian worship; a possible attack on the growing power of the monasteries, which were the primary makers of icons; even an apocalyptic interpretation of a natural disaster!(2 votes)