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Video transcript

we're in the Morgan Library in New York and we're looking at one of its real treasures this is the lindau gospel cover this is old it is it's really old this is from the ninth century that is from the 800s and this was a moment when there was an attempt to reestablish the kind of empire that the Romans had once known under Charlemagne and Charlemagne was looking to Constantine as his model was trying to recreate the empire of Constantine and also to try and recreate the artistic styles that were present in that early Christian period so it's interesting that Constantine that great Roman Emperor but also the first emperor to have legalized or had decriminalized Christianity so it's a really interesting choice by Charlemagne to focus on that particular number because he's so much a bridge between the power of the older pagan Roman Empire and the new Christian world that's correct we don't usually think of the cover as the work of art itself that's right and really there are so very few medieval book covers that survive so we get a good one like this it is really something that's very special what we're looking at is the cover of the Lindo Gospels and a gospel book contains Matthew Mark Luke and John together with some extra material might have a calendar or a litany and the inside but clearly all the emphasis here is on the outside and we see an image of the crucifixion and it's a very Carolingian representation that follows the triumphant to Christ later representations of Christ on the cross see his body responding to gravity we might see a real sense of pain but here we don't no not at all we see an emphasis of the divine nature of Christ the Christ who is God who doesn't suffer and the only sense of suffering that we can see is a little bit of blood dripping from the hands but other than that he is tall and proud and no way responding to the pain that he is suffering you call this Carolingian it comes from the workshop of Charlemagne actually this was probably made for Charlemagne's grandson Charles the bold especially in the representation in gold of the cloth you can really get a sense of the way that these artists were looking back to the classical tradition that's correct they're looking back to the classical tradition and of course classical art is really concerned with drapery and drapery folds and artists are trying at this time in the Carolingian period to revive that style and they're trying to look at classical models and earlier classical models and emulate that in their art and I think we can especially see that in these bottom two figures that are mourning Christ this idea of reviving the classical tradition is not just the system of representation it has to do with reforming language setting down a set of common laws that's correct so there's political reform that's going on at this time there is education reform and there's also church reform that's happening to try and standardize and modernize the church and society at this time this is an unbelievably glorious object look at the amount of gold the mental jewels it is almost architectural scooting down we can see all of the arches that help to make up the shape of the cross as though the cross itself is like a building and if we think to later church plans this is the kind of shape of a church building that we would expect to see so the kind of Basilica structure absolutely with a long nave and a transept so it's not only a representation then of Christ on a cross but it actually has a deeper symbolic meaning absolutely the jeweler very sumptuous and they're pearls and other sparkly things that make this appear very attractive I see emeralds and I see rubies all in this wonderful gold setting what we want to see is that those have particular reference to the heavenly Jerusalem in the book of Revelation in chapters 21 22 there is a lot of description of the gates in the city of the heavenly Jerusalem and a lot of medieval authors wrote commentaries to try and explain these in more human terms and if we see all these pearls the pearls are often described as referring to the Apostles in the heavenly City so I find this fascinating because one generally thinks of the gospel books themselves as containing all of the meaning of the message but here we're seeing on the very cover of iconography that were tells the contents of the book within that's right and effectively how to get to heaven how to arrive and the heavily Jerusalem this book takes you there this book leads you to salvation this is a very precious object obviously it's just a tour de force of the jeweller's art it's using a technique which is called repoussé a which is to say that the sculptural figures Christ and the other mourning figures that surround Christ are actually hammered from the inside to create that positive image if we look at the figure of Christ artists have really tried to bring out that classicism that we don't have strange muscles appearing and that the artists has tried to smooth over the body of Christ in a way that is very UNMISS the abstraction of the human body that had been so pervasive in the years before the Carolingian revival and so this is an attempt then to look back and it's interesting to think what kinds of sources would these artisans have had available to them from ancient Rome from ancient Greece well they would have had books and drawings hidden away in monastic libraries and they would have had drawings from earlier versions of Illustrated Gospel books and so they're looking back in their libraries to these earlier Christian books which retain more of a flavor of pagan drawing and Pagan illustration from the classical world it's just such a marvelous illustration of the complex relationship which the medieval Christians had with the classical tradition that had come before them you