Anglo-Saxon Art

Anglo-Saxon Art

By Hlafdige Arastorm

Aka Tchipakkan

aka Virginia Fair Richards-Taylor                                    © 2007

What is art? I’m using it to describe the product of the effort to make something more beautiful and emotionally satisfying than simple utility demands. What is Anglo-Saxon? The culture that dominated England between 450 and 1200.

There are so many ways that people can express their artistic impulses. One of the biggest forms of art is architecture- the design of buildings, and public spaces to reflect the esthetics of the culture. Early Anglo-Saxons built in wood, (which allowed for expression through carving) but gradually became more used to working in stone. Architecture goes beyond simply the way buildings are designed. It also includes wall painting, floor treatments like tile and mosaic, and toward the end of the period:, glass even stained glass in windows. Naturally, those with more resources (who can draw on the labor of many, can make more impressive buildings- churches and other public buildings, and monuments- such as the stone crosses and memorial stones.

Anther step will take us to “dressing” the house: the furniture, wall hangings, and other ornament for the house. Items from doors to buckets, to tableware can be shaped and ornamented in wood, glass, horn, metal, pottery, and combinations of these materials,. Transportation gives the options of things from ships, to wagons, to horse trappings- in wood, metal and leather. The primary occupation of the nobility- warfare creates the opportunity to express ones status and taste in weapons and armor.

The human need for expressing oneself in how one presents oneself is expressed in clothes and jewelry: While most clothing was linen and wool (with a few imported fabrics) the English were famous not only for the fineness of their fabrics, but their embroidery, and in the case of early Anglo-Saxons, their tablet weaving. In the later years Opus Anglicanism, a type of embroidery with gold thread, was even named for the English who created and excelled at it. Glass, jewels, amber, enamels, and precious metals provided ornament (as did fur, although that is rarely considered an art form), Among the various techniques the Anglo-Saxons used in jewelry was casting, repousee, piercing, engraving, neillo, granulation, setting stones, and enameling. I cannot resist giving special mention to the polychromatic composite broaches of the Sutton Hoo period with their set garnets, shell and millifiori glass.

Especially associated with the Church, and the court in the periodic “golden ages” of Northumbria, the time of Aldred, and the 10th century, the production of incredible books provide emotional and spiritual satisfaction. The various Bibles, and other works ranged from exuberant to subtle, from crude to incredibly fine. Both the interior work- calligraphy and illumination, was exciting, and the covers offered opportunism for displaying more of the jewelers’ craft, as well as leather working. As people carved personal objects in wood, horn and antler, and ornamented them with metalwork, religious feelings often combined with the resources of the church to use ivory (mostly walrus ivory) were expressed in sculptures, and plaques, and carved boxes. Another specifically religious category was reliquaries- which often combined many media in one item.

And I can’t leave the arts without pointing out that while it is not generally something that has survived for 1500-1000 years, there was music and dance, as well as literature (which started out as an oral tradition) in the culture of the Anglo-Saxons (riddles are a specifically Anglo-Saxon art form).

In the workshop I will attempt to cover as much of this huge range of artistic expression as possible. One point I would especially like to address is one I’ve heard discussed by various artists and craftsmen in the SCA. Do motifs and styles carry over from one medium to another? I think I can show that they do. While every medium has it’s own discipline, the artistic urge whether shown in the culture as a whole, or an individual will borrow ideas from one beautiful piece, and transfer to many other (if not all) media. Linen does not take dye as well as wool. Gold is more malleable than iron. Wood has grain where ivory does not. But even dealing with the characteristics of the media one uses, there is carryover.




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