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.

 

ibliography

 

Addison, Julia de Wolfe, Arts and Crafts in the Middle Ages, Page and Co, Boston, 1908

Backhouse, Janet, ed., Golden Age of Anglo-Saxon Art: 966-1066, the, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1984

Brugman, Birte, Glass Beads from Early Anglo-Saxon Graves, Oxbow, 2003

Campbell, James, ed., Anglo-Saxons, the, Phaidon, 1982

Carver, Martin, The Age of Sutton Hoo: The Seventh Century in North-Western Europe, Boydell Press, Woodbridge, 1992

Coatsworth, Elizabeth, and Pinder, Michael, Art of the Anglo-Saxon Goldsmith, Boydell Press, Suffolk, 2002

Cook, Jean M., Early Anglo-Saxon Buckets, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2005

Hinton, David A, Catalogue of the Anglo-Saxon Ornamental Metalwork 700-1100 I the Department of Antiquities Ashmolean Museum, Oxford University Press 1974

Hodgkin, R.H., History of the Anglo-Saxons, 2 volumes, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1935

Kennett, David, Anglo-Saxon Pottery, Shire Archaeology, 1978

Lang, James, Anglo-Saxon Sculpture, Shire Archaeology, 1988

Leeds, E. T., Early Anglo-Saxon Art and Archaeology, being the Rhind Lectures Delivered in Edinburgh 1935, Oxford, Clarenden, 1936

Lehey, Kevin, Anglo-Saxon Crafts, Tempus Publishing, Wiltshire, 2004

Pollington, Stephem, The Warriors Way, Blandford 1989

Savage, Anne trans.& collator, Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, The, The authentic voices of England, from the time of Julius Caesar to the Coronation of Henry II, St. Martins, NY 1983

Wilson, David, Anglo-Saxon Art, Overlook Press, Woodstock, 1984

Wilson, David, Viking Art, George Allyn and Unwin, 1966

Wilson, David , Northern World, The, The History and Heritage of northern Europe, AD 400-1100, Harry Abrams, 1980

Prittlewell Prince, the: The Discovery of a Rich Anglo-Saxon Burial in Essex, Museum of London Archeology Service, 2004

 

Feel free to e-mail me with any questions: Tchipakkan@tds.net