By Jean Marie Carey

On 9 October 768 Pope Stephen II saw Charlegmagne and Carloman I named kings of the Franks, paving the way for Charlegmagne’s eventual rise to emperor in 800. As king of both Italy and consolidator of the Holy Roman Empire, Charlegmagne oversaw both a revival and new direction of the visual arts, sometimes called the Carolingian Renaissance, cultivating references to the remaining traces of the classical world.

To this end Charlemagne had the Palatine Chapel in Aachen built according to a model of the  Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, copying and in some cases outright importing some of the famous Ravenna mosaics. Carolingian art nonetheless has a distinctive appearance, blending classical acanthus patterns with elaborate and colorful jewel-toned decorations and animated, frontal, figurative drawings and sculptures.

Reference: Jean Sorabella. “Carolingian Art.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2008.

The Iron Crown of Lombardy, c. 850, displayed in the Cathedral of Monza. Photograph by James Steakley.

The Palatine Chapel in aachen, 792-805, patterned after the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Cloisonné enamel roundel with a personification of the moon, c. 870, found in Northern Italy. Metropolitan Museum of Art,  Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917. Accession Number: 17.190.688. 

Detail from Mosaic of Theodora, Basilica of San Vitale, c. 550, Ravenna. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Corinthian capital from Palazzo Soberli, Cividale, c. 550. Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Cividale del Friuli.

Further Reading: Joachim E. Gaehde and Florentine Mütherich. Carolingian Painting. New York: G. Braziller, 1976.

Rosamond McKitterick, ed. Carolingian Culture: Emulation and Innovation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

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