The best-preserved artistic achievements of the age are works of small dimensions—manuscript illumination, ivory carving, and metalwork. Besides the imperial court, at Aachen, the leading centers of art were the monasteries in Tours, Metz, Saint-Denis, and near Reims.
The earliest liturgical manuscripts of the Carolingian period, such as the Gospel book signed by the scribe Godescalc (written between 781 and 783), are characterized by a tentative and not always successful fusion of ornamental motifs of chiefly Anglo-Saxon and Irish origin and by figures derived from antiquity. Full-page portraits of the four evangelists were often designed. Later Carolingian miniatures show an increasing familiarity with the heritage of late antiquity and in some instances are perhaps influenced by Byzantine art. The manuscripts owe much of their beauty to the new minuscule form of writing, remarkable for its clarity and form. The most influential work was the Utrecht Psalter, illustrated in a mode of nervous and flickering intensity quite unparalleled in earlier Western art.
Closely allied in style to the miniatures were the ivory carvings, many of them originally part of book covers. Metalwork objects are rarer, although literary evidence shows that goldsmiths and enamel workers were active. The large golden altar of Sant' Ambrogio in Milan (executed in 835), the portable altar of Arnulf (now in Munich), several splendid book covers, and other sumptuously decorated objects provide insight into the artistic accomplishments of the period, which ended in the late 9th cent.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.