Merovingian art and architecture

Merovingian art and architecture (mĕrˌəvĭnˈjēən) [key]. This period is named for Merovech, the founder of the first Germanic-Frankish dynasty (c.A.D. 500–A.D. 751). The Merovingian period was marked by the gradual decline of the classical tradition and by the absorption of a radically new element into the artistic mainstream—the abstract and brilliantly ornamental style of the barbarian tribes. The art of these tribes was confined to small and portable objects because of their nomadic way of life. The migratory waves of settlers from Central Europe and the East have been credited with the introduction into Western art of the cloisonné technique. They also excelled in several other types of enamelwork and metalwork. Merovingian architecture, monumental sculpture, and painting were dependent upon the legacy of the classical and Early Christian traditions. Little remains of the architecture of the Merovingian period, although contemporary sources, such as the writings of Gregory of Tours, indicate that building activity was substantial. Larger churches were timber roofed and adhered to the basilican plan. The most original aspect of Gallic churches was their use of a bell tower. Constructions of Merovingian date have been found in Auxerre, Jouarre, Lyons, and Poitiers. Merovingian stone sculpture was characterized by a simplification of antique forms, sometimes culminating in a rather crude graphic shorthand. Animal motifs, especially birds and lambs disposed in rows or within geometric patterns, were tirelessly repeated on sarcophagi. The human figure became an abstract sign. Illumination of manuscripts was almost entirely restricted to the elaboration of colorful initial letters based on animal forms, notably bird and fish motifs.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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