Stokstad Readings: Study Guide
Chapter 1: An Introduction to Medieval Art
Stavelot Triptych, Reliquary of the True Cross, Belgium mid-12
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In contrast to the large triptych, the two small reliquaries exemplify the art of the Eastern,
The wings, tell the story of the True Cross as it was known in the Middle Ages.
Constantine, during the night before fighting his rival Maxentius for control of the
Roman Empire, dreamed he saw the Cross of Christ in the sky.
Angels told him
that the sign of the Cross would ensure victory.
Constantine ordered his troops to
place the cross monogram of Christ (Chi Rho) on their shields.
In the ensuing
battle at the Milvian Bridge outside of Rome, Constantine won a decisive victory,
killed Maxentius, and entered Rome in triumph.
The enamels are technically different, following the preferences of the Eastern and
The small rectangular plaques are cloisonné enamel: the individual cells that
divide the colors are formed by tiny gold strips soldered to the surface of the
panel which is typical of Byzantine art.
The larger medallions are in the champleve technique: the cells are gouged out of
the metal plate, the preferred technique among Western artists
Medieval art is essentially Christian art, but the Stavelot Triptych focuses our attention on
an East-West dichotomy in Christianity, which continues to this day in the Catholic and
There are also two modes of representation:
The Eastern Byzantine artists use a symbolic mode: static hieratic compositions in
which figures, seemingly frozen in space, quietly adore the cross.
Western artists work in a narrative mode, creating lively energetic figures acting
out dramatic stories of visions, battles, confrontations, and miracles
Christianity and the Early Christian Church
Christianity did not begin as an imperially sponsored religion.
In the first century, Octavian, who was made Roman Emperor by the Senate with the title
of Augustus, formed a united empire.
Far from Rome, in Palestine, where Herod ruled as
Roman Governor—a woman named Mary gave birth to a child she named Jesus.
Gospels tell of angelic messengers announcing the coming of the Messiah and wise men
traveling to Bethlehem to recognize him as the Christ, the Son of God.
Few people, at first, were aware of Jesus of Nazareth, a Jewish carpenter who