Europe After the Fall of Rome: Early Medieval Art in the West -Notes
Historians once referred to the thousand years (roughly 400-1400) between the
dying Roman Empire’s adoption of Christianity as its official religion and the
rebirth (Renaissance) of interest in classical antiquity as the Dark Ages.
and lay persons alike thought this long “interval” - between the ancient and what
was perceived as the modern European world - was rough and uncivilized, and
crude and primitive artistically.
They viewed these centuries - dubbed the Middle
Ages - as simply a blank between (in the middle of) two great civilizations.
This negative assessment, a legacy of the humanist scholars of Renaissance Italy,
persists today in the retention of the noun
and the adjective
to describe this period and its art.
The force of tradition dictates that we continue
to use those terms, even though modern scholars long ago ceased to see the art of
medieval Europe as unsophisticated or inferior.
Art historians date the art of the
Early Middle Ages
from 500 to 1000.
medieval civilization in Western Europe represents a fusion of Christianity, the
Greco-Roman heritage, and the cultures of the non-Roman peoples north of the
Although the Romans called everyone who lived beyond the classical
worlds frontiers “barbarians,” many northerners had risen to prominent positions
within the Roman army and government during the later Roman Empire.
established their own areas of rule, sometimes with Rome’s approval, sometimes in
opposition to imperial authority.
In time, these non Romans merged with the
citizens of the former northwestern provinces of Rome and slowly developed
political and social institutions that have continued to modern times.
centuries a new order gradually replaced what had been the Roman Empire,
resulting eventually in the foundation of today’s European nations.
The Art of the Warrior Lords
Rome’s power waned in Late Antiquity, armed conflicts and competition for
political authority became common place among the non Roman people of Europe
- Huns, Vandals, Merovingians, Franks, Goths, and others.
Once one group
established it self, another often pressed in behind and compelled it to move on.
The Visigoths, for example, who once held northern Italy and formed a kingdom in
southern France, were forced south into Spain under pressure from the Franks, who
had crossed the Rhine River and established themselves firmly in France,
Switzerland, the Netherlands, and parts of Germany.
The Ostrogoths moved to
Italy, establishing their kingdom there only to be removed 100 years later by the