Carolingian Painting by Mütherich and Gaehde

With this post we inaugurate the category of Book Reviews. Why is this one the first?Well, it is not for any particular reason. We are on assignment period and I was preparing the question about art for my Carolingian Renaissance module, and as it has been of great help (and I enjoyed it) I decided it was time to do A book review.

F.MÜTHERICH AND J.E.GAEHDE, CAROLINGIAN PAINTING (LONDON 1977)

All the information provided by the book is mainly about the subject of painting and illustration in Carolingian books. If it was not because of the introduction and commentaries, it could certainly be considered an illustration book. Nonetheless,and despite the abundance of images, the text is rather interesting, well researched and detailed.

The introduction provides a general idea of the subject studied in this book. It touches several topics. First of all, it defined what is the Carolingian period in art, and the art itself. Later on, the author briefly explains what was the Carolingian Renaissance, and the importance of book production in this period, to finally get into the subject that matters: Carolingian art and the different art schools. It starts with the Charlemagne’s Court School, the Godescalc Evangelistary and the Vienna Coronation Gospels. Then, it moves on to the period after Charlemagne’s death: Louis the Pious and his sons. Even though little is known about book painting during the reign of Louis, the book brings to the subject the astronomical books (and representations) and the School of Reims and the Ebo Gospels. This is followed by the School of St.Martin of Tours (Lothair Gospels) and the school at Metz (illustration of the cycle of constellations). Finally, the author explains the art during the period of Charles the Bald: his Court School; with the Codex Aureus and the Bible of San Paolo Fuori le Mura. In addition, there are brief some comments about lost monasteries schools and schools in places far away within the empire. In general, it could be said that is of great use for someone getting initiated in the area of book illustration during the Carolingian Renaissance, because it has the basic ideas needed for the understanding of the issue. And it follows a chronological order so it is easy to known what belongs to which period, and to understand the improvements and influences. However, the text seems a bit ‘jumpy’. Sometimes it is not clear enough about what it is talking about, or how is that related to what was saying before. So it can get a bit confusing if you do not really know about one gospel or another, and suddenly there are three mixed in the same sentence.

But this section does not really matter once you have reach what I think is the best, more interesting and more useful part of the book: the plates and consequent commentaries. The plates included in the publication are 48:

-Godescalc (plates 1-3)                         -Gospels of Soissons (plates 4-7)

-Coronation Gospels ( 8-11)               -Hrabanus Maurus;de laudibus crucis (12)

-Ebo Gospels (13-15)                             -Physiologus (16)

-Psalter of King Louis (17)                  -Aratea (18-19)

-Grandval Bible (20)                             -Vivian Bible (21-23)

-Lothair Gospels (24-26)                    -Astronomical-Computistic Manual (27)

-Drogo Sacramentary (28-29)         -Gospels of Francis II (30-31)

-Sacramentary of Metz (32-34)      -Codex Aureus (35-38)

-Franco-Saxon Gospels (39-41)     -Bible of San Paolo Fuori le Mura (42-45)

-Psalterium Aureum (46-47)          -‘Second Bible’ of Charles the Bald (48)

Personally, I think that this is a great idea. When you are learning or researching about something related with art or architecture, it does not matter, it is always useful to have evidences of the pieces that you are looking for. It helps to understand why they are so significant, how are they different to each other, what is special in them, even why they were made in that way, what was the purpose. The images of these plates are of an amazing quality, and the authors have known how to use this quite well. The comments that accompany each of the photographs are, simply, fantastic. They provide more detailed information about that particular piece. What is more, the give specific details of that particular fragment. They discuss what is represented on certain plate, the significance of this particular image, its nature, and many times the techniques used.

It might not be the book with the best introduction ever, but what complements the introduction overshadows its bed points. I will seriously recommend it to anyone interested in the subject, particularly to beginners, but also to people more knowledgeable about the topic even if it is just because of the visual aids.

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