Medieval Art- the Hiberno-Saxon and Ottonian Style

In Medieval ages, artists became worse in realistic painting. Though they derived things from Byzantine, the knowledge of anatomy and perspective disappeared. And almost everything is about Christianity. The care of a personality from Roman art has gone completely. Most painters of the books were monks, which had little professional experience in art but numerous time. So there are tons of work in each page which tells the piety from a believer.

Let’s start with Manuscript 58, Book of Kells, St Matthew’s Gospel, fol. 28v (8th century, the Hiberno-Saxon)

the book of kells 8th century


Obviously it’s symmetrical. The symmetry always makes things solemn which is very appropriate for religious books. There’s a thick frame for decoration around the figure. And there are circles and rectangles on that frame to break the rigidity of a single frame. The colors in the middle are more contrasty and the lines in the middle are thick, which make the figure pops out of an intricate picture.


Lines are geometric. Most of them are straight or circle, only the ones of the figure is organic. Artists used thick and thin lines to make the picture interesting. Lines of the figure vary from thick to thin, and vice versa, trying to show the fabric and the body. But they are still primitive.


Colors are dazzling! Most colors are warm, such as yellow, orange, red, and brown. The smart thing is, they added a little blues and greens! Those tiny cold color are so fresh!


There’s absolute no value in a same color. Byzantines used to have a rough value to show the wrinkles or the concave areas. In this period, value had gone.


There are many interlaced pattern which was popular in Medieval in this picture. They are usually abstract animals or flora. Bur I can’t tell for these patterns because they are attrited.

Then let’s see Evangeliary of Henry II, Echternach Scriptorium, Ottonian, ca. 1020. Painters got a bit more sophisticated in this period, they knew a little bit more of perspective and anatomy. And they stopped painting those fantastic complicated patterns.

Evangeliary of Henry II


Buildings in the background are completely symmetrical, while figures are diverged. The buildings are taking a big part of the picture, because the painter wants them to be huge. The figures are in a better scale than before, showing the side of their bodies, which is easier than the front considering the perspective.


Lines are much more simple than what they did in Hiberno-Saxon Style. And the lines on the fabric show the structures of bodies.


Color skills are far more naive than the ones showed in the Book of Kells. Orange and blue take the main part, with some red and green accompanied. Cold and warm color are in the same amount.


There’s a rough value in figures and buildings. The shape of the shadow looks like Byzantine mosaic pictures!


There’s no magnificent patterns! Look at those lazy squares on the roof!


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