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Celtic designThe art of the barbarians places different values on human beings than the classical art of the past. Instead of glorifying man as incredibly beautiful, he is almost unrecognizable and has to be identified with a label: imagus hominus, the image of man. This is not to say, though, that it is necessarily inferior. Celtic designs, such as knots and the beautiful books of this time are undeniably beautiful and took a great deal of skill to make. This art would have been small, because these people did not live in permanent cities and it may not have been very common as things like books were very expensive to make. Also, what we have today is a small sampling of what existed then. Not only was it a long time ago, and much of it was wooden, but these items would not have been the Christian church's priority of things to save.

Gero CrucifixGero Crucifix

artist unknown
187 cm high
965-970, late Ottonian / early Romanesque period
Cologne Cathedral, Germany

Subject: The subject of this piece is Jesus Christ being crucified. It is said that at the time preceding his death, Jesus was doing controversial things and many said he was blasphemous for claiming to be the Son of God, and King of the Jews. At the Last Supper, Jesus said that he would soon be arrested and executed. It is said that when it was called for his arrest, Judas Iscariot, one of his apostles, gave away his identity by kissing him. Though apologist Bibles claim that Pontius Pilate felt that the execution was unjust, it is likely that Pontius, the man who sentenced Jesus to death, cared at all about whether or not it was a just decision. The crucifixion itself is a disturbing story, as it is among the most disturbing of methods of death. Jesus first was flogged, made to wear a crown of thorns, spit on, beaten, and humiliated. It is said that he carried his cross through Jerusalem until he reached the place of his death. At this point he was nailed to a wooden cross until he was dead. Christian tradition believes that after three days, he rose again and ascended to heaven.

The Artist's Work: This is one of the first times the Crucifixion of Jesus is shown in Christian art, especially in such a pained way. When Christianity was still in its earlier stages of spreading such an image may have been off-putting to potential converts. Now, of course, this is one of the fundamental symbols of the religion. The long hair and beard, by this time, have become the agreed upon image of Christ and it is used here. Depictions of Christ on the cross after this time have also adopted the slumped body and knees to one side that can be observed here. The realism of piece is quite striking, and moving. His body is slumped with his head down, and the muscles are clearly pulled in response to the nails. The nails, of course, could not have truely been in his hands, so that is a factually inacurate part. The background, especially the halo, is representative of his holiness.

: Though not particularly devout, I have always found images of Jesus to being either comfort or sorrow. A living, smiling Jesus being the former, and pieces like the Gero Crucifix being the latter. Everything about this piece looks so droopy to me.. the cloth, the face, the flesh, the knees to one side... it all looks so sad. The contortion conveys pain in a way that I imagine many humans can sympathize with or relate to. Knowing now that it was a first of its kind only adds to my feeling, as I can now think to what it would be like to cast your eyes on such an image for the first time. I have grown up with images very similar to this in churches and still manage to find it moving.

St. Jerome in his study, translatingSt. Jerome was a Christian apologist priest and contemporary of St. Augustine. In a dream, Christ appeared to him and scolded him for being more of a Ciceronian than a Christian. After this, he decided to devote his life entirely to the study of religious texts. He has had a lasting impact on the world of literature, as he was a prolific translator. Most importantly, he translated the Vulgate which is a Latin version of the bible from the fifth century. It was originally in old Latin, which was translated directly from Hebrew as opposed to Greek. For over a thousand years, this was the official Bible promoted by the Catholic church and it had a profound impact on the faithful. Many of today's translations are based on Jerome's version, including English translations.

Aside from the Bible, other works began to more prevalent. Page 1 of BeowulfLike all works of this time, and in fact, all works up until closer to our time, the hero of Beowulf is not flawed. His enemy, likewise, is wholly evil. It is simple: you cheer for the hero, who is high above any real person; and you boo for the villain who is supernaturally horrific. He fights against all odds to prove himself and succeeds in killing the Grendel and the Grendel's mother. Medieval troubadours would have traveled, telling such tales. They would have either read them aloud as poetry or sang them. This could be accompanied by an instrument or two, such as a lute. Not only would this be more interesting for the audience, but the stories could be extremely long (Beowulf, for instance, is 3182 lines) and it would have been impossible to remember them without a technique such as rhyme or rhythm.

Charlemagne's church, the Palatine Chapel in Aachen, is modeled heavily on the Church of San Vitale in Ravenna. San Vitale was built by Justinian in the 6th century, in the Byzantinian style. Charlemagne's throneCharlemagne himself made several visits to this church before deciding he would build a copy of it. It was built from 792 to 805 using materials imported from afar at great cost. It contains huge arches, Corinthian columns, and two levels. Beside the main entrance, there are two spiral staircases leading up to belltowers. These would call the faithful to prayer, not unlike a minaret. The upper level was meant for the highest of nobles and contained a huge throne for Charlemagne. Charlemagne initiated a revival of the classical heritage which had been all but lost by assembling great minds from all over the Western World. He allowed the liberal arts to flourish and encouraged church reformation. This, as well as his extreme support of education contributed to an event known as the Carolingian Renaissance. The ancient world finally progressed into the middle ages, and Charlemagne was the driving force for this. However, when he died, he divided his kingdom among his three grandsons. They were, unfortunately, completely incompetent. They also clearly had very different values, and did not encourage the arts in the same way their grandfather had done. The empire did not stay together as a strongly united force, and this spike in these artistic ideals petered out.