Early Christian and Early Medieval Art - useful terms


A book was called a codex, and this was most commonly used in Insular and European circles. In Italian and Byzantine circles rolls (do not call them "scrolls") were also used. Books were made of vellum or parchment - animal hide. The best was young animal hide. It has been estimated that it took 40 sheep or cattle to make a Gospel Book, which had some 200-300 pages. A full Bible had some 2,000 or more pages.

Gospel Book
Contained St Jerome's prefaces explaining his translation and commenting on each Gospel; canon tables; and 4 Gospels (note capital "G"). This is NOT a New Testament! Commonly decorated with any or all of: carpet pages, Evangelists, Evangelist Symbols, . Canon tables were also commonly decorated. Later European Gospel Books also often included a Majesty.

Carpet Page
Full page decoration resembling a carpet or book cover, commonly found at the beginning of each Gospel in a Gospel Book, also sometimes found before St Jerome's Prefaces, and in the Book of Kells also before the enlarged "Chi" initial.

For art historical purposes, the author of one of the Gospels, i.e. Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.

Evangelist Symbol
Images of winged or unwinged creatures associated with each of the Evangelists. For Matthew, a winged/unwinged man (NOT an angel!); for Mark, a winged/unwinged lion; for Luke, a winged/unwinged bull; for John, an eagle. These images function as identifiers in Evangelist portraits, and sometimes they appear instead of portraits of the Evangelists. Note that they can also represent the Beasts of the Apocalypse. You will know which from the context.

Christ enthroned, surrounded by Evangelists or their symbols, and often also angels and prophets. Anything less is not a Majesty.

Book of Psalms. Commonly decorated with three or five painted pages, corresponding to the traditional divisions of the book. Usually these pages feature David.

Full Bible in a single volume. Usually in the Early Middle Ages, Bibles were divided into several volumes - of which you already know the Psalter and the Gospel Book. Pandects are quite rare. With around 2,000 pages, you are looking at around 400 sheep or cattle to make one. Very expensive.

A cast technique for complex patterns with facetted recesses. Usually gilt. Commonly used for interlace, animal interlace, bird interlace. Early examples also show spiral patterns and fret patterns. You'll find it in Insular work, also pre-Viking, Carolingian, and Lombardic work.

The use of fine wires to create designs. Usually the wire is gold, but it can be silver. Other metals were not used in the Middle Ages. The wires used were of various types: plain (like hair), ribbon (flattened), beaded, twisted. Filigree was commonly used for simplified foliate designs based on the acanthus scroll. A common feature was the creation of "beehives" by coiling beaded wire into tiny domes.

Glass ground into powder form and fused into a glaze by firing. Two common types were champlevée (design hollowed out of the metal and powder placed into the recessed areas), and cloisonée (design created with fine wires, and powder placed between the wires). Early Insular enamel was champlevée, red, and commonly used for spiral patterns. Byzantine and European enamel could be either type and was multicoloured.

Several glass rods of different colours fused together and stretched to one or two milimetres' thickness. This then chopped like a cucumber into fine slices, where the different colours made patterns like flowers or chequerboards.

Do not call them "jewels". In the Early Middle Ages gems were merely polished, not facetted, so colour was more important than twinkle. Rock crystal was used rather than diamond by Insular and European metalworkers. In Europe saphire, ruby and emerald were popular. They produce an elusive white star or cross when polished. Other "gems" commonly used in Europe were pearls, Antique cameos (where the design is raised against the ground), and Antique intaglios (where the design is carved into the ground). Insular metalworkers used amber, jet, coral and coloured glass studs. Polished gems with flat bottoms are called cabochons. A plain rim setting is a bezel - which was mostly used until about Charles the Bald's time, when claw settings began to appear.

Sheet Metal
The metal has been hammered into flat "sheets" of whatever thickness was desired. Very fine sheet metal is foil. Foil is usually gold or silver.

Also called embossed work. The design is hammered into sheet metal from behind. There is no limit to the complexity and subtlety which can be attained with this technique. The end result is fragile, however, and when mounted it should be supported from behind with a solid filling of pitch.

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