Art In The Dark Ages

by Annie Saxena on Feb 10, 2023

One would have been witness to a major period of transition in history if born during the Middle Ages. After the devastation of the Black Death, Europe saw its most dramatic decrease in stability, with at least one third of the population killed off by this pandemic. Understandably, art suffered as a result. Even though threats from outside invasions were no longer as imminent as they used to be, Islamic influences from earlier years of conquests became a recurring theme in many works of art. Religion became a dominant theme as well, as survivors clung to the hopes and stories of their favorite icons. Additionally, different styles like Baroque and Gothic art emerged which opened the doors to great artistic influences for centuries to come.

With the collapse of the Roman Empire, sculptures with traditional features were replaced with more realistic aesthetics. This was due to the work of the Ottonians and Carolingians, who emphasized realism over the enduring expressions that were left behind by the Byzantine Empire. Cultural revival was an important event that took place during the Dark Ages. Beautiful ivory carvings and bronze castings emerged with three-dimensional details that were influenced by classical realism. With this hugely expansive era, many styles of sculpture came and went, including architectural sculpture found from the Romanesque and Gothic periods. Here, figures adorned the faces of several famous churches and Virgin Mary became a prominent subject of this time. Life-sized tombs were a sign of the wealthy, while small portable sculptures of ivory were used for devotional purposes.

Another beautiful medium that was popular during the Middle Ages was the medium of stained glass. Stained glass was created by mixing sand and wood ash together and melting it into a liquid in order to form glass. While the glass was still molten, powdered metals were added to create colors that would later adorn the cathedrals. Each image in the window was created by arranging different pieces of glass together to create the desired design. The artist then added final details by hand before assembling the completed art and mounting it onto a window. Religion was again an important theme in many stained glass designs because they were meant to decorate the windows of churches with sacred icons. No matter the mixture, artists guaranteed stunning results of illustrated scenes that were full of color. In Northern and Western Europe, stained glass became one of the most prominent forms of church decoration. However, in Southern Europe particularly areas that came in contact with the Eastern Orthodox Church, mosaics were more common. Depending on the beliefs of the Church, the image of God on the mosaics could be stern and forbidding, as in the Old Testament God, or he could be portrayed as forgiving and peaceful that was more akin to the New Testament God.

Paintings in the Dark Ages now focused on mythology, animals and other themes apart from the norm. No longer were there just monks in solitude creating art, but also highly skilled artists with many years of practice under their belts. The painting most well-known, from this time ,is ‘Last Supper’ by Giotto di Bondone. This painting which depicted a scene of Jesus surrounded by his apostles, features one of the most religious scenes in the history of art. The Italian artist was also famous for his frescos in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy. Some other artists of this time include Donatello, an Italian sculptor known for his statues of David, Mary Magdalene and Madonna. Another artist was Benvenuto di Giuseppe, also known as Cimabue, who hailed from Florence and was known for his paintings and mosaics.

With a large percentage of Europeans being considered peasants, the main commissioning body was primarily the Church. Due to this patronage, Middle Ages art was extremely religious in nature. Though this period was considered a dark period in history, it largely contributed to many different art styles. Today because of its expansive time frame and allure. The wide range of culture and influence even today is a testament to the evolution of this art.