CAROLINGIAN ILLUMINATION

Why so-called—Works to be consulted—The Library of St. Gall—Rise and progress of Carolingian art—Account of various MSS.—Features of the style—Gospels of St. Sernin—The Ada-Codex—Centres of production—Other splendid examples—The Alcuin Bible—The Gospel of St. Médard of Soissons.

Once more crossing the Channel let us now inquire what has been doing among the Franks since the Gellone Sacramentary, especially in the schools instituted by the Emperor Charles the Great. Materials for this inquiry are most abundant. One of the more important works on the subject is the lucid monograph of Dr. Rahn, of Zurich, on the Golden Psalter of Folchard at St. Gall, which deals more or less with the whole question of Carolingian art, while M. Léop. Delisle's brochure on the Evangeliary of St. Vaast of Arras gives us a copious account of the Franco-Saxon branch of it. Apart, however, from these sources of information, we have not a few original MSS. still extant, which, of course, more vividly speak for themselves, and only require pointing out to the student.

The clearest method of study being to take things in the order of their creation, so in order to understand the “character of savage grandeur and naïve originality” which has been attributed to this style, it will be best to take up these MSS. chronologically. At the same time, if anyone merely wishes to know what the style is like at its best, Dr. Rahn must be his guide, as the Golden Psalter which he has selected for study is as splendid an example as perhaps may be found in the whole career of the art. We have noticed how the Irish missionary-artists carried their work to their continental settlements, how they planted their schools in Burgundy, Switzerland, and Lombardy. Of all their depositories, however, numerous as they are elsewhere, none is richer in the relics of their work than the celebrated abbey which takes its name of St. Gall from that disciple of St. Columbanus, who in 614 founded his little cell beside the Steinach, about nine miles south of the Lake of Constance. Under Charles Martel the cell had become a monastery, which he endowed as a Benedictine abbey. In 830 was founded its magnificent library of MSS. The library still exists, and at the present moment gives shelf-room to 1,800 MSS. and more than 41,700 printed books. Besides this, another, called the Town Library, founded in the sixteenth century, and containing 500 MSS. and 60,400 printed books, gives this upland, busy, modern manufacturing Swiss town no mean importance as a centre of literary culture. Physically it is probably the highest town in Europe, its street-level being very nearly 2,200 feet above that of the sea. Its libraries and museums are rich storehouses of mediæval treasures. The architect raves over its monastic buildings; the scholar and palæographer gloat over its books and MSS. In the libraries of St. Gall are some of the masterpieces of Irish Saxon, and Carolingian art, and its great Benedictine abbey under Grimald from 841, i.e. during the later Carolingian period, possessed one of the most active scriptoria in Europe. To begin with the beginning, however, we must leave St. Gall, and, passing by some less important MSS., go back to the year 781 and the city of Toulouse. In that year, and in the Abbey of St. Sernin (Saturninus) in that city, was finished a wonderful and truly splendid manuscript of the Gospels as a present to the Emperor and his wife Hildegardis. This is our first example. It now is to be seen in the National Library, Paris (Nouv. acqu. Lat. 1203).

Next comes the Evangeliary of Abbat Angilbert of Centula (now St. Riquier), near Abbeville, Charlemagne's son-in-law. This MS., executed about the year 793, is still preserved in the Town Library of Abbeville. In the same rank, but somewhat finer in execution, comes a third Evangeliary, that of St. Médard of Soissons, now in the National Library, Paris (No. 8850, Lat.).

In these three MSS., reproductions from which are to be found in various modern works on art, the writing and ornamentation are the parts into which the artist puts his best work, not the figure drawing. Although in the St. Sernin MS. there is, in the Christ-figure, a distinct attempt at portraiture quite different from the coils and pen-flourishes which make up the Gospel-figures in the Irish and Merovingian MSS. Here the inspiration is clearly Greek, not Irish. The figure is draped in green and violet—seated on an embroidered cushion before a low castellated wall. The hair is light, and the chin beardless. The design shows a decided likeness to the consular ivory diptychs, and the painting follows the Eastern methods. In the details of ornament only are Irish features. Thus we trace in this MS. the sources of Carolingian art. The MS. being dated, is important as affording a means of comparison with other undated work. It was presented to St. Sernin on the occasion of the visit of the Emperor and Empress with their son, the amiable Louis “le Debonaire,”[14] just after the latter had been made King of Aquitaine. Godeschalk, the writer of it, on the last two leaves tells us that it took him seven years to accomplish. It is written throughout in gold and silver letters on purple vellum, and is, moreover, ornamented with borders, pictures, portraits, and panellings. At first it was kept in a cumdach of silver, set with precious stones, but that has disappeared.