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.

[14] Mod. Fr. “Debonnaire.”

The Golden Gospels of St. Médard, like the Centula MS., are similar, but betoken an advance in both taste and execution. The figures are still rude and deformed, but the artist shows a laudable desire, an ambition, in fact, to imitate the work of better artists than himself. Nevertheless, the calligraphy and borderwork are the best parts of his performance. In this MS. the use of silver betrays a tendency to prodigality. In design, the influence of the artists who built the new church of San Vitale at Ravenna, a church which became the model for the Abbey of St. Médard itself, is quite manifest, yet perhaps need not be traced further than Soissons or Pavia. In certain of the illustrations, as, for instance, the “Fountain of Life,” there is at once a likeness and a variation as compared with the same symbol in the Evangeliary of St. Sernin. They are both too intricate to describe, but of both it may be said that they show an intimate acquaintance with early Christian symbolism. The ivory carving and architecture of Ravenna have evidently been known to the director of these frames and backgrounds. In the year which saw the completion of Godeschalk's Gospels, Alcuin was at Parma, but when the St. Médard's Gospels were written he was Abbot of St. Martin's at Tours. It was the presence of Alcuin at the Court of Charlemagne that accounts for the prevalence of the Saxon character in the new and beautiful handwriting we now call Carolingian. It was the presence of Paul Warnefrid that accounts for much of the classic and most of the Lombardic features, both of the writing and the illumination. Many other scholars assisted these two in the various centres in which Alcuin established branches of the palatine schools. The intercourse with Italy and England was constant, and led to the frequent interchange of books, and community of methods and models. Another fine MS. of the same period (c. 780) is the Golden Ada-Codex of St. Mesmin or Maximin, of Trèves. In 1794 this MS. was taken from Trèves to Mainz; in 1815 it was transferred to Aix-la-Chapelle, and is now back again at Trèves. The externals of the Ada-Codex are very costly, its binding being a late Gothic pendant to the cover of the Echternach Evangeliary at Gotha. In the centre of the fore-cover there is a magnificent topaz,[15] with several imperial figures. Inside, the work is a handsome example of the early Carolingian.[16] It contains the four Gospels written by order of the “Mother and Lady Ada,” sister of Charles the Great, Abbess of St. Mesmin. Next we have in the British Museum another grand example of the style as modified by English or Saxon influence. Also the Zurich Bible, of the same date, executed at Tours—and the Bamberg Bible, said to be a copy of the Alcuin Bible of the same school. Then follow the Drogo Sacramentary, presented by the Emperor to his natural son Drogo, Archbishop of Metz (826-855), perhaps illuminated at Metz, but of the same school as those above mentioned.

[15] Or sardonyx (Lamprecht says topaz.)

[16] A photograph of the cover is sold by F. Linz of Trèves.

In our own National Library, again, we have the Athelstan Gospels (Harl. 2788), also in all probability executed at Metz. At Paris (Nat. Lib., Theol. Lat. 266) is the Evangeliary of Lothaire—a most beautiful example of gold-writing and ornament. So we might enumerate a score of splendid MSS., and classify them into their various minor schools. But such is not our object. All we want here is a general but clear idea of the style as a whole.

To characterise it broadly by the names of its most important elements we should call it a Lombard-Saxon style—the interlacing bands and knots and other minor features and the main character of the writing being of Saxon origin, the classical foliages and manner of painting the figures and certain ideas of design Lombardic, strengthened by direct contact with the sources of the latter style. Whatever variations there may be, they can generally be accounted for according to locality and centre of production. We have instanced a few examples of the earlier time as showing the principal features of the style. Under the Emperor Charles the Great's grandson, Charles the Bald, Carolingian illumination reached its highest point of excellence, and the MSS. executed for him or his contemporaries accordingly give a correct idea of what Carolingian illuminators considered as good work. The chief centres were still Tours and Metz—the latter a branch of the former, but gradually developing distinct features of its own; and among the productions of these schools there still remain precious—we might say priceless—examples, such as the Vivien Bible of the Paris Library, so-called because presented by Count Vivien, Abbat of St. Martin's of Tours, to Charles the Bald in 850.[17] It contains a fine picture of the presentation with beardless figures. It has also a number of exceedingly splendid initials showing strong Byzantine influence—capitals of columns of classic origin and traces of Merovingian in letter forms and ornamental details. It is like the Evangeliary of Lothaire, already mentioned, a most sumptuous example rich in silver and gold—the latter having a grand portrait of Lothaire seated on his throne. Both MSS. are in the National Library at Paris, the Vivien, No. 1 (Theol. Lat.), the Lothaire, No. 266. But the one example to which we would call the reader's attention, though among the earlier productions of the period, as not only most readily accessible, but most precious to the English student, is the celebrated Alcuin Bible in the British Museum (Add. MS. 10546). This venerable MS. is a copy of the Vulgate revised by Alcuin himself, and said to be exactly similar to the one at Bamberg. Biblical revision was perhaps the most important of his many literary occupations, and this volume is reasonably believed to be the actual copy prepared for presentation to Charlemagne under the reviser's own superintendence, possibly, in part at least, the work of his own hand. It is a large folio, finely written in a neat minuscule, mainly Saxon hand, with uncial initials in two columns. The miniatures, including their architectural details, are in the Roman manner, the ornaments partly Byzantine, partly Celtic. The great similarity of design between different manuscripts is strikingly exemplified by a comparison of three borders from (a) the Evangeliary of St. Vaast of Arras, fol. 28 v.(see Delisle); (b) the Evangel. in National Library, Paris, anc. fds. Lat. 257 (see Louandre), and Evangeliary No. 309 Bibl. de Cambrai (see Durieux).

[17] Plate in t. 1 of Louandre.

Indeed, comparisons of this kind are very instructive frequently as suggestive of provenance, as each working centre would have its own set of models and designs. Of course, comparison of the MSS. themselves is out of the question, but the comparisons can often be effected by the student's having Louandre, Durieux, Fleury, Labarte, etc., by his side during the examination of any given period. The limits of our little book forbid our speaking of other examples of this splendid style, but we cannot conclude without noticing that in the opinion of M. Ferdinand Denis, the Golden Gospels of St. Médard of Soissons is the most beautiful Carolingian MSS. extant.