1902 Encyclopedia > Sculpture > English Sculpture - Saxon and Norman Periods.

(Part 3)

English Sculpture - Saxon and Norman Periods.

It will be convenient to discuss the sculpture of the mediaeval and modern periods under the heads of the chief countries of Europe.

England.—During the Saxon period, when stone build-ings were rare and even large cathedrals were built of wood, the plastic arts were mostly confined to the use of gold, silver, and gilt copper. The earliest existing specimens of sculpture in stone are a number of tall churchyard crosses, mostly in the northern provinces and apparently crcsses-the work of Scandinavian sculptors. One very remarkable example is a tall monolithic cross, cut in sandstone, in the churchyard of Gosforth in Cumberland. It is covered with rudely carved reliefs, small in scale, which are of special interest as showing a transitional state from the worship of Odin to that of Christ. Some of the old Norse symbols and myths sculptured on it occur modified and altered into a semi-Christian form. Though rich in decora-tive effect and with a graceful outline, this sculptured cross shows a very primitive state of artistic development, as do the other crosses of this class in Cornwall, Ireland, and Scotland, which are mainly ornamented with those ingeni-ously intricate patterns of interlacing knotwork designed so skilfully by both the early Norse and the Celtic races. They belong to a class of art which is not Christian in its origin, though it was afterwards largely used for Christian purposes, and so is thoroughly national in style, quite free from the usual widespread Byzantine influence. Of special interest from their early date—probably the 11th century —are two large stone reliefs now in Chichester cathedral, which are traditionally said to have come from the pre-Norman church at Selsey. They are thoroughly Byzantine in style, but evidently the work of some very ignorant sculptor; they represent two scenes in the Raising of Lazarus ; the figures are stiff, attenuated, and ugly, the pose very awkward, and the drapery of exaggerated Byzantine character, with long thin folds. To repre-sent the eyes pieces of glass or coloured enamel were inserted; the treatment of the hair in long ropelike twists suggests a metal rather than a stone design (see fig. 4).

Norman Period.

During the Norman period sculpture of a very rude sort was much used, especially for the tympanum reliefs over the doors of churches. Christ in Majesty, the Harrowing of Hell, and St George and the Dragon occur very fre-quently. Beliefs of the zodiacal signs were a common decoration of the richly sculptured arches of the 12th century, and are frequently carved with much power. The later Norman sculptured ornaments are very rich and spirited, though the treatment of the human figure is still very weak.


557-2 On early and mediaeval sculpture in ivory consult Gori, Thesaurus Veterum Diptychorum, Florence,1759 ; Westwood, Diptychs of Consuls, London, 1862 ; Didron, Images ouvrantes du Louvre, Paris, 1871 ; Maskell, Ivories in the South Kensington Museum, London, 1872 ; Wieseler, Diptychon Quirinianum zu Brescia, Göttingen, 1868 ; Wyatt and Oldfleld, Sculpture in Ivory, London, 1856.

557-3 See O'Neill, Sculptured Crosses of Ireland, London, 1857.

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