Carolingian Renaissance

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Carolingian Renaissance


the cultural flowering in the empire of Charlemagne and the kingdoms of the Carolingian dynasty in the eighth and ninth centuries, chiefly on the territory of modern France and Germany.

The Carolingian renaissance expressed itself in the organization of new schools, the gathering of a number of educated persons at the royal court, a new interest in classical literature and secular disciplines in general, and the development of the fine arts and architecture. The renaissance was closely connected with the military, political, and economic efforts of the Carolin-gians to affirm their authority throughout their empire. Such an aim demanded trained administrators and an educated clergy. For this reason new schools were founded in Tours, Corbie, Fulda, Rheims, Reichenau, and elsewhere. The center of the movement was the unique circle known as the Academy, which was headed by Alcuin at the court of Charlemagne. Among its members were Charlemagne himself, his biographer Einhard, and the poet Angilbert.

During the Carolingian renaissance, interest in secular disciplines grew considerably. Alcuin, Rabanus Maurus (the abbot of Fulda), and others attempted to give a new, medieval interpretation to the “seven liberal arts,” an interpretation that would correspond more closely to the demands of feudal ecclesiastical culture. A special role in the cultural revival was played by immigrants from Ireland like Sedulius Scottus, a student of Greek and a poet and scholar, and Johannes Scotus Erigena, the first original philosopher of the Middle Ages, who developed a pantheistic cosmology.

The period also saw significant developments in historiography. At the court of Charlemagne, an apologetic history, the Royal Annals, was composed, and local chronicles like the Annals of Fulda and the Annals of St. Bertin appeared (c. 830–60). The outstanding historical work of the Carolingian renaissance, however, was the History of the Langobards, written by Paul the Deacon. Political tracts and biographies like Einhard’s life of Charlemagne and Bishop Thegan’s life of Louis the Pious were also written. Literature developed considerably, national (Romance and Germanic) languages were formed, and a new, more easily read style of writing, the Carolingian minuscule, was worked out. In the scriptoria of monasteries, numerous books were copied, forming the basis for the collection of valuable Carolingian manuscripts that have survived.

With Carolingian art, which drew on the impressive heritage of late classical and Byzantine art as well as on local barbarian traditions, the bases of European medieval feudal art were laid. The extensive building carried out during this epoch is known to modern scholars largely through literary sources, which describe great complexes of monasteries and imperial residences (Pfalzen), consisting of palaces and chapels, fortified “burgs,” and basilica churches with a developed overall composition and dynamic outlines. Among the few surviving structures of the period are the central octagonal chapel at the imperial residence in Aachen (before 798), the rotunda chapel of St. Michael at Fulda (c. 820–22), the three-naved church with Westwerk, transept, and tower at Corvey (822–85), and the chapel built over the gates in Lorsch (c. 774).

Churches and palaces were extensively decorated with mosaics, as in the oratory at Germigny-les-Pres (after 806), and frescoes, of which fragments have been preserved in the churches of Munster (c. 800) and Auxerre (841–58). The monumental painting of the ninth century combined Early Christian tradition, reminiscent of classical antiquity in its treatment of space and volume, with elements of dynamism and distinctive expression. These elements appeared even more clearly in manuscript miniatures (representations of evangelists, biblical scenes, Carolingian monarchs). In some miniatures, like those in the Gottschalk Gospel (c. 781–83; National Library, Paris) and the Ada Gospel (early ninth century; City Library, Trier), classical style is blended with medieval symbolism and ornamentation. In others, like the Ebbo Gospel (c. 816–35; City Library, Epernay) and the Utrecht Psalter (ninth century, University Library, Utrecht), an impassioned agitation, directness of observation, and freedom and dynamism of composition and line are displayed. A number of local schools of miniature painting can be distinguished (the palace school at Aachen and schools at such centers as Rheims and Tours). The sculpture of the period consisted largely of carving in ivory (such as book covers, miniature diptychs, combs, and caskets). Casting, coinage, and engraving in metal were also developed, as were decoration with enamel and jewels and carving in stone and alabaster. The primitive form of the statue of Ste.-Foy (tenth century; treasury of the monastery at Conques), covered with gold leaf and richly decorated with jewels, is witness to the continuing vitality of barbarian tradition.


Ramm, B. Ia. “‘Karolingskoe vozrozhdenie’ i problemy shkol’noi obrazovannosti v rannem srednevekov’e.” Uchenye zapiski Leningrad-skogo gosudarstvennogo pedagogicheskogo instituía im. M. N. Pokrov-skogo, 1940. Vol. 5, history department, no. 1.
Ramm, B. Ia. “K voprosu ob istochnikakh po istorii shkoly v karoling-skuiu epokhu.” Uchenye zapiski Leningradskogo gosudarstvennogo pedagogicheskogo instituía im. Gerísena, 1948, vol. 68.
Köhler, W. Die karolingischen Miniaiuren, vols. 1–3. Berlin, 1930–60.
Otto, W. Die karolingische Bilderweli. Munich, 1957.
Karl der Grosse: Werk und Wirkung. Aachen, 1969.
Hubert, I. J., J. Porcher, and W. F. Volbach. Carolingian Art London, 1970. B. Ia. Ramm and Ts. G. Nessel’shtraus
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Chapter 4 is about the Carolingian Renaissance. Englishman Alcuin, who met Charlemagne on a trip to Italy and later joined his court in Aachen, revived the teaching of the seven liberal arts and played a crucial role in saving manuscripts and building libraries.
In exposing the multiple possible meanings of one theme, the passion, Chazelle's study is a contribution to our understanding of the Carolingian Renaissance. While this era is indisputably a turning point in Western Civilization, we are still only beginning to grasp the true innovation and diversity in interpreting a common intellectual tradition that explain its vitality and its enduring effects on Western thought.
(15) This hagiographer's career led him to some of the most influential intellectual and political centers of the Carolingian Renaissance. (16) He sojourned at the renowned monastery of Fulda, was a member of the inner circle of the East Frankish ruler Louis the German's court at Regensberg, and stayed briefly at both Walafrid Strabo's Reichenau and at the celebrated St.
Origen's homilies were extremely influential during the Carolingian Renaissance, particularly on the writings of Hrabanus Maurus.
History teaches us that the European world was reborn in the image of the ancients not once but at least three times: the Carolingian Renaissance in the eighth century, the Italian Renaissance in the fifteenth century and the Neoclassical movement of the eighteenth century.
The proceedings set in motion against her seem to the modern reader like the grimly logical culmination of the Carolingian Renaissance's attempt to fully Christianize society: with synods duly summoned and sitting in all solemnity under royal aegis; with the provision of appropriate documentation (both Theutberga and Lothar provided `statements', in 860 and 862, respectively); and with the earnest search for evidence to support the outlandish charges.
The substantial attention paid to cultural and intellectual developments (six chapters, with John Contreni's offering on the Carolingian Renaissance being particularly admirable) is most welcome -- here the editor deserves nothing but praise -- and there are also excellent contributions to the sections on `Government and Institutions' (with Janet Nelson's `Kingship and Royal Government' in pride of place) and `Church and Society' (where there is little to choose between Tom Noble, on the papacy, Mayke de Jong, on monasticism, and Julia Smith, on religion and lay society).
30) is given without reference to Bernhard Bischoff, and that of Corbie's cultural role without resort to David Ganz's Corbie in the Carolingian Renaissance (1990).
From his court at Aix he stimulated the revival of arts and letters known as the Carolingian Renaissance.
An effective administrator, he was especially known for his attempt to revive learning and culture, sometimes known as the Carolingian Renaissance. To reeducate the clergy, he established schools and imported scholars from abroad, including Alcuin of York.