Merovingian Art

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Merovingian Art


the conventional term for the art of a number of regions of France, especially the northern and central areas, which were united in the fifth through eighth centuries by the Merovingian state. Merovingian art drew on the traditions of late classical and Gallo-Roman art, as well as the art of the barbarians.

Although it reflected the general decline in building technology brought about by the collapse of the classical world, Merovingian architecture laid the foundation for the flowering of the pre-Romanesque style during the Carolingian Renaissance. Most characteristic of Merovingian art are baptisteries (Poitiers, fourth through seventh centuries), crypts (St. Laurent in Grenoble, late eighth century), and basilica-type churches. The structures often had classical marble columns.

The decorative and applied arts attained a high level during the Merovingian period. Late classical motifs were combined with features of the animal style. Bas-relief stone carvings (sarcophagi), church vessels and equipment, glazed ceramic reliefs for churches, and weapons richly ornamented with gold and silver inlays and precious stones were particularly common.

Book miniatures of the Merovingian period emphasized the embellishment of initial letters and frontispieces. The pictorial motifs are invariably subordinate to the decorative element, and bright, simple color combinations predominate.


Vseobshchaia istoriia arkhitektury, vol. 4. Leningrad-Moscow, 1966. Pages 39–45.
Hubert, J. L’Art pré-roman. Paris, 1938.
Holmquist, W. Kunstprobleme der Merowingerzeit. Stockholm, 1939.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.