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Art & Design in Medieval Europe

AD 300–1000

The period 300–1000 saw the culture of the later Roman Empire succeeded by one dominated by an increasingly organised Christian Church. The legacy of Rome was tremendously influential throughout this period and beyond.

Across Europe, in places as varied as Ireland, the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Britain, and the Byzantine Empire in the east, new types of objects and ornament emerged and mixed with established traditions. Following the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 the influence of Islam became increasingly felt. In 711 North African armies swept through most of what is now modern Spain and Portugal and almost reached France.

AD 1000–1200

This period saw Christian attempts to reclaim Muslim-governed land in the Near East and Islamic Spain, which they regarded as rightfully theirs. Great monasteries, castles and churches were built in a style of architecture that subsequently became known as Romanesque. This style was also adopted for smaller-scale objects in different media. One characteristic of the Romanesque was that it adopted and adapted elements from traditions as diverse as the art of the Islamic world and the Scandinavian north. Pilgrimage, trade and war helped to spread ideas over a wide geographical area. The delicate style known in later centuries as Gothic began to emerge from Paris in the mid-1100s and was to prove extraordinarily popular. Artists still sought inspiration from it in 1600.

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