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Charlemagne and Aachen: On Location Part Two

By Stuart Frost

Front Cover of the Lorsch Gospels, Aachen, about 810. Museum no. 138-1866.I promised regular updates on progress with the development of six gallery films and so here is the first of several. Location filming for the Charlemagne and Aachen gallery film took place in Germany earlier this week. This film is part of a series that aims to contextualise key objects in the V&A’s collection by reuniting them with the places they were most associated with before they entered the Museum’s collections.

It seems fitting given the European scope of the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries project that work on the films began in Aachen, a city now in Germany but which was once the imperial centre of a great European empire ruled over by Charlemagne (768-814). Charlemagne’s empire included much of modern Germany, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, France and much else besides. His influence was felt far beyond the borders of the territories over which he had direct authority. Charlemagne continues to loom large over European history, both ancient and modern. 

Aachen Cathedral, September 2008.Charlemagne established a palace at Aachen, the original chapel of which still survives today at the centre of the cathedral. The chapel was the main focus of the first day’s filming. Some of the greatest artists and intellectuals of the age were drawn to the palace where they served the emperor. Under Charlemagne there was an artistic revival, Latin was restored as a literary language and many great books were produced. I wonder how different the later history of Europe would have been without the revival or renaissance that took place under Charlemagne and his Carolingian successors?

The five ivory panels you can see here were once part of a magnificent Gospel book made in Aachen around 810. The panels formed part of the front cover. They highlight the artistic heights reached by Carolingian artists but also their debt to late Roman art. Charlemagne intended Aachen to be a second Rome. The Palatine Chapel was based on late Roman models. The columns displayed inside, framed within round arches, were brought from Rome and Ravenna. Bronze casting was revived in order to produce the magnificent doors and railings which still survive. Charlemagne himself was buried within a sarcophagus originally carved in the second century AD and brought from Rome to Aachen.

Aachen Cathedral, September 2008.Filming inside the chapel was a fascinating experience. The cathedral authorities were remarkably helpful, providing us with a guide who was extremely informative and accomodating. There were challenges which the film crew worked hard to overcome. On arrival we discovered that one of the bays of the octagon was enclosed in scaffolding and hoarding as part of a long-term conservation project. However thanks to the ingenuity of the camera-man and director no one will know from the final film that the hoarding was there.

The efforts that the film crew went to to get the best shots are exemplified by the photograph illustrated here. The director, John Wyver, managed to persuade the owner of a ferris wheel (only present for two days a year) to start it up early in the morning to allow cameraman Ian to get some great footage of the cathedral from the air. After Aachen the team moved onto Lorsch Abbey, the home of the Lorsch Gospel covers from the early 800s until 1563.

Further photographs of the filming that took place at Aachen and Lorsch are available via the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries site on Flickr. Click on one the images above if you’d like to see additional pictures and find out more. Further updates will follow at fortnightly intervals.

Find Out More

The Lorsch Gospel covers are on display at the High Museum in Atlanta until 4th January 2009.

Click here for more information about Aachen Cathedral. The 360 degree panorama on this official cathedral website gives an excellent impression of the interior of the octagon as it appears today.

2 Responses to “Charlemagne and Aachen: On Location Part Two”

  1. mamaika Says:

    Very useful and helpful to show the students in my art history classes. Thanks.

  2. Frost Stuart Says:

    To see the finished Charlemagne & Aachen film please click on the link below:

    www.vimeo.com/album/148359/video/7792585

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