The Chi Rho page, Book of Kells, c. 800 Detail of interlace Detail of a cat and mice
By the eighth century, many of the nomadic tribes had converted to Christianity, and began to coalesce into
alliances. It was an unsettled time—borders changed frequently and threats from invading tribes
continued—but some of the basic divisions of early modern Europe appeared.
In the late eighth century, the Frankish tribes consolidated under one of their kings, Charlemagne. In the
year 800, the pope crowned Charlemagne emperor of the newly established Holy Roman Empire. Although
he could barely write, Charlemagne was keenly aware of Roman culture and wanted to recreate something
like it in his court. He imported scholars, who read classical literature to him, and artists, some of whom
were aware of classical art. Manuscripts often show more realistic figures set in space, but some elements
are flattened and drapery patterns are often done with vigorous, ornamental lines rather than being
modeled with light and dark tones (see the St. Matthew page from the Coronation Gospels and the
corresponding page from the Ebbo Gospels, below). Because Charlemagne’s culture revived some Roman
forms but merged them with the traditions of the Franks, the period is sometimes called the Carolingian
Revival (Carolus is the Latin form of Charlemagne’s name).
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