In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Anglo-Saxon Art

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Exhibition Catalogues
  • Bibliographies
  • Collections of Papers
  • Wall Painting
  • Architecture
  • Stone Sculpture
  • Ivory, Bone, and Woodcarving
  • Metalwork, Enamels, and Coins
  • Textiles

Medieval Studies Anglo-Saxon Art
Catherine E. Karkov
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 July 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 July 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0003


Anglo-Saxon art is the art of England between roughly the years 600 and 1100, although dates will vary depending on individual focus. Some scholars prefer to see “Anglo-Saxon” art as something that could exist only from the period of King Alfred in the late 9th century onward; others will see it as something that could not exist after the Norman Conquest of 1066. In both cases the period is defined tacitly by external political events rather than the internal development of the art forms themselves. The term “Insular” is applied to the art of the British Isles and Ireland from the 6th to 8th centuries, but this leads to confusion in discussions of such subjects as Southumbrian art (the art of England south of the Humber River) of the period, or the Lindisfarne Gospels, which are classed both as Anglo-Saxon and Insular. In general, scholarship has now come to recognize that there is no easy way of delimiting the material with any such precision. The study of Anglo-Saxon art, however defined chronologically, has a long history, although until early 21st century theoretical perspectives have been lacking, with most studies focusing on style, medium, iconography, and, less often, patronage. Very few publications take in historiography, and these are noted here where relevant. The study of Anglo-Saxon art remains a conservative field dominated by iconographic and stylistic studies, as well as by approaches that focus on the influence of the Roman or Carolingian worlds on Anglo-Saxon England.

General Overviews

General introductions to or overviews of the period are relatively scarce, and the most general (Brown 1903–1937, Dodwell 1982, Wilson 1984) are now largely out of date. The best place to start is with Karkov 2011 and Webster 2012. The approaches taken by the two authors are complementary, so it is well worth reading them in conjunction with each other. Work in individual media is covered in general surveys of medieval painting, sculpture, and so forth, but usually in so limited a way that it is not particularly illuminating of the period as a whole. Though dated in their approach to the monuments, some of the older surveys preserve valuable images of sculpture and architecture in a much less weathered condition than that in which they survive today. More-recent overviews tend to focus on particular aspects of Anglo-Saxon art, such as ecclesiastical art (Gameson 1995), the art of particular geographic areas (Neuman de Vegvar 1987), or themes (Karkov 2004).

  • Brown, G. Baldwin. The Arts in Early England. 6 vols. London: John Murray, 1903–1937.

    Individual volumes include The Life of Saxon England in Relation to the Arts; Ecclesiastical Architecture in England from the Conversion of the Saxons to the Norman Conquest; Saxon Art and Industry in the Pagan Period; The Ruthwell and Bewcastle Crosses the Gospels of Lindisfarne, and Other Church Monuments of Northumbria; Completion of the Study of the Monuments of the Great Period of the Art of Anglian Northumbria; and Anglo-Saxon Sculpture. The organization of the volumes and their chapters is idiosyncratic, but Brown was one of the first to stress the artistic merits of Anglo-Saxon art and architecture. He was also one of the first to consider such topics as the artistic aspects of Anglo-Saxon coinage. His work marks a shift from 19th-century antiquarianism toward an art-historical methodology. Available online.

  • Dodwell, C. R. Anglo-Saxon Art: A New Perspective. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1982.

    A survey of what literary sources reveal about Anglo-Saxon taste and attitudes toward art, and of the enormous losses of objects that have occurred over the centuries. Dodwell was the first to give sustained attention to the way in which such losses have distorted our understanding of the period. Inadequately illustrated.

  • Gameson, Richard. The Role of Art in the Late Anglo-Saxon Church. Oxford: Clarendon, 1995.

    Coverage is limited to art produced by and for the church in the 10th and 11th centuries, and the approach is one of traditional stylistic and iconographic analysis, but the book is especially interesting for its treatment of such subjects as the relationship between inscriptions and images, or borders and images, topics that receive short shrift in the other books in this section.

  • Henderson, George. Vision and Image in Early Christian England. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

    This book attempts to eliminate the traditional divisions between “Insular” and “Anglo-Saxon” art by adopting the Continental descriptor “Early Christian” (a term applied more generally to European, especially Mediterranean, art and architecture from the 4th to 8th centuries). Most of the book is actually devoted to manuscript art, with art in other media discussed as it relates to the questions generated by issues such as narrative, color, or artistic production. Informative, if idiosyncratic.

  • Karkov, Catherine E. The Ruler Portraits of Anglo-Saxon England. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell, 2004.

    An analysis of imagery and patronage of the courts of Anglo-Saxon England. Although narrower in scope than the other works listed here, it does provide coverage of all media, including coins, seals, and architecture. It also examines the question of what we mean by “portrait.”

  • Karkov, Catherine E. The Art of Anglo-Saxon England. Boydell Studies in Medieval Art and Architecture. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell, 2011.

    An overview of Anglo-Saxon art from a primarily postcolonial perspective. Includes chapters on “Object and Voice,” and “Art and Conquest,” the latter considering the art of the century or so after the Norman Conquest. Read in conjunction with Webster 2012.

  • Neuman de Vegvar, Carol. The Northumbrian Renaissance: A Study in the Transmission of Style. Selinsgrove, PA: Susquehanna University Press, 1987.

    Although the subject of this book is the art of Northumbria from the 6th to the late 8th centuries, Neuman de Vegvar is careful to locate that art within its broader Anglo-Saxon and European context. The material is presented largely in terms of style and stylistic development, with the importance of the Mediterranean world to that development greatly overemphasized. Scholars have tended to attribute to the Anglo-Saxons a monolithic sense of romanitas that has yet to be analyzed critically.

  • Webster, Leslie. Anglo-Saxon Art: A New History. London: British Museum, 2012.

    A basically chronological approach to the period that covers the immediately post-Roman period through to the end of the Viking age. The author takes a formal and iconographic approach to the material and includes useful archaeological and historical information. Read in conjunction with Karkov 2011.

  • Wilson, David M. Anglo-Saxon Art from the Seventh Century to the Norman Conquest. London: Thames and Hudson, 1984.

    Written in conjunction with an exhibition of Anglo-Saxon art at the British Museum, the book’s largely chronological approach and focus on individual objects give it something of the feel of an exhibition catalogue—though with significantly fewer color plates. It covers an enormous amount of material and is written for a general readership.

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