In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Carolingian Architecture

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Reference Works
  • Image Resources
  • Secular Buildings

Medieval Studies Carolingian Architecture
Caroline Goodson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 December 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 19 December 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0087


Carolingian-period architecture is a key expression of the cultural cohesion of the Franks and their allies under Carolingian rule. In the period from the mid-7th century to the end of the 9th century, across central Europe and down to Italy and over to Spain and England, patrons of buildings shared aesthetic and functional aims to create broadly consistent shapes and scales of churches, monastic complexes, and palaces. This was no mere aesthetic movement. There were new and newly important roles played by ecclesiastical and governmental institutions within Carolingian society, where aristocratic men were appointed to positions in leadership in the church as auxiliary governmental structures. Bishops and abbots often served as local agents of Carolingian rule. In the Carolingian view of the world, Christian history was as important as the history of peoples and wars, and shrines to local founding bishops and ancient Roman martyrs gained prominence in the 8th and 9th centuries. Concerns about correct religious observance prompted the unification of liturgical practice, and this unification was achieved in part through the development of a clear hierarchy. These ideas of sacred history, standardized practice, and hierarchical order were given form by the new building, and architecture was the physical expression of new, common interests and purposes. The basilica-plan buildings with monumental western entrances, towers, and interiors decorated with marbles, carved capitals, and standardized interior arrangements provided a new and often-consistent frame that encouraged standardized liturgies inside. The political collaborations of local, regional, and courtly patronage that the greatest buildings of the day commanded were monumentalized in great churches and palaces. The innovations and interests of rulers of the Carolingian house influenced their contemporary rulers in Christian Spain, Italy, and Anglo-Saxon England, and the architecture of those places will be included in this bibliography.

General Overviews

For the majority of the 20th century, Carolingian art was a precursor to Romanesque, and thus in early medieval architecture were to be found the origins of ideas that took full expression in the climate of abundance and reform that characterize the 11th century, and architecture was no exception (Conant 1978, Porter 1909). The profoundly consistent building shapes of the Carolingian period, where new building types were introduced and spread widely, lent themselves to this kind of analysis (Thümmler 1960; Braunfels and Schnitzler 1965; Hubert, et al. 1970). Newer overviews situate the architecture within local political contexts (Carver 1993).

  • Braunfels, Wolfgang, and Hermann Schnitzler, eds. Karolingische Kunst. Vol. 2, Karl der Grosse: Lebenswerk and Nachleben. Düsseldorf: L. Schwann, 1965.

    This is the second volume of the massive essays and catalogue of the 1965 exhibition on Charlemagne at Aachen. See especially “Teil: Die Baukunst” (pp. 301–590), which naturally places great emphasis on the court buildings at Aachen.

  • Carver, Martin O. H. Arguments in Stone: Archaeological Research and the European Town in the First Millennium; The Dalrymple Lectures for 1990, Glasgow Archaeological Society and the University of Glasgow. Oxbow Monograph 29. Oxford: Oxbow, 1993.

    A stimulating and exciting discussion of archaeology of the early medieval city, with emphasis placed on the built environment and monumental architecture in its archaeological context.

  • Conant, Kenneth John. Carolingian and Romanesque Architecture, 800–1200. 4th ed. Pelican History of Art. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press,1978.

    The Pelican introduction to the architecture of the period presents it as a precursor to the Romanesque period. Originally published in 1959 (Harmondsworth, UK: Pelican).

  • Hubert, Jean, Jean Porcher, and Wolfgang F. Volbach. Carolingian Art. Translated by James Emmons, Stuart Gilbert, and Robert Allen. Arts of Mankind 13. London: Thames & Hudson, 1970.

    A popular, broad-brush introduction to the period, especially its pictorial arts, with illustrations. See especially pp. 1–70. Originally published as L’Empire carolingien in 1968 (Paris: Gallimard).

  • Porter, Arthur Kingsley. Medieval Architecture: Its Origins and Development, with Lists of Monuments and Bibliographies. 2 vols. New York: Baker and Taylor, 1909.

    A very rich survey of medieval buildings, identifying the roots of many Romanesque-period architectural forms in Carolingian-period architecture. Reprinted in 1966 (New York: Hacker).

  • Thümmler, Hans. “s.v. Carolingian Period, Architecture.” In Encyclopedia of World Art. Vol. 3. Edited by Bernard Samuel Myers, 83–104. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1960.

    This is a good place to start when looking at specific sites or regions. It has fine general plans and detailed sections on key buildings.

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