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

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Anthologies
  • Bibliographies
  • Exhibition Catalogues
  • Textbooks
  • Primary Sources
  • Techniques

Medieval Studies Carolingian Metalwork
Sigrid Danielson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 July 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0119


Carolingian metalwork is a subfield of the broader art historical category of Carolingian art. This descriptive moniker is applied to the arts and architecture produced during the era of Frankish kings and emperors beginning with Charlemagne (r. 786–814) and continuing with the rule of his descendants until the early 10th century. Traditionally, Carolingian art has been associated with the regions of Frankish rule roughly encompassing the modern-day Netherlands, Germany, France, Switzerland, and northern Italy. In the case of metalwork, items produced at Rome, although for some not strictly Carolingian, are often included in discussions. As with other luxury objects such as manuscripts and textiles, Carolingian metalwork provides any number of riches for the curious viewer. These objects are often unique survivals from what must have been an even more astonishingly diverse and prolific tradition. At a most basic level, materials such as silver, gold, bronze, gemstones, and enamels offer opportunities for visual engagement. In addition, the sheer variety of objects is also luxurious, including architectural bronzes and sculpture, book covers, reliquaries, brooches and belt fittings, as well as the occasional altar and hoard. Prized for their quality of execution as well as for their material value, metalwork objects were essential components for many activities associated with Carolingian aristocratic and religious life. Scholarship on the arts of the Carolingian period has stressed the appropriation of the Antique in service to imperial ideology, questions of chronology, centers of production, style, and iconography. Unsurprisingly, the study of Carolingian metalwork has shared many of these aims. In recent years, anthropologically and theoretically informed approaches have engaged with aspects of reception, materiality, and the ways that metalwork both affected as well as reflected cultural values. Publications about Carolingian metalwork remain vibrantly international in scope with monographs, exhibition catalogues, and articles appearing regularly in English, French, German, and Italian. This can prove challenging to the general reader or an instructor hoping to integrate the topic into courses. This bibliography attempts to balance the needs of both audiences by emphasizing recent and meaningful contributions written in a diversity of languages.

General Overviews

This section focuses on publications about Carolingian art that discuss metalwork. Given the breadth of material covered in these texts, Braunfels 1968 and Hubert, et al. 1970 provide rich surveys of metalwork produced at court centers such as Aachen and the schools associated with Charles the Bald. Hinks 1962 and Schutz 2004 present a limited selection of examples to illustrate key themes and formal conventions with stress on aspects of the Antique revival.

  • Braunfels, Wolfgang. Die Welt der Karolinger und ihre Kunst. Munich: Verlag Georg D. W. Callwey, 1968.

    Chronological presentation of gold and silver objects associated with treasuries and the liturgy. Coinage and bronzework are also discussed. Abridged version of the material in the corpus prepared in connection with the Karl de Grosse exhibition (see Reference Works). Catalogue includes basic bibliography. Illustrations are black and white, some color.

  • Hinks, Roger. Carolingian Art: A Study of Early Medieval Painting and Sculpture in Western Europe. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1962.

    Originally published in the United Kingdom in 1935. Written for the general reader, this text explores influences on and subject matter in Carolingian art. There is minimal coverage of metalwork. Approach reveals its age, as connections between stylistic conventions and ethnic identity are stressed throughout the text. Its few illustrations are only in black and white.

  • Hubert, Jean, Jean Porcher, and Wolfgang Fritz Volbach. The Carolingian Renaissance. Translated by James Emmons, Stuart Gilbert, and Robert Allen. New York: George Braziller, 1970.

    Also published in French L’Empire carolingien (1968), in German Die Kunst der Karolinger: von Karl dem Grossen bis zum Ausgang des 9. Jahrhunderts (1969), and in the United Kingdom as Carolingian Art (1970). A lengthy chapter presents ecclesiastical metalwork together with ivories. Provides an overview of the Aachen bronzes. Organized chronologically with an emphasis on Antique revival and grouping works in relation to centers of production. Foundational bibliography and many color illustrations.

  • Schutz, Herbert. The Carolingians in Central Europe, Their History, Arts, and Architecture: A Cultural History of Central Europe, 700–900. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2004.

    A section of one chapter is dedicated to the metal arts. Stresses the Carolingian integration of insular, continental, and Antique elements. Text employs a detailed, descriptive approach for key examples of liturgical and bronze works. Commentary does not consistently reflect contributions of recent scholarship. Some color plates.

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