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Merovingian illumination

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Title: Merovingian illumination  
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Subject: Key works of Carolingian illumination, Merovingian period, History of books, Illuminated manuscripts
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Merovingian illumination

Merovingian illumination is the term for the continental Frankish style of illumination in the late seventh and eight centuries, named for the Merovingian dynasty. Ornamental in form, the style consists of initials constructed from lines and circles based on Late Antique illumination, title pages with arcades and crucifixes. Figural images were almost totally absent. From the eight century, zoomorphic decoration began to appear and become so dominant that in some manuscripts from Chelles whole pages are made up of letters formed from animals. Unlike the contemporary Insular illumination with its rampant decoration, the Merovingian style aims for a clean page.

One of the oldest and most productive scriptoria was Luxeuil Abbey, founded by the Irish monk Columbanus in 590 and destroyed in 732. Corbie Abbey, founded in 662, developed its own version of the style, while Chelles and Laon were further centres. From the middle of the eighth century, Merovingian illumination was strongly influenced by insular illumination. An evangeliary from Echternach (Trier, Dombibliothek, Cod. 61 olim 134.) indicates that it came into the abbey as the collaborative work of Irish and Merovingian scribes. The foundation of Willibrord strongly influenced continental illumination and led to the brought Irish culture into the Merovingian realm.


Image Name Date Location, school Contents, significance Inventory number
Gelasian Sacramentary c.750 Sacramentary Rome, Vatican Library, Reg. Lat. 316
c.750 East West Francia (Burgundy?) Bible Autun, Bibliothèque Municipale, Ms 2
Evangeliary of Gundohinus 754/755 Vosevio Abbey (location unknown), East West Francia, possibly Burgundy Evangeliary Autun, Bibliothèque Municipale. Ms 3
c.780 Saint-Pierre de Flavigny (east West Francia) Autun, Bibliothèque Municipale. Ms 5
Sacramentary of Gellone End of the eighth century Meaux Sakramentar Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Lat. 12048
End of the eighth century Burgundy Evangeliary for the use of Saint-Pierre de Flavigny (Burgundy) Autun, Bibliothèque Municipale. Ms 4


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