Art of the Anglo-Saxon and Vikings -
Part 2: Animal Styles of the Migration Period
-Dr Andrew Thompson
previous chapter (link) we discussed a number of rudimentary decorative styles used throughout the Migration Period and Viking Ages by a range of north and western-European cultures. These styles represented efforts to personalize or embellish usually more every-day items, by non-elite craftspeople. In contrast, the more sophisticated art styles, used and developed by generations of elite, specialist artisans, have been the subject of more study. From the Migration Period through into the Viking Age, discussion of these sophisticated art styles is dominated by the so-called "animal styles", many of them quite abstract, which set apart the art of these periods from the more classical, or Romance artistic trends which dominated European fashions both before and after.
To some extent, these artistic styles were confined to particular crafts or materials, but by no means always, and while, for the sake of avoidance of embarrassing mistakes, many reenactor handbooks caution members against carrying decoration from one archaeological find to recreations in other materials, there is no doubt that extensive cross-fertilisation of artistic styles across different crafts and media did take place, especially moving into the Middle Anglo-Saxon period and Viking Ages.
This illustrated discussion of the various artistic styles of the period concerned, begins with the famous Animal Styles of the Migration Period. Springing principally from the material culture of southern Scandinavia and northern Germania during the late Iron Age, and the collision of their home-grown artistic styles with the prevalent decorative styles of the mid to late Roman Empire. The fortunes of these artistic styles (themselves, at this time, almost exclusively focused on small portable, personal artworks and dress-items of metal and jewellery-work) would reflect the fortunes of the tribes who concieved them; flourishing, spreading, and diversifying, as the Western Roman Empire declined. The styles which developed are so carefully applied, and distinct, that they can be used to confidently date archaeological finds.
As previously mentioned, it is not our intention, with this series, to advance the ever expanding, complex field of animal-art studies. For those wanting more authoritative, detailed analysis and discussion we recommend the references included at the end of each chapter. However, we hope that this series provides an accessible, entertaining and intelligible tour of the art these historic periods have to offer.
With the scene set, and taking a deep breath, let us dive into the typology of Migration-Age animal art....