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Significance of dot-patterns in Carolingian manuscripts Morris, Inga Dengler

Abstract

The significance of dot patterns in Carolingian manuscripts is the subject of my research. In my investigation into the sources of these patterns I hope to show some relationship between them and metal working techniques to which could be attributed an overall development of pattern and design during the early Middle Ages. Since the art of the period reflects so strongly the social and political conditions existent during the reign of Charlemagne I have also included a brief summary of those relevant historical conditions. The adverse situation prevailing in the Frankish kingdom during the seventh century together with the weakness of its rulers enabled the Carolingian family to obtain power, and when Charlemagne became the sole ruler in 771 he continued to carry out the family policy of uniting the peoples of the West and initiated a revival of Roman culture and learning in his kingdom. This programme also included the establishment of schools, and the illumination of books; also to fit into his ambitious programme every effort was directed by both Church and state to produce a variation in the artistic world from the then available migration art. To accomplish this foreign artists and their work were readily drawn to the court of Charlemagne to contribute to the new form of artistic expression; while the Church did its part by adapting foreign and domestic styles in its newer designs and by utilizing the working methods of the monastic workshops. From my investigation I find that the dot patterns are only used in the manuscripts of some Carolingian schools notably the School of Tours, which is generally recognised as the oldest school. Examination of these manuscripts proves there are many variations in the patterns of dots used, the reason for which is sought in the influences and inspirations of the following: 1. Foreign styles, including Insular and Eastern Mediterranean art forms. 2. Applied arts. Here I find that dottings can be listed according to their origins in metal working techniques. Finally the origin is sought of the peripheral dottings found particularly in connection with Canon Tables; and references are given to various sources of influence from the Eastern Mediterranean arts together with one example from an Irish church. I reach the conclusion that the influences governing the dot patterns in Carolingian manuscripts came from many sources and that the dot patterns were ultimately combined and moulded into new designs through the working procedures developed in the Scriptorium. In my collation of all the available evidence I establish the fact that these dot patterns are presented in three main groups: 1. Dots derived from constructional details of domestic artifacts. 2. Dots derived from decoration of the above. 3. Dots derived from imported manuscripts, ivories, and so on. My final suggestion is that the dottings of foreign origin become absorbed very rapidly in the style that borrowed them, while the dottings derived from well known objects seem to disappear entirely for two apparent reasons: 1. The art from which they sprang begins to deteriorate. 2. Society changes; and with the arrival of other values the objects copied are no longer of major importance.

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