Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture

Catherine E. Karkov

in Medieval Studies

ISBN: 9780195396584
Published online June 2012 | | DOI:
Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)
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  • Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology


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The Anglo-Saxon period in English history covers roughly the years 600 to 1100. Stone sculpture is one of the most important and most original forms of Anglo-Saxon art and thus holds a unique place within the study of early medieval art in general. Nowhere else in the early medieval world, with the exception of Ireland and parts of Scotland—and the Anglo-Saxons were in close contact with both areas—does such a variety and such a large number of monuments survive. The types of monument produced, along with carving styles, vary regionally and chronologically. The art of Rome and the Mediterranean world served as a strong influence in the 7th and 8th centuries, as did the art of the Carolingians in the 9th century. Waves of Scandinavian settlers brought with them new styles, new motifs, and new forms of monument, which appear in increasing numbers (especially in the North) from the 9th century on. In general, we can also say that more sculpture was produced in the North than in the South, although architectural sculpture is found in greater numbers in the South during the 10th and 11th centuries. Scholars of the subject are compelled to deal with fragmentary remains of the evidence, the fact that many sculptures are no longer in situ (whether through attempted destruction or reuse), and gaps in the historical evidence. Archaeological reports, which usually offer precise information on the locations of finds, and epigraphic evidence are particularly valuable for the information on date and provenance that they can provide. Descriptions of monumental metalwork sculptures exist, though the sculptures themselves have not survived. The Liber Eliensis, for example, contains a description of a Crucifixion group with accompanying figures of St. Æthelthryth and her sisters that once stood around the altar of Ely Cathedral. Wooden sculpture too was a major art form, though again it has all but vanished from the material record. Anglo-Saxon stone sculpture has long been a subject of antiquarian interest. Originally published in 1927, Collingwood 1989 (cited under High Crosses) marks the passage of study of this sculpture into a scholarly discipline, and W. G. Collingwood’s work has given rise to a number of more recent historiographical publications, several devoted to negotiating the disciplinary and methodological space between art-historical and archaeological studies of the monuments. Collingwood also remains especially important for Northumbrian sculpture because one can still see the influence of some of his classifications and archaeological approaches to the material in the volumes of the Corpus of Anglo Saxon Stone Sculpture, cited under General Overviews. Methodologically, the study of sculpture has remained a very conservative field, though this has begun to change. Style, iconography, the dating of the monuments, and the study of their historical context remain the core concerns in the study of Anglo-Saxon stone sculpture, although more-theoretical questions regarding materiality, gender, ideology, the postcolonial nature of Anglo-Saxon art, and the post-Anglo-Saxon reception of works are becoming increasingly important.

Article.  8575 words. 

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500) ; Literary Studies (Early and Medieval) ; Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy ; Byzantine and Medieval Art (500 CE to 1400) ; Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology

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