The early Middle Ages have been dismissed as a step backwards for civilizationGÇöa barbaric time in which warfare and conquest eclipsed learning and progress. But were the GÇ£Dark AgesGÇ¥ really so bleak? Art historian Waldemar Januszczak says no, then takes us on an artistic journey back to this much-maligned epoch to reveal the evidence. He travels from Britain to North Africa and from Byzantium to Spain, finding beauty and refinement where one might have expected only brutality and destruction. With Januszczak as a gregarious guide, witness the mysteries of early Christian art, IslamGÇÖs masterly mosques, intricate Anglo-Saxon metalwork, and the painstakingly illuminated Lindisfarne Gospels. Along the way, discover that the people who rose from the ashes of the Roman Empire did not lack for wisdom or beautyGÇöthey created their own age of light. Episode one: The Clash of the Gods Waldemar Januszczak shows how Christianity emerged into the Roman Empire as an artistic force in the third and fourth centuries. Early Christians had no art but practised in secret and Januszczak purports the Rotas Square found throughout the Roman Empire such as at Pompeii were early Christian symbols along with the fish and anchor. With no description of Jesus in the Bible the Christians represented their God as a young slightly feminine man until the emergence of Saint Mary and with the adoption of Christianity by the emperor Constantine how Christian artists drew on images of ancient gods for inspiration for a more masculine Jesus and the development of new forms of architecture to contain their art. Episode two: What the Barbarians Did for Us The 'Barbarians' are often blamed for the collapse of the Roman Empire, but in reality they were fascinating civilisations that produced magnificent art. Focusing on the often already Christian Huns, Vandals and Goths Januszczak follows each tribe's journey across Europe to settle in new lands and discovers the incredible art they produced along the way. Episode three: The Wonder of Islam Along with Christianity, the Dark Ages saw the emergence of another vital religion - Islam. After emerging in the near East it spread across North Africa and into Europe in such a short time there was originally no art. As more settled times began highly decorated mosques began to be built based on the prophet Mohammad's own home. Their architectural and scientific achievements dwarfed anything existing in the western world including the mapping of the stars and Januszczak visits the Dome of the Rock, desert palaces forgotton by modern Islam with their more sensual artwork, the Mosque of Ibn Tulun where it was believed Noah's Ark landed, the Mosque of Cordoba, the Nilometer used to measure the flood of the Nile and uses an Astrolabe that Muslims used to find the direction of Mecca. Episode four: The Men of the North This episode concentrates on the Vikings and their inventive craftsmanship, the expansive Carolingians art of exquisit finese and richness and the skillful hardworking ingenious Anglo Saxons. Waldemar Januszczak shows the Viking skill in making ships and their attacks on Christian centres such as Lindesfarne not only to loot but to defend their own Norse gods. He visits the Jelling stones that commemorated the Danes conversion to Christianity. Charles Martel and the Franks belief they were God's chosen people after the defeat of Muslim forces later led to Charlemagne being declared Holy Roman Emperor by the Pope and the creation of the largest empire since the Roman Empire. Charlemagne's Palatine Chapel, Aachen Januszczak considers as brutal and cold attempt to copy the Muslim Mosque of Cordoba. Anglo Saxon art is represented by the Sutton Hoo hoard. Januszczak concludes that in the Dark Ages it was not the sword but the written word whether in wood, stone, or what he considers the greatest masterpiece of all art, the Lindesfarne Gospels that defined the age.
The Dark Ages: An Age of Light
The extraordinary art of an overlooked era