The Medieval World, C. 400–1300

Carolingian and Ottonian Art

What is medieval expressionism?

Medieval expressionism was a style that emphasized the communication of feeling and emotion. “The Page with St. Matthew” from the Gospel Book of Ebbo, illustrates a scene in which St. Matthew sits at his desk frantically writing, his face twisted with intense emotion. St. Matthew’s robe, hair, and the sharply bending grasses in the background are made up of repeated linear flourishes. It seems as though Matthew, hunched over and sporting triangular eyebrows, fears divine inspiration will be lost if he does not immediately write down his evangelical text. This manuscript painting, done in gold and colored ink on vellum in the ninth century, is an example of medieval expressionism. The whole scene seems to be blowing in the wind, and the dramatic quality of the work expresses an emotional, rather than purely intellectual element of the Gospels.

The ninth century Book of Ebbo communicates the divine inspiration of St. Matthew through frenetic line work and is an example of medieval expressionism.


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