The Medieval World, C. 400–1300

Early Medieval Art from Northern Europe

What is the “animal style”?

“Animal style” is a term art historians use to describe the “zoomorphic” or animal-based design motifs popular among Anglo-Saxon artisans during the medieval period. In the animal style, abstract animal motifs merge with geometric and organic motifs, creating a lively and intricate pattern, especially in metalwork.

One of the most famous examples of the animal style is a purse cover from the Sutton Hoo burial ship. The purse cover is about eight inches long and would have been used to cover a leather pouch for carrying coins. The purse was designed with interweaving bands of gold surrounding deep blue and red plaques of enamel and garnet. A pair of highly stylized human figures with splayed legs are each flanked by a pair of wolves. Serpentine lines undulate around the curving form of the purse cover, broken into rhythmic rectangles. A study of Anglo-Saxon decorative arts, such as the Sutton Hoo purse cover, show the influence of many medieval cultures, such as Germanic tribes, Vikings, and Christians.


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