Twisted Shapes, Wound Gold
Philosophical and Literary Contexts of Anglo-Saxon Visual Arts
Tuesday September 23, 2014, at 16.30
The aim of the lecture is to consider several instances of Old English visual arts (manuscript illumination, metal- and stonework) against the philosophical and literary background of their times.
The characteristic intertwined patterns of Anglo-Saxon illuminations and metalwork have been noted to resemble the Old English poetic variation, one of the essential techniques of pre-Norman Conquest English poetry. In this lecture I wish to move beyond this assumption and discuss the plausibility of the connection between Anglo-Saxon visual design and what I tentatively call “Christian philosophy of chaos” present in the neo-Platonic mysticism of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. The ineffability and elusiveness of human terms for God is, I propose, repeated in the deceptively convoluted lines of Anglo-Saxon interlace art. Seen in this light, the decorations, which have been clearly brought into the Christian world of Anglo-Saxon monastic culture from the pre-Christian era, can perhaps also be understood as reflections of both the pre-Christian and early Christian conceptions of the world in constant motion.
In the discussion I shall be chiefly referring to the ornamentation of the so-called carpet pages of the Lindisfarne Gospels as well as to the decorative design of the Staffordshire Hoard finds.
Rafał Borysławski is an associate professor in the Institute of English Cultures and Literatures, University of Silesia, Poland and his research focuses on Old English culture and literature. He has published numerous papers on Old English philosophical and cultural outlook and a book on the idea of enigmaticity in Old English literature.