The Invention of Norman Visual Culture
History of Art lecture
Dudo writes in the early eleventh century of a dream by the first Norman leader Rollo (c.860-c. 932). He interprets the dream as predicting that Rollo will bring many peoples together under a single Christian realm. Rollo’s heirs continue to express this dream by creating a visual culture that relies on the cumulative effect of a diverse vocabulary for a powerful message of authority. The problem of Norman visual culture is that for the most part it has not been recognized as such, because it has not been studied in a unified away across seemingly separate territories. Its complex intercultural nature has prevented us from realizing that the Normans followed similar patterns of intentionality everywhere to create an art that was visually diverse yet acted in similar ways to reinforce their claims to power.
Traditionally, scholars have divided the discussion of the subject by its geography into Normandy, England and Sicily. They have tended to study iconic works like the Cappella Palatina and the Bayeux Embroidery in piecemeal fashion, looking only at their antique, Islamic or Scandinavian origins, for example. This approach has prevented us from seeing the full significance of these renowned medieval objects. This lecture examines these works both individually and in the larger context of a connected Norman world in order to understand how these objects contribute to the creation of a Norman identity through their restructuring of elements of the past into a new composition, which represents the cultural foundations and contemporary aspirations of the kingdoms of William and Roger.