The art of the Dark Ages has been misconstrued as being often irrelevant or not valuable due to the historical events associated with the period. However, it was never the age of darkness, as suggested by Waldemar Januszczak in the documentary series The Extraordinary Art of the Dark Ages, it was instead the age of light with extraordinary pieces of art that bring important findings of the life of that era. In the first episode of the documentary, The Clash of the Gods, Januszczak argues that the emergence of Christianity in the Roman Empire enabled a new wave of art development, with the Rotas (Sator) Squares being the first-ever physical evidence of Christian art found in the Pompeii ruins (Timeline – World History Documentaries, 2017). The importance of the squares is associated with the possibility of them being used as covert symbols for early Christians to express their religious affiliation. The letters on the squares form an anagram Pater Noster, which is Latin for “our father,” thus making the first two words of the Lord’s Prayer.
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Other surviving pieces of early Christian art are the Jonah Marbles, which are now held at the Cleveland Museum of Art. The sculptures are characterized by the immediacy of their storytelling, for example, there are two statues showing Jonah being cast off into the sea from the ship and then being swallowed by a mythological sea monster and then spat out. Also, there are two statues depicting Jonah at ease, praying or lying under a tree, the mood of which is completely different from the scenes of swallowing. According to Januszczak, Jonah was used as a symbol to signify Jesus without actually showing him or saying his name, which was important for early Christians to preserve their anonymity (Timeline – World History Documentaries, 2017).
In the Men of the North episode, the narrative follows the Vikings and their craftsmanship that is characterized by the richness and finesse that is unlike anything else. The documentary shows the extraordinary skills that the Vikings had in manufacturing ships and mentions the military attacks on Centers of Christianity, such as Lindisfarne, as a means of looting as well as defending their religious standing. The attacks were symbols of religious payback for the oppressive tactics that the Christian leaders implemented to convert the population into a monotheistic religion instead of a polytheistic one. Upon the visit to the Viking museum in Oslo, the presenter explores the remarkable pieces that characterize the very essence of Viking art and craftsmanship. The large ship with a curled bow in the front of it exhibited at the museum shows that the people of the North approached their work with a superb attitude and attention to detail despite the grand scale.
Januszczak then goes to visit the Jelling stones that marked the time when Denmark was created as a nation-state, as well as the conversion of the Danes to Christianity. Also, the episode discusses the role of the belief that Charles Martel and the Franks had when considering themselves as the chosen ones after standing against the Muslim forces. The declaration of Charlemagne as the Holy Emperor and the creation of a second-largest empire after Rome also were noted in the documentary. The presenter visits the Emperor’s Palatine Chapel in Aachen and discusses the striking similarities with the Cordoba Muslim Mosque. According to the documentary, it was not the military capacity but instead the written word that should be considered the most significant masterpiece of the art of the Middle Ages.
Timeline – World History Documentaries. (2017). The extraordinary art of the Dark Ages – Age of light – Timeline. Web.