The Norman World of Art

Anglo-Saxon art gave way to Romanesque under the Conqueror and his successors, but the change was more gradual and less one-sided than the political changes might lead us to suppose.

The victory of Duke William of Normandy and his army in 1066 cleared the way for an invasion into England of artistic fashions which were already firmly established on the Continent. But even in the pre-Conquest period England was not entirely cut off from the artistic life of the Duchy. During the peaceful reign of Edward the Confessor Norman culture and art had already begun to infiltrate. Edward was himself half Norman and had spent part of his childhood in Normandy; upon receiving the English crown in 1042, he naturally enough surrounded himself with Norman advisers and maintained certain Norman customs.

A pious man, Edward had been deeply impressed by monastic reforms carried out in Normandy by William of Volpiano, formerly abbot of Saint-Benigne at Dijon. This, too had important consequences for England. At the time of the Conquest there were some twenty-eight monasteries in Normandy; among the most important were those at Bec, Bernay, Jumieges, Mont-Saint-Michel and Saint-Ouen at Rouen. These houses, some old foundations, others newly established, were built in the monumental early Romanesque style. It was according to the mould of such buildings that Edward the Confessor began the work which was to occupy him for the rest of his life, Westminster Abbey.

The plan of the abbey drew directly upon the early Romanesque style then current in Normandy. It is particularly close to that of Jumieges Abbey which was being rebuilt at about the same time (1040-67) and on the same grand scale. The church at Westminster was even built of Caen stone, a pale fine-grained limestone imported from Normandy, which became one of England's principal building stones after the Conquest.

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