In this realm, there survive two quite interesting "paintings" in the form of illustrated manuscripts, one dating from around 795-810 A.D. the other from somewhere around 816-841 A.D. They don't call them "ancient manuscripts" for nothing! What makes them most interesting is that they are of the same subject--St. Matthew at work writing his best-selling gospel. The older of these paintings is from Charlemagne's Coronation Gospels. The newer is from The Gospel Book of Archbishop Ebbo or Reims. Both are from what art historians call the Carolingian era (pronounced Caro-LIN-ian). Though both from the same era, this is largely where their similarities end. The figure from the Coronation Gospel is shown seated in profile before a tilted writing desk in a classical painting style wearing flowing Roman dress. A large golden halo disk surrounds his head in what could also pass for the sun about to set in the distant landscape. The figure seems relaxed and to be drawing from within himself in recording holy writ.
The figure of St. Matthew from the Ebbo book seems somewhat influenced by the slightly earlier work in terms of the pose, but the style is totally differen--heavily based upon Romanesque art. The figure seems to be taking dictation from a tiny angel in the upper right corner of the painting. His face is distorted, his body and hands cramped unnaturally. The effect is almost humorous, as if he could barely keep up with the words of God being passed down to him. Unlike the earlier work, his white garment is not flowing but gossamer thin and extremely wrinkled. Also unlike the earlier figure, the color is unnatural, dominated by various shades of sienas and umbers. The result is an emotionally charged, dramatic air of frantic energy. And although it seems fussy and contrived to our eyes, it is THIS style of painting that will dominate art for the next six or seven hundred years until the dawn of the early Renaissance.