The Romanesque Fonts of Northern Europe and Scandinavia
A survey of fonts and the influences on their development, function and imagery, throughout western (including northern) Europe.
By the end of the eleventh century, when Romanesque art first appeared, and by the twelfth when it flourished, every parish church had a font. Increasing prosperity in Europe in the twelfth century was accompanied by the blossoming of the arts in all their forms, and baptismal fonts were often covered in lavish decoration of a high quality, at times producing masterpieces in form and iconography. Romanesque art is, above all, religious art, and the sacrament of baptism, being second only to the Eucharist in liturgical importance, is the first in which a Christian takes part. Because of this, almost all the decoration found on fonts is linked to the underlying meaning of the rite, whether directly in the portrayals of relevant stories from the Bible and the lives of saints, or indirectly in the symbolism of the bestiary and of formal motifs such as the vine, the palmette and the fleur de lis. Even the geometric ornament contained at times a symbolic meaning. At the lowest level, the illiterate village craftsmen resorted to a modest vocabulary of enrichment, such as the incised wavy line, the chevron and the rope. Messages urging the faithful to renounce their sins and warning them of the punishment awaiting them in hell were depicted in vivid forms. The struggle for the human soul between the forces of Good and Evil was a frequent theme of font iconography. As fonts were prominently positioned in the churches and were an object of veneration and respect, they were particularly suitable for transmitting moral lessons through images which could be understood even by the illiterate. Mr Drake's work fills a significant gap in medieval historiography. He has personally examined almost all the fonts which are described in the text, enabling him to correct many misdescriptions by earlier scholars, who oftenhad to rely on the observations of others, and also to update the available information about the present state of surviving fonts. His lists of fonts, his bibliography and the extensive illustrations to support his often detailed descriptions will be invaluable to future research.
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