The Achievement of Anglo-Saxon Draftsmen

In the tenth and eleventh century, artists in England embraced drawing as never before. In part inspired by the kinetic line, agitated figures, and exuberant drapery of the Utrecht Psalter, which had made its way to England by the year 1000, these Anglo-Saxon artists reveled in the possibilities offered by the pen, creating works of unparalleled humanity, charm, and elegance. Outline drawing assumes new importance in English books of all sorts, becoming a significant vehicle for artistic experimentation and a desirable decorative element in luxury books. One of the great contributions of the Anglo-Saxon manuscript draftsman is the successful marriage of line and color. The earliest English drawings tended to rely on a monochrome palette, but within a short period of time, artists began to introduce color into their drawings, whether by using several colors of ink for outlines, by softening contours with subtle tints of changing tonality, or by applying colored wash to suggest areas of light and shade.

These experiments with line drawing had a far-reaching impact on manuscript illumination in England and on the Continent. Anglo-Saxon draftsmen continued to explore the aesthetic possibilities of line drawing for centuries. Close ties with monastic houses in Flanders and France during the eleventh and twelfth centuries ensured that many of their artistic innovations were taken up across the Channel. Much like their counterparts in England, these inventive artists used drawing as a foil for painting and played with the possibilities of colored lines.

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