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Charlemagne

art saint giles conquests

Charlemagne (c.742–814) became king of the Franks in 768, king of the Lombards in 774 (by right of conquest), and was crowned emperor of the Romans by Pope Leo III on Christmas day, 800, in Rome. Charlemagne significantly expanded his territory and spread Christianity through military conquests, as well as systematizing government administration. The “Carolingian Renaissance,” centered at the court in Aachen, was a period of ecclesiastical and educational reform and patronage of the arts. His empire was seen, in later ages, as the ideal Christian commonwealth but in reality disintegrated shortly after his *death.


Charlemagne appears in art as a military leader (e.g., in equestrian portraits) or as an enthroned emperor with appropriate attributes (crown, orb, sceptre—the sceptre often topped with the fleur-de-lys , the emblem of French kings). He appears in art of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries as one of the “Nine Worthies” . Einhard wrote a contemporary biography of Charlemagne, but the narrative episodes from the life of Charlemagne found in medieval art largely derive from later legends (especially the twelfth-century Chronicle of the Pseudo-Turpin) and include such tales as Charlemagne’s journey to Constantinople and meeting with *Constantine, his *pilgrimage to Jerusalem, his visions of Saint *James the Greater, who inspired him in his conquests of Islamic Spain , and the Mass of Saint *Giles, where an unconfessed sin of Charlemagne was carried on a scroll by an *angel who appeared when Saint Giles was celebrating Mass. Charlemagne confessed and was given absolution. He was canonized in the mid-twelfth century by the antipope Paschal III.

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