This essay explores the peculiar character of innovation in monastic art around 1100 CE, and what specially monastic concerns may have motivated this underacknowledged thirst for invention. It focuses on the relationship between the main portal at the Cluniac abbey of Vézelay, created in the early twelfth century, and a number of Anglo-Saxon manuscript illuminations, produced in the monastic scriptorium at Winchester in the tenth century. A careful examination of these works of art reveals that the makers of the portal at Vézelay, in a triangular process of creation, drew on the earlier Anglo-Saxon imagery as well as on a number of biblical texts, with the aim of creating something that celebrated tradition but that was also consciously new — something that by way of its originality would capture the attention of its audiences on both an aesthetic and an intellectual level, and thereby justify its presence in a monastic setting.

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