The UNESCO site monuments contain a number of examples of Longobard sculptural decoration. These are mainly liturgical furnishings (ambos, altars, presbytery enclosures and baptismal fonts) or architectural elements with diverse functions.
As with the rest of the buildings’ decorations (painting and stucco), in the sculptured components – in stone and terracotta – too, the combination of different traditions is evident. The Longobards were able to reinterpret and develop these in a most original fashion.
The figurative wealth they brought with them on their long journey from northern and central Europe, previously expressed only on small metal objects (buckles, weapon sheaths, daggers, shield bosses and belt ornaments) was used in Italy on stone surfaces, large and clearly visible. This heritage was complemented by the addition of new figurative traditions which they encountered after crossing the Alps – those of Greco-Roman and Byzantine origin. In addition to local limestones, they often made use of pieces of white marble recovered from the ruins of Classical buildings.
Longobard decorative motifs, initially limited to a repertoire of geometric and natural forms, together with fantastic animals, were supplemented by images never found previously, both human and animal (peacock, dove and deer). The Longobards’ conversion to Christianity also contributed to the enlargement of their figurative inventory with symbolic images alluding to religious values and ritual (bunches of grapes, vine leaves, crosses).
In addition to moveable furnishings, Longobard sculpture also extended to external building surfaces (for example the “Temple” in Campello on the Clitunno and the church of San Salvatore in Spoleto), with coordinated figurative and ornamental motifs, sometimes linking together older, reused decorative pieces and newly-made copies of these.