Romanesque Art

The first artistic style to influence Europe from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean, Romanesque Art thrived from roughly 1000 A.D. to the thirteenth century—and even later in some areas. The term was invented during the nineteenth century to reflect this movement which is characterized by various elements of Roman architecture. This influential style eventually gave rise to the Gothic style. The Catholic Church and its establishment of monasteries throughout Europe helped foster Romanesque Art throughout a vast area. While strongly influenced by the arts of Rome, Romanesque Art also encompasses influences from Byzantine art and the Insular art of Northern Europe.

Architecture, painting, and sculpture best embody the Romanesque aesthetic. Architecture tended to feature vaults, arches, and Roman-inspired acanthus-leaf motifs. Compared to the later Gothic period, the medieval structures of the Romanesque period tended to be more simply rendered with their symmetrical designs and regular forms. The architecture of this era is famous for its castles and great abbey churches. Stained glass also became an important element of early medieval architecture and some of the best medieval examples date to the thirteenth century.

Some of most famous examples of Romanesque architecture include Spain’s Monastery of Santa Domingo and Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Germany’s St. Michael’s Church of Hildesheim, France’s abbey church of Jumieges and Arles Church of St. Trophime, Ireland’s Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin and Clonfert Cathedral in County Galway, Austria’s Lambach Abbey, Italy’s Pisa Cathedral and the Santa Maria Maggiore of Venice, and England’s Norwich Cathedral and St. Albans Cathedral to name a mere few.

Painting and sculpture was highly Biblical in nature during the Romanesque period. Free standing statues often featured the Madonna or the crucifix. The period became particularly well-known for the high relief form. Paintings tended to feature primary colors and also metalwork which was an influence from Byzantine art. Metalwork was important to Romanesque art along with enamelwork. Well-known examples of Romanesque decoration in metalwork and enamelwork include the Stavelot Triptych of Belgium created c.1158 and the Shrine of the Three Kings of Cologne Cathedral.

Romanesque sculpture included works dedicated to both the Old and New Testaments. Many sculptures exuded the importance of recognition of sin, as evidenced by works featuring the Seven Deadly Sins, so that people could repent and ultimately be redeemed. In many cases the sculpture and relief work was fearsome and contained demons, dragons, and mythical forms; scholars continue to debate about the meanings of these figures of the grotesque.

Painting often appeared on walls of Romanesque structures and much has been lost to time. Most paintings that still exist are based on religious stories or figures such as the famed Catalan Fresco. Manuscript Illumination was also a major component of Romanesque Art as well as embroidery as evidenced by the world-famous Bayeux Tapestry.