Artworks and Artists of Romanesque Architecture and Art
Progression of Art
Church of Sainte-Foy
This pilgrimage church, the center of a thriving monastery, exemplifies the Romanesque style. Two symmetrical towers frame the west façade, their stone walls supported by protruding piers that heighten the vertical effect. A rounded arch with a triangular tablature frames the portal, where a large tympanum of the Last Judgment of Christ is placed, thus greeting the pilgrim with an admonition and warning. The grandeur of the portal is heightened by the two round, blind arches on either side and by the upper level arch with its oculus above two windows. The façade conveys a feeling of strength and solidity, its power heightened by the simplicity of decorative elements. It should be noted that this apparent simplicity is the consequence of time, as originally the tympanum scene was richly painted and would have created a vivid effect drawing the eye toward the entrance. The interior of the church was similarly painted, the capitals of the interior columns carved with various Biblical symbols and scenes from Saint Foy's life, creating both an otherworldly effect and fulfilling a didactic purpose.
Saint Foy, or Saint Faith, was a girl from Aquitaine who was martyred around 287-303, and the church held a gold and jeweled reliquary, containing her remains. The monks from the Abbey stole the reliquary from a nearby abbey to ensure their church's place on the pilgrimage route. Over time, other relics were added, including the arm of St. George the Dragon Slayer, and a gold "A" believed to have been created for Charlemagne. The construction of the church was undertaken around 1050 to accommodate the crowds, drawn by reports of various miracles. The church was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998 for its importance on the pilgrim route and also as a noted example of early Romanesque architecture.
Stone, wood - Conques, France
A scene from the Bayeux Tapestry
This scene from the famous tapestry shows Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, carrying an oak club while riding on a black horse, as he rallies the Norman forces of Duke William, his half-brother, against the English at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Careful attention is given to the tack of the horses, the details of the men's helmets and uniforms, while the overlay of plunging horses, their curving haunches and legs, creates a momentum that carries the narrative onward into the next scene. In the lower border, a horse is falling, while its rider, pierced with a long spear collapses on the right. At both corners, other fallen soldiers are partially visible, and convey the terrible effects of battle, while the charge to victory gallops on above them. As art critic Jonathan Jones noted, "The Bayeux tapestry is not just a fascinating document of a decisive battle in British history. It is one of the richest, strangest, most immediate and unexpectedly subtle depictions of war that was ever created."
The tapestry, about 230 feet long and 21 inches tall, is a sustained narrative of the historical events that, beginning in 1064 lead up to the battle, which ended in the Norman conquest of England and the rule of William the Conqueror, as he came to be known. The upper and lower borders, each 2-¾ inches wide, shown in this sample, continue throughout the tapestry, as does the use of a Latin inscription identifying each scene. The images in the borders change, echoing the narrative, as during the battle the pairs of fantastical animals in the lower border is replaced by the images seen here of fallen soldiers and horses. Similarly when the invasion fleet sets sail, the borders disappear altogether to create the effect of the vast horizon. The borders also include occasional depictions of fables, such as "The Wolf and a Crane" in which a wolf that has a bone caught in its throat is saved by a crane that extracts it with its long beak, which may be a subversive or admonitory comment upon the contemporary events.
Though called a tapestry, the work is actually embroidered, employing ten different colors of dyed crewel, or wool yarn and is believed to have been made by English women, whose needlework, known as Opus Anglicanum, or English work, was esteemed throughout Europe by the elite. The Bayeux Tapestry was a unique work of the Romanesque period, as it depicted a secular, historical event, but also did so in the medium that allowed for an extended narrative that shaped both the British and French sense of national identity. As art historian Simon Schama wrote, "It's a fantastic example of the making of history." The work, held in France, was influential later in the development of tapestry workshops in Belgium and Northern France around 1500 and the Gobelin Tapestry of the Baroque era.
Linen, crewel - Bayeux Museum, Bayeux, France
Duomo di Pisa
The entrance to Pisa Cathedral, made of light-colored local stone, has three symmetrically arranged portals, the center portal being the largest, with four blind arcades echoing their effect. The round arches above the portal and the arcades create a unifying effect, as do the columns that frame each entrance. The building is an example of what has been called Pisa Romanesque, as it synthesizes elements of Lombard Romanesque, Byzantine, and Islamic architecture. Lombard bands of colored stone frame the columns and arches and extend horizontally. Above the doors, paintings depicting the Virgin Mary draw upon Byzantine art, and at the top of the seven round arches, diamond and circular shapes in geometric patterns of colored stone echo Islamic motifs. The upper levels of the building are symmetrically arranged in bands of blind arcades and innovatively employ small columns that convey an effect of refinement.
The name of two architects, Buscheto, and Rainaldo, were inscribed in the church, though little is known of them, except for this project. Buscheto was the initial designer of the square that, along with the Cathedral, included the famous leaning Tower of Pisa, done in the same Romanesque style, visible here in the background, and the Baptistery. Following his death, Rainaldo expanded the cathedral in the 1100's, of whom his inscription read, "Rainaldo, the skilful workman and master builder, executed this wonderful, costly work, and did so with amazing skill and ingenuity."
Dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, the church was consecrated in 1118 by Pope Gelasius II. The church's construction was informed by the political and cultural era, as it was meant to rival St. Mark's Basilica then being reconstructed in Venice, a competing maritime city-state. The building was financed by the spoils of war, from Pisa's defeat of Muslim forces in Sicily, and it was built outside of the walls to show that the city had nothing to fear. The Pisa plaza became a symbol of the city itself, as shown by the famous Italian writer Gabriele D'Annunzio calling the square, "prato dei Miracoli," or "meadow of miracles" in 1910, so the plaza has been known since as the "Field of Miracles."
Masonry, marble - Pisa, Italy
The Temptation of Eve
This relief sculpture shows an almost life-sized nude Eve, presumably reclining toward Adam (now lost) as if whispering to him seductively, while her left hand reaches back to grasp an apple from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The composition emphasizes sinuous line and serpentine form. The tree intersects vertically with her body, covering her pubic area, and the serpent in the foliage at the right echoes both the tree and the depiction of Eve herself. The work is famously the only large-scale nude of the medieval period, an era when Christian values discouraged the study of the naked human body.
With this depiction, Giselbertus pioneered the rendering of Adam and Eve in the nude, a treatment that became a tradition in Christian art, as their nakedness was connected to their fall into sin. Originally Eve was paired with a nude Adam reclining on her left, and both figures were placed on the lintel over the portal. Above the lintel, Giselbertus also created the tympanum that depicted the Last Judgment, with Christ enthroned presiding over the saved and the damned and with attendant angels and devils. The viewers, who were largely illiterate, would have understood the didactic visualization that connected the Temptation, by which sin entered the world, and the scene of ultimate redemption.
Giselbertus was trained by the master of Cluny around 1115 and was influenced by the cathedral reliefs that emphasized Christ's compassion. He worked at Autun from about 1125-1135, sculpting most of church's decorative elements. Unusually for the time, Giselbertus included in the tympanum, under Christ's feet, a Latin inscription reading, "Gislebertus made this." Most scholars have taken this for the sculptor's name, though some have suggested it may refer to the patron who commissioned the work.
His work was innovative for the feeling conveyed by his stylized human figures and influenced contemporaneous Romanesque, and later Gothic, sculptors. However, by the late 1700s, due to a rising conservatism in religious and artistic thought, his work was thought to be both too primitive and licentious. Eve disappeared in 1769 when it was used as building material for a local house, and his Last Judgment tympanum was completely filled with plaster, which by a stroke of luck saved it from destruction during the French Revolution. Both Eve and the tympanum were rediscovered and restored only in the 1830s when the Romantic movement revived an appreciation of medieval art.
Stone - Musée Rolin, Autun, France
This vivid fresco shows Christ the Pantocrator (ruler of the universe), framed by a mandorla, or body halo, bordered in red, gold, and blue. Sitting on a throne, he faces the viewer with an intense gaze, while holding a book that reads in Latin "I am the light of the world," as his uplifted right hand makes the traditional symbol of blessing and teaching. Alpha and Omega symbols float above his shoulders, while two angels flank him, their long curved forms echoing the lines of the mandorla and drawing the focus to his haloed head. The greater scale of his figure, reflecting a Byzantine influence, is meant to emphasize his importance. The four Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, are depicted in a band of circles at his feet and turn to face him, gesturing.
The work's innovative sense of composition, with its curving bands of blue, gold, and carmine, emphasize the semi-circular apse and focus on Christ in the center. The use of varying shades of blue to depict him, along with highlights of white and carmine dots, create a sense of movement as if he were emerging toward the faithful. Below him a number of other sacred figures are partially visible, including the Virgin Mary left of center, as she holds a chalice containing Christ's blood, a pioneering representation of the Holy Grail and indication of the cult of Mary that was developing at the time.
Originally, the fresco covered the apse of the church of Sant Climent de Taüll in Vall de Boi in Catalonia. Consecrated in 1123, the basilica, with three naves and a Byzantine influenced seven-story bell tower, was known for its exceptional interior murals, all considered to be the work of the Master of Taüll, about whom little else is known. Over time, many of the murals were damaged but those remaining, including this one, were transferred to canvas for exhibition at the National Art Museum of Catalonia. This fresco influenced a number of 20th century Spanish artists, including Francis Picabia and Pablo Picasso, who kept a poster of it in his studio.
Fresco - Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain
Moses Expounding the Law
This page from an illuminated manuscript shows two scenes in which Moses, depicted with a halo and horns, explains the law to the Israelites. In the upper scene, Moses stands, left of center, explaining the Ten Commandments, as he lifts his hand in a gesture of teaching and blessing toward the small group, seated on the ground and listening attentively. In the lower scene, he addresses a group of four men as he explains the dietary laws of the Jewish faith by pointing to a sheep which can be eaten and a pig which cannot. Two doves, representing the peace obtained from following God's law, face one another at the top of a tree on the right.
Overall, the work has a calm but vital stylistic flow, derived from the curving lines and the blue, red, green, and gold palette that is echoed in the patterned borders. Master Hugo pioneered this style, which came to be called "damp fold," as clothing was painted as if damp to create both a sense of movement and a more realistic human form.
Master Hugo was the first named artist in England, and he worked at Bury St. Edmund's Abbey, where he made this Bible for the Abbey around 1135. The Bible contains various paintings on full and half pages and decorative initials, which as art historian Thomas Arnold wrote, "have led to a general acknowledgement of Master Hugo as the gifted innovator of the main line of English Romanesque art." He is also credited with making the bronze doors of the Abbey church's western façade and two carved crucifixes, including the famous Cloisters Cross (c. 1150-1160).
Ink and tempera on vellum - Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge
The Shrine of the Magi
Nicholas of Verdun deliberately designed reliquary, believed to contain relics of the Magi who journeyed to the Nativity of Christ, to resemble the façade of a basilica. Christ in Majesty is depicted enthroned in the upper section, his right hand raised in blessing, his left holding the Gospel, as two apostles flank him. On the lower level, the Three Kings bearing gifts, kneel on the left, facing toward the Madonna and Child enthroned in the center. On the lower right, Christ's baptism is depicted.The figurative treatment is both realistic, as shown in the different poses of the Kings conveying movement, and refined, with its fine details and flowing draperies.
This three level reliquary, also known as The Shrine of the Three Kings, is a masterpiece of Mosan metalworking, with its silver and gold overlay, filigree, and enamel work. The apostles are depicted on the horizontal sides of the shrine, not visible here, and overall the work contains 74 figures in vermeil, or silver relief. Viewed from the side, the shrine resembles a basilica, with small pairs of lapis lazuli columns standing at the corners and between each of apostles.
Following the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa's gift of the relics to Rainald of Dassel, the Archbishop of Cologne, the archbishop commissioned the shrine from Nicholas of Verdun and his workshop around 1180. The relics were of such religious importance, and the shrine considered such a masterpiece, that in 1248 construction of a new Cologne Cathedral was undertaken to suitably house the reliquary. The shrine was placed in the crossing, marking the high point of the church. As art historian Dr. Rolf Lauer wrote, "The Shrine of the Magi is the largest, most artistically significant, and, in terms of its content, most ambitious reliquary of the Middle Ages."
Gold, silver, filigree, precious stones, wood - Cologne Cathedral, Cologne Germany