The Romanesque (a term meaning 'in the manner of Roman' due to it's use of the round arch) or the art of the 11th and 12th centuries witnessed a continuation of Early Medieval art forms and traditions with a new burst in European architecture and art production due to two primary factors:

  1. The growing spread and power of the Monasteries, which gained political control in the absence of any centralized government in large areas of Europe. Thus, it is referred to as the 'Age of Monasticism', where the craftsmen, builders, and illuminators (a group which included many women artists) worked for the primary patron of the time--the church--toward the spread of Christianity against the Moors, Muslims and other non-Christian groups.

  2. The stimulus of the Great Crusades to the Holy Land as well as the Pilgrimages within France and Spain, provided that  worshipers traveled long distances for healing or to view and touch relics.  As the fear of the first millennium (1000 AD) Apocalypse faded, a new spirit of religious enthusiasm prompted increased traffic to sacred sites and thus, increased demand for religious art and architecture. In the Pilgrimage Church of St. Foy at Conques, France, seen above; one can read the layout of the plan from this aerial view. Notice the twin towers at the entrance, the nave and the larger tower over the crossing square and transept. One can read easily the basic Christian cross design within the plan, as well as the manner in which it continues the basic planning of the church since the Constantinian era.

Imagine many churches similar to this as essential stops for each pilgrim on his route to the primary source--the tomb of St. James the apostle at the Church of Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain. The Church of St. Foy was a particularly popular stop since it was associated with healing.

Architectural Sculpture:

The increased communication, travel and commerce along these routes undoubtedly prompted the new interest in architectural sculpture which flourished on several areas of the church, including the lintel and lunette over the entrance portal (the TYMPANUM), the side door jambs, and the central pier separating the double doors (the TRUMEAU). One of the most famous tympanum relief sculptures is that of the Last Judgement on the Cathedral of St. Lazare, at Autun, France.  Here we see in the center Christ, the Judge, separating the saved souls on the left, while on the far right devils are seen as dragons and monsters who attack and drag many small figures into hell. On the lintel also are those destined for hell who twist and turn in agonized poses.

In this detail, you see also the method of interpreting the complex idea of Last Judgment as a weighing of the souls (always seen as little naked figures). This becomes a metaphor which the commercially minded pilgrims, and the materialistic world could easily identify with. Notice also how the archangel Michael shown on the left, closer to Christ, shelters and weighs the saved souls (one is flying out of this 'hot' region over to Heaven on the left), while the devil/monsters battle and clutch after the unsaved. The obvious purpose of scaring the pilgrim into a more humble frame of mind before entering the church would be further augmented by the dread inscription, predicting doom to those who do not repent, which is written on the molding between the lintel and the tympanum. 

 You have seen the idea of a scale and Last Judgement before in this class.  Do you remember where?

This is also one of the rare churches where we know the name of the sculptor, Gislebertus, whose many capitals at Autun are also highly creative.

Question: Look at the style of the figures on this tympanum and in your textbook under Pilgrimage Sculpture.  Describe the unusual stylistic characteristics.

Manuscript Illuminations:

The other art forms popular during the Romanesque era are manuscript art and reliquaries, as well as one unique tapestry or embroidery, called the Bayeaux Tapestry, which survived in complete form, which records the Norman Conquest of England in 1066.
Read your book on this unusual art work. 

One of the most creative outlets for Romanesque artists, however, would be the painted manuscript initial pages, where they could create imaginative designs within the scrolls, tendrils and elaborate extensions of the particular letter. They were less hindered by established traditions of Iconography here, and seem to have invented as they pleased. As an example, note the initial 'R' from the Moralia in Job, from Citeaux, France, now in the Bibliotheque Municipale, Dijon, which shows a little scene of a medieval knight fighting a dragon.  Most often the dragon in Romanesque and Gothic art was a metaphor for evil or the devil, and since this is a book which deals with temptations and plagues of Job; it is a suitable metaphor. Notice also the small figure with the spear below--is it a serf, and is the artist indicating his lowly position below the knight?  It seems possible and thus, becomes a sign of the feudalistic society.

Question: What is a reliquary and how do these reflect the era of Romanesque Pilgrimage Art?
(Answer on the discussion board, if you wish to complete your 6 required comments or for extra credit.)

For a glossary of terms for Romanesque

Crusades - Classroom Clipart History

Romanesque Architecture:  A bibliography on Romanesque Art and Architecture

The Crusades & Mediæval Information Links




 Last Published 7/14/16