Romanesque Art summary



Romanesque Art summary


The following texts are the property of their respective authors and we thank them for giving us the opportunity to share for free to students, teachers and users of the Web their texts will used only for illustrative educational and scientific purposes only.



The information of medicine and health contained in the site are of a general nature and purpose which is purely informative and for this reason may not replace in any case, the council of a doctor or a qualified entity legally to the profession.



Romanesque Art summary


Romanesque Art




The many-faceted art of 11th and 12th century Europe bears the name Romanesque for the massive presence, both in scale and number, of new pilgrimage churches based on Roman models that were created during this era. It is much more than that however; during this tumultuous time widely disparate cultures clashed, traded, and absorbed each other’s influences, making the visual tapestry of the Romanesque a rich, complex symbolic negotiation between ways of life and ways of thought.


Power vacillated between the Nobles, the successors of the Carolingians (the Capetians), the Papal Church, and the Monastic Church. Some of this power brokerage resulted in the establishment of one of the defining characteristics of the age: the Crusades. Cathedrals began to be built along the routes of Crusaders and the religious pilgrims that followed them. A prime mover in this phenomenon, St. Bernard, is at the nexus of many of the issues of culture affecting art; asceticism and sensuality, orthodoxy and heresy, and the interaction northern and southern European politics.


Interior of Sant’ Ambrosio, Milan, Italy, late 11th to early 12th century.Built in honor ofthe city’s first bishop, the new Church of Sant’Ambrosio included innovative features, such as the use of architectonic decorative elements, and a horizontally and vertically balanced, wide-open nave.


Abbey Church of Cluny III, Burgundy, France, 1088-1130. From the beginning, Cluny was a unique monastery, its abbot answering only to the Holy See. Founded in 910, it took its most celebrated shape in 1088, under the abbot Hugh de Semur, bankrolled by King Alfonso of Leon and Castille in Northern Spain. The new church was profusely decorated, using classical Greek ideas overtly in the harmonic design of its proportions and layout. Cluny’s high level of masonry skill and its artistry would prove to be both a model and a whipping boy for successive designers and theorists. Abbeys also came to be known as “Cluniac”, although the term did not define an order of monasticism, but an artistic style and tendency towards elaborate and grotesque imagery. Cluny was really a harbinger of reform of Benedictine practices, as well as a center for the power exerted by Hugh on satellite monasteries of the region.


Abbey Church of Notre-Dame, Fontenay 1139-47. The oldest standing Cistercian edifice in Burgundy, the complex, while using a basilica nave in the church, used a central plan, with hub of monastic interaction, the cloister, at the center. The central plan was dominant in the early churches of the region, though later declared heretical.


Speyer Cathedral, Germany, 1082-1100. In spite of the turmoil of the Investiture Scandal during the reign of Henry IV, and the subsequent splitting of the Holy Roman empire, the arts flourished. The great cathedral at Speyer, which holds a very high and wide spire, successfully created an artistically unified whole, with dramatic sweep and loft.

Church of Saint-Etienne, Caen, France, 1064-1250. A monastery founded by William the Conqueror, its unity of façade and nave proportions was a portent of the Gothic aesthetic.


Durham Cathedral,  Northumberland, England, 1075-1100.  Constructed after William the Conqueror’s conquest of England, it is a prime example of the elaboration of cathedral form during the progression of Romanesque style. The nave employs masonry ribs to raise the vault and open it up for greater light and expansiveness. The castle is the heart of a true medieval fortress, with technical innovations later transplanted back to the Norman heartland at the beginning of the Gothic era.


Virgin and Child, from the Auvergne region of France, polychrome oak, 1150-1200. The old local tradition of the veneration of the Black Madonna, a tradition inherited from Egypt in the form of Isis an Horus, became transmuted into the Virgin Mary and Christ. The simplicity, power, and grace of this work seem derived from the Egyptian faithfulness to the form of the carved block in sculpture. Troubadours, traveling minstrel singers, were traversing the pilgrimage routes at this time, singing songs to “Our Lady”, which were, early on at least, in praise of the Magdalen, whose shrines dotted the countryside of the Languedoc.


Reliquary Statue of St Foy, Auvergne, France, 10th-11th century. This gilded holder of the cranial bones of the child-martyr St Foy gives vivid testimony to the regard that people of the age gave to the magic of relics. In the south of France, in particular, there are festivals that have been celebrated regularly from at least the 10th century to the present-day involving the monstrance of the gilded head of Mary Magdalen, as well as other saints and their relics.


Herriman Cross, Cologne, 1050.  Cultures as well as materials were combined to create venerated objects; this crucifix bears both the image of the patron on the reverse, and a Roman lapis lazuli head on the body of Christ.


Ranier of Huy, Baptismal Font, Liege, 1107-1118. The esteem in which the religious of the age held John the Baptist is evident in this font, which includes five scenes from his life in vivid and rich sculptural relief.


Mary Magdalen announcing the resurrection to the apostles, from the St. Albans Psalter, Hildesheim, 1120-30. Originally from the small priory of nuns headed by Christina of Markyate, this Byzantine influenced page evidences the prowess of the Alexis Master, as well as the emphasis on the sanctity of Mary Magdalen by monks and nuns around Europe.


Priory Church of Saint-Pierre, Moissac, Toulouse, 1115-30. Built on the site of a long existing shrine, the Priory at Moissac flourished after becoming associated with the Cluniac movement, and due to its prosperity as a major stop on the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela it underwent major renovation during the tenure of Abbot Roger, under the papacy of Innocent II. The church is filled with expressive and elaborate architectural sculpture, reveling in the new Romanesque form of the portal. Although many of the sculptural images are complex and exaggerated, they conform to the standard of Bernard, with very few monstrous forms. The Tympanum of Christ in Majesty, a case in point, drives home familiar images and symbols in a restless, dynamic manner.


Cathedral of San Lazare, Autun, Gislebertus, The Last Judgement, The Sleeping Magi, Eve, 1120-35. Many church authorities were beginning to take a dim view of the activities of “heretics”, and this masterwork in Autun, in the borderland between orthodoxy and heterodoxy, makes a clear distinction between the saved and the damned in this surreal and emotive sculptural program which pushes the limits of Romanesque visionary art. The magi are depicted as simple, geometric, spiritual beings, in opposition to Eve, who slithers voluptuously through the grass.


Doubting Thomas, Abbey of Santo Domingo de Silos, Castille, Spain, early 12th century. The subject as well as the style of this lyrical relief from central Spain illustrate the interaction of orthodox and heretical belief; the apostle Thomas is invited to experience the physical presence of Christ, overseen by a field of geometric apostles swaying in unison like a field of grass, in contrast to the counterpoised gesture of Thomas.


Batlo Crucifix, (Volto Santo), Catalonia, Spain, mid-12th century. This version of this legendary image, is said to be derived from an ancient holy image, or “holy face”, carved by Nicodemus, the secret apostle and assistant of Joseph of Arimethea, which was brought from Palestine in the 7th century.  In a similar migration, Mary of Bethany, or Mary Madgalen, was thought to have come to the South of France after the death of Christ. The Volto Santo wears a richly patterned tunic, which hides his body; hence the name of Holy Face. The Batlo Crucifix is thought perhaps to relate to Catharism; he bears a resemblance to an angelic personage in his divine cloak. The image is also linked to Nicodemism, a heretic Renaissance sect connected to Mary Magdalen and Catharism.


Christ in Majesty, Church of San Clemente,Tahull, Spain, 1123. Byzantine influence pervades this overwhelming image of Christ the Master in this colorful image from the Pyrenees. He nearly jumps out of his Mandorla in his universe of bending lines. Picasso admitted being deeply influenced by the Master of San Clemente.



St Bernard, The Crusades, and The Quest for the Holy Grail


Born into the family of a Burgundian noble in Southern France, near Dijon, he received all the advantages of a secular education and entrée into the world. He and a close friend almost impulsively committed themselves to a new monastery following a strict code of Benedictine principles, called Cistercian (from the Latin cistertium for the area of Citeaux). After being given a new house at Champagne, Bernard led his twelve acolytes in a regimen so strict that he later repented of it. He had the reputation of a honeyed tongue, with great personal charisma and charm, in spite of his attraction to a severely ascetic lifestyle. He became a symbolic axis for the debate on art in the Romanesque period, especially with his letter to the Cluniac abbot William of Thierry, which became known as the Apologia. In it he questions the use of art in three areas, in its possibility of distracting the soul from God, as a waste of money that could more properly be used for the poor, and as a dubious and worldly attraction for donations. He outlined the proper use of art in holy places (distinguishing that of the abbey church from the monastery itself), which came to be seen as a broadside against excessive religious art in general.


In 1095 Pope Urban II in response to a plea from the Byzantine emperor called for a holy crusade to take back Jerusalem from the Muslims; Bernard, intimately involved in papal politics, was to ride in the Second Crusade. The crusades created a variety of opportunities for cross cultural trade, as well as murder and looting; the fourth crusade of 1204 resulted in the Venetians looting Constantinople and taking many religious treasures and relics back to San Marco, and in1209 a crusade was aimed at the routing of the Cathars in the Albigensian area (around Albi); Christians warred against supposedly “heretical” Christians. In this act of genocide Pope Innocent III ordered the massacre of 100,000 Christians in the Languedoc, the region of Toulouse. This crusade was the blueprint for the inquisition, and the Domenican Order of Preachers was founded, specifically to deal with heretics.


The Cathars, or bonhommes, as they were called due to the fame of their ostensibly virtuous way of living, were closely associated with the Knights Templar, a secular religious group, devoted to the taking back of the temple of Solomon. Bernard wrote the orders of the Knights, who answered only to the Pope from 1139 on; they were generally wealthy, powerful individuals who took oaths of celibacy, poverty, as well as allegiance to Mary Magdalene and John the Baptist. The stonemasons of the great cathedrals of the Romanesque and Gothic periods were made lay members of the Knights, which entitled them to work free of taxation. Bernard spoke in defense of the Cathars and the Knights Templar, and is increasingly thought to have been a member of the secret society. The Cathars, who originated in Constantinople in the later medieval period, believed in a dualistic universe, with balanced influences of good and evil; the forces of good were revealed in the angel Christ. A major leader of Romanesque Catharism, Raymond Roger, Viscount of Albi, led the grassroots defense of Catharism in southern France. Toulouse was known as the “Rome of the Cathars”, a region also known for its tolerance and charity.


Portugal became a haven for Catharism, in opposition to more orthodox Spain. The cities of Portugal also served as a sanctuary for Jews during the Crusades and finally the Inquisition, since the theology of the “Holy Spirit” people was more accommodating of other religions. Many Jews took the name of the dove, such as Colombo, Palombi, etc, as part of their acceptance of Catharism, and as an alias to prevent persecution.


The Quest for the Holy Grail became a rallying archetypal spirit-quest, which provided an emotional and psychological superstructure for the excesses of the Crusades. The object of the Grail itself is ambiguous; sometimes associated with the chalice holding Christ’s blood from the Last Supper, sometimes with the magical “Philosopher’s Stone,” or even with the legendary royal bloodline of Jesus, but it is always a magical catalyst. There are three main strains of versions of the Grail Legend. The earliest recorded version, “Perceval” by Chetrien de Troyes, from about 1180, describes the main quester (Arthurian Knight) Perceval wandering though the countryside and encountering the wounded Fisher King. The mysterious king leads Perceval to his castle, where he witnesses a strange procession, involving a severed head on a platter, and fails a test which would have cured the Fisher King and saved the land from devastation. The Fisher King’s castle is the source for the board and characters in the game of Chess, and the Tarot deck draws heavily from the legend for images and personages. Another version of the Grail legend ties the story to pre-Arthurian events. Robert de Boron composed the verse Romance “Joseph d’Arimathie” in about 1191, which makes the pious Joseph of Arimethea, the wealthy follower of Christ who gave him his tomb, the first bearer of the Grail Chalice. Joseph caught the blood of Christ as he hung from the cross, and eventually brought the holy cup and blood to Britain, a far flung outpost in the Roman empire where Joseph did extensive trading. He then founded Glastonbury Cathedral in legend, the first worshipping place of Jesus outside Judea. An associated legend also has Mary Magdalen making a similar voyage, traveling by boat to Southern France, carrying her own quantities of the holy Blood. A third version of the story ties the quest tightly into the story of King Arthur.


Stephanus Garsia, page with Flood and Commentary on the Apocalypse, by Beatus of Liegana, made for the Abbey of Saint-Sever, Gascony, France, 1028-72. At the time of the turn of the first millennium CE, the apocalypse was on many Christians’ minds. This vivid image effectively conveys the horror of the prophesied event.


Cluny Lectionary, page with Pentacost, A page from the seasonal book of readings for the Mass, it transforms the Christ of Majesty and power into a being emanating light, filling the rounded forms of the apostles with illumination.


Tree of Jesse, Dijon, 1130. Jesus’ descent from David through the anti-hero Jesse was a popular motif, with the Cistercians and in later cathedral decoration. Christ is given a miraculous beginning, with the separation from the old line of Hebrew rulers broken. We see Mary as Virgo Lactens, the nursing mother, a motif common in Isis images.


Master Hugo, Moses Expounding the Law,  ink and colors on vellum, folio recto of the Bury Bible, St. Edmunds, England, 1135. In the brilliant and rich colors typifying the master’s work in the Bury Bible, Moses and Aaron proclaiming the law to the Israelites in the top register. His horns correspond with Saint Jerome’s translation of the Hebrew word for horns, which also happens to mean “rays.” Below Moses points out the clean and unclean beasts that the chosen people may or may not eat. In a cinematic style, Hugo juxtapositions the great prophet at two separate moments of time, taking control, then, of historical time, weaving into the seamless tapestry of divine time.


The Prophet Ezekiel, ink and colors on vellum, 1135. In another lushly colored page from the bible, Hugo creates a typical Romanesque painted image: lavishly colored, filled with rhythmic movement, yet aspiring to bring the figures to life, to bring them off of the page.


Winchester Psalter, Hellmouth, 1150. The flame-belching Hellmouth was a staple of medieval mystery plays and fairs, which were often held to help raise money for the abbey and its cathedral construction. The masterfully wrought Anglo-Saxon image vividly connects the old overlapping spiral motif with the tortures of the damned, rife with opportunities for scatological humor.


Last Judgement from the Garden of Delights, 1180. This illustration from the visionary Abbess of Alsace, Herrad of Hohenberg, was part of an encyclopedia of instruction for the nuns under her care. This hell-scene shows us various members of society being punished, including Jews, Crusaders, and courtly ladies.


The Bayeux Tapestry, 20”x approx. 230 feet, 1066-1082. After the death of childless Anglo-Saxon King Edward the Confessor of England, the struggle for the throne ensued. William of Normandy, who claimed a death-bed promise from Edward, plotted with Harold Hardrada of Norway to overthrow Harold, Earl of Wessex, who had the greatest decreed right to rule. William used Harold of Norway to win the fight, then seized the crown for himself. Bishop Odo, William’s half-brother and patron of the Tapestry, celebrated and supported William in the battle, only to be later disgraced and stripped of power. King Edward’s Death and Burial, King Harold and Haley’s Comet, Harold of Norways ship reaches Normandy, Norman Cavalry charging Against the English, Harold Killed and his Army collapses.


The Bayeux Tapestry evokes the Song of Roland, a popular tale of a faithful knight in the army of Charlemange during the Holy Roman Army’s rout by the Muslims in Spain in about 800, as well as other heroic tales such as the Quest for the Holy Grail.


Roger of Helmarshausen, Portable Altar of Saints Dilian and Liborius, Saxony, Germany, 1100. This unusually attributed piece of metalwork unites classical and Northern European style with brilliant German metalwork; the altar functioned as a vessel for sanctified objects as well as an instrument of the mass.


Griffin Aquamanile, gilt metals, Belgian, 1130. An instrument of purification for the presiding priest, this water-vessel for the mass is composed of ancient mythical animals, a symbol of divine power.


Hildegard’s Vision, Liber Scivias (the book of the ways of light), The Vision of Divine Love, who holds the Lamb of God, and tramples upon discord and the Devil, from the Book of Divine works, 1200. Hildegard of Bingen, (1098-1179) a cultured woman of extensive education , composed music, wrote extensively, and was an expert in medicine and herbalism. She is best known, however, for the visions she received while in the convent at Disingodenberg in the Rhineland which inspired her to set up a community of nuns near Bingen. She envisioned divine love as a “supreme and fiery force”, as it flows between her and heaven in the illustration by Vomar of her in the vortex of divine vision. She envisioned divine love as a female figure, a goddess, fiery red (the color closest to gold, divine light); she was a true courtly lover, believing that men and women could attain divinity through loving each other. Hildegard as well laid out detailed and accurate descriptions of female orgasm, including almost clinical, medical details. Whether from experience or transcendent insight, her songs of ecstasy had a profound impact on devotees to female divinity, such as St. Bernard.


Cathedral Complex at Pisa, Tuscany, 1063-1350. The powerful Pisa navy assisted their neighbor Palermo win a decisive battle against Muslim forces in 1062; In celebration, a year later, they began the construction of a new cathedral, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Designed by master builder Busketos, it elaborates the traditional basilica form in a grandiose way. The long nave structure is embellished with pilasters and blind arcades along the galleries, culminating in a five-story façade.



Source :

Web site link:

Google key word : Romanesque Art summary file type : doc

Author : not indicated on the source document of the above text

If you are the author of the text above and you not agree to share your knowledge for teaching, research, scholarship (for fair use as indicated in the United States copyrigh low) please send us an e-mail and we will remove your text quickly.


Romanesque Art summary


If you want to quickly find the pages about a particular topic as Romanesque Art summary use the following search engine:




Romanesque Art summary


Please visit our home page Terms of service and privacy page




Romanesque Art summary