Romanesque art is an interesting art style that arose in Europe during the time of the medieval period, around the 11th to 13th centuries. Ancient Rome inspires this architectural style. Therefore, people started calling it Romanesque Art. Moreover, Romanesque was an early version of the more well-known Gothic style and drew inspiration from classical Roman ancestors, especially the rounded arch and stone ceiling. Around the turn of the first century, it occurred with a time of rising religious fervor, church construction, wealth, and population growth.
Characteristics of Romanesque art are dynamic and monumental forms, exciting murals, dramatic sculptures, Romanesque art drawings, and ornate decorations. This art movement marked a major transition from the earlier Byzantine and Carolingian styles, representing a unique blend of inspirations taken from different cultures and a growing accent on religious symbolism.
From grand cathedrals to small chapels, Romanesque art succeeded across Europe and left a rich legacy behind that continues to inspire and wonder audiences even today. This post will highlight 8 interesting facts about Romanesque art that will amuse you.
Apocalyptic Fears inspired origins of Romanesque Art:
As the year 1000 approached the calendar, medieval Christians thought that the ending time of this temporary world was here. They believed that the Last Judgement Day, when God assessed and judged everyone, was coming soon. They were extremely tense as they believed that bad judgment meant getting into hell for eternity. So to avoid hellfire and prepare for the end, they became more religious and constructed several churches across Europe. After the year 1000 came, and nothing happened, they started worrying about the year 1033, which marked a thousand years since Jesus’ demise. However, nothing happened, and the year went in peace.
Even though no damage was caused in the past several years, Christians continued to be active in their faith. As the population grew, they built more churches and cathedrals and enjoyed stability and prosperity. However, these new buildings and churches followed a theme and characteristics of Romanesque art. If you want to learn more about the features of Romanesque Art, then click on this link 8 Features of Romanesque Art.
Romanesque Art was the First Global Style of the Middle Ages:
After the fall of Rome, the popularity of architectural and artistic medieval styles increased. Romanesque art got international recognition. It spread naturally with regional changes in Italy, Spain, Germany, France, England, Scandinavia, and Crusader states. At that time, the Western world was open to international borders as peace and prosperity led to foreign trade and travel. People and commodities moved across land and sea, bringing Romanesque art characteristics.
Moreover, Romanesque was known for introducing itself to those regions during the Norman conquests; the most well-known was over England in 1066 but also included Sicily and southern Italy. Due to this, Romanesque churches in England are called Norman Romanesque or Anglo-Norman. Romanesque also reached Spain, which had just reverted to Christianity after being ruled by Islam for many years.
Classical Models inspired this art:
Romanesque art received its name from contributing to classical Roman structural parts, especially stone barrel ceilings and rounded arches. Before this, medieval structures had used some Romanesque characteristics but not entirely. Some scholars believe Romanesque architecture shares more common features with Roman architecture than medieval architecture. Thus, it has also been influenced by another religious background. Such as, systematic decorative motifs on Romanesque English churches were inspired by insular artistic traditions while interlocking blind arches has derived from Islamic architecture.
Reviving the Sturdy Stone Vault:
Stone vaulting is one thing that distinguishes Romanesque art from earlier styles. Romanesque churches have stone barrel vaults instead of wooden roofs. Stone vaults were considered as they were fire resistant, too heavy, and hard to build. Due to these vaults, Romanesque churches had large pillars and thick walls. Transverse arches, made from different colored stones, added strength to the vaults. However, they also added more weight to the overall structure. Furthermore, Romanesque buildings are popular for their large size and simple arrangements of elements rather than complex details. They have a solid, castle-like look, dark interiors, and inspiring facades bordered by towers.
Deeply Connected to Religious Pilgrimage
Pilgrimage means traveling to sacred places. In the Middle Ages, Jerusalem was the most important pilgrimage place for Christine, but due to the Islamic ruler, it took a lot of work to reach there. One of the most famous pilgrimage spots was the Saint James the Elder shrine in Santiago da Compostela, in northern Spain. People visit pilgrimage for various reasons like seeking miracles, seeking forgiveness, strengthening their faith, or exploring new places. Pilgrimage is more like tourism. Pilgrimage routes were developed along the Santiago roads. These routes had several churches as pilgrims visited these churches. The major reason to build these churches is to get donations from visitors. So churches had to be wide and big to accommodate a great number of pilgrims at a time. Because pilgrimage became more popular around the year 1000, many churches were built or expanded during that time and followed the Romanesque architecture.
Rich Imagery Embellishes Romanesque Doors:
Romanesque churches are considered the first large-scale architectural relief sculpture in Europe. Especially their figurative sculptures on entry doors and arched surrounds. Romanesque portals portray a blend of imagery. However, as Christians believe, the main entrance door portal depicts the Last Judgement event. The sculptures are bold, static, and not naturalistic. Mandorla is placed at the center, which is a full body halo, and represents Christ as Judge. Around a mandorla, dead souls are rising from their graves. The core concept behind the imagery is that these souls will be assessed and sent to heaven or hell, depending on their good or bad deeds. Scholars believe this imagery is so visible that it will motivate visitors to be better Christians.
Well, not all portal sculptures depict the same concept; other imagery portrays the lives of Christ and Mary, saint stories, angels, and secular subject matters, i.e., zodiac signs.
Original and Playful Column Capitals in Romanesque Art:
After portals, the next prominent spot for Romanesque sculptures can be seen in the capitals. Capital is an ornament placed atop columns. In the classical period, their sculptures included scrolls or decent acanthus leaves. However, capitals emerged as intricate sculptures during Romanesque art, often portraying animals and people. Some capitals depict narrative scenes from the Bible. Conversely, inhabited capital includes figures without a particular narrative or biblical theme. These capitals frequently showcase a range of peculiar, imaginative, or even unexpectedly obvious imagery. Although these motifs may appear naive or humorous today, their presence in religious books or structures remains somewhat puzzling. Some believe they are meaningful as they spread religious awareness to illiterate people.
Romanesque Art style widely used for Monasteries:
Monasteries are societies for nuns or monks who bestow their lives on Christ’s religion. They live apart from the other people on convent campuses, I.e., in churches, dining halls, dormitories, libraries, and other places required for communal living. Monks and nuns were expected to leave all worldly possessions behind and preach religion. Monasteries became extremely powerful and wealthy sometimes. Their possessed valued remainders attracted pilgrims and made them significant supporters of Romanesque art characteristics.
One characteristic of monastic life was the cloister, an outdoor patio enclosed by concealed walkways. These cloisters give enough space for contemplation and study to the people living there and connect the monastery buildings with the church. Rows of Romanesque arches linked the walkways to courtyards and blurred the boundary between outdoor and indoor spaces. The cloisters required numerous columns to support the arches, which led to the fusion of distinct and unique Romanesque capitals.
Romanesque art from the medieval period offers some interesting facts. It featured heavy stone vaults, expressive sculptures, and unique column capitals. The art style was closely tied to religious pilgrimage and the presence of holy relics. Despite the expectation of simplicity, monasteries played a significant role as patrons of Romanesque art characteristics. Illuminated manuscripts and frescoes added vibrant details to the style. Romanesque art served as a transition between earlier and later artistic movements. Its legacy continues to captivate and inspire people today.