Typical Characteristics of Romanesque Art

A large stone building

Romanesque art was affected by shifting political powers following the Carolingian period and the mobility during the Crusades. This art form refers to the art of Europe from the 10th century to the rise of the Gothic style in the 13th century.

 ‘Romanesque’ term was invented by 19th-century art historians to refer to Roman Architectural style specifically. It is a semi-circular arch – but retained distinctive regional characteristics. In Southern France, Spain, and Italy, the Romanesque style was the first style to spread across the whole of Catholic Europe. The first pan-European style was the Imperial Roman Architecture. It was influenced by Byzantine art in the paintings and by the anti-classical energy of the decoration of the Insular art of the British Isles. All these developed into a highly innovative and coherent style.


A close up of a colorful window

The Roman architecture combined features of the Roman and Byzantine buildings along with other local traditions. This architecture is distinguished by very good quality, thick walls, sturdy piers, round arches, large towers, groin vaults, and decorative arcades. Each building has a clearly defined form with a symmetrical plan. It results in a much simpler appearance than the Gothic buildings. The style is also identified across Europe, despite of the materials and characteristics.


A wheel with an umbrella

Apart from architecture, the art period is also characterized by a powerful style in paintings and sculpture. In the churches, the painting followed the Byzantine iconographic models. Christ in Majesty, the Last Judgement, and the Life of Christ had clear depictions of this arm form. The illuminated manuscripts have lavishly decorated examples of the period. As the new scenes were shown, more originality occurred. They used saturated primary colors, that existed in original brightness only in stained glass and in well-preserved manuscripts. Stained glass first came to proper use during this period. There were other surviving examples as well.

There was little depth in the pictorial compositions, as they were limited to the narrow spaces of the initials, capitals, and church tympanums. The tension between a tight frame and a composition that sometimes escapes its designated space occurs in a recurrent theme in this art form. 


The sculpture also had a vigorous style that was evident in most carved capitals of columns. These often showcased complete scenes showing several figures. The precious objects sculpted in enamel, metal and ivory such as reliquaries also had high status in this period. The large wooden crucifix and statues of the enthroned Madonna were German innovations at the start of the period. The high relief carvings of architectural elements are most evocative of this style. 

The church portals were carved with monumental schemes, that again depict Christ in majesty or the Last Judgement but treated with more freedom than in painted versions. These portals were meant to both educate the viewer and to intimidate them as well. As there were no equivalent Byzantine models, this felt free to expand in their treatment of tympanums.

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