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A History Of European Art 03 - Romanesque Sculpture and Architecture

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A History Of European Art

Lecture Three

Romanesque Sculpture and Architecture

Romanesque art refers to the art of Western Europe from approximately 1000 AD to the rise of the Gothic style in the 13th century, or later, depending on region. The preceding period is increasingly known as the Pre-Romanesque. The term was invented by 19th century art historians, especially for Romanesque architecture, which retained many basic features of Roman architectural style - most notably round-headed arches, but also barrel vaults, apses, and acanthus-leaf decoration - but had also developed many very different characteristics. In Southern France, Spain and Italy there was an architectural continuity with the Late Antique, but the Romanesque style was the first style to impact the whole of Catholic Europe, from Denmark to Sicily. Romanesque art was also greatly influenced by Byzantine art, especially in painting, and by the anti-classical energy of the decoration of the Insular art of the British Isles, and from these elements forged a highly innovative and coherent style.
Architectural sculpture


The tympanum of Vézelay Abbey, Burgundy, France, 1130s, has much decorative spiral detail in the draperies.

With the fall of the Roman Empire, the tradition of carving large works in stone and sculpting figures in bronze died out, as it effectively did (for religious reasons) in the Byzantine world. Some life-size sculpture was evidently done in stucco or plaster, but surviving examples are understandably rare. The best-known surviving large sculptural work of Proto-Romanesque Europe is the life-size wooden Crucifix commissioned by Archbishop Gero of Cologne in about 960–65, apparently the prototype of what became a popular form. These were later set up on a beam below the chancel arch, known in English as a rood, from the twelfth century accompanied by figures of the Virgin mary and John the Evangelist to the sides. During the 11th and 12th centuries, figurative sculpture flourished. It was based on two other sources in particular, manuscript illumination and small-scale sculpture in ivory and metal. The extensive friezes sculpted on Armenian and Syriac churches are have been proposed as another likely influence. These sources together produced a distinct style which can be recognised across Europe, although the most spectacular sculptural projects are concentrated in South-Western France, Northern Spain and Italy.

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