Romanesque (1000s-1200s)

from The New Book of Knowledge®

ART HISTORY ON DEMAND > Periods and Styles in Western Art >

One of the most important styles of European art that developed during the Middle Ages was called Romanesque. This style began during the 1000's and lasted for more than 200 years.

Prior to the Romanesque period, powerful rulers like Charlemagne and Otto the Great helped to lay the foundations for this new style of art. They ordered their builders to design palaces and churches similar to ancient Roman temples. Romanesque architecture is massive, low, and solid-looking. Round Roman arches, thick walls, and small windows are typical of the buildings. Churches were built in the shape of a cross, using the basilica (a type of Roman building) as the basis for the design. Another important feature of Romanesque architecture was the use of a separate bell tower, or campanile. It was built beside the main church.

The new architecture incorporated other styles as well. Germanic, Asian, Byzantine, Muslim, and Christian forms contributed to its unique appearance.

Both painting and sculpture in the Romanesque age were decorative and highly ornamental. They often incorporated strange entwining plant forms and grotesque imaginary animals.

Romanesque painting followed the traditions set by the spiritual art of the Byzantine Empire. Naturalism—painting things as they might really appear—was not emphasized. The artists concentrated mainly on expressive color and rhythmic compositions. They did this to stir religious emotions within the viewer. Many murals were painted during this period, often in fresco (on fresh, wet plaster). The production of illuminated manuscripts also increased.

In sculpture, for the first time since the days of the ancient Roman world, monumental work was created. Most of the work was religious. Statues depicted biblical scenes as well as saints and martyrs. Sculpture rarely existed apart from architecture. Most Romanesque sculpture decorates the porches, doors, and columns of churches.

The Romanesque style varied slightly in each country. But it dominated Western Europe until it was replaced by the Gothic style.

Reviewed by Lee Hall
President Emerita
Rhode Island School of Design

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