Architecture During the Romanesque Era

When the millennium turned Europe was beginning to leave the Dark Age and enter what many consider to be Medieval times (though some lump the two together). A cornerstone of Medieval progress was the development of Romanesque period art and architecture. Romanesque work originated as imitation of Imperial Roman architecture and was an attempt to restore Europe to it’s pre-Fall glory. Defining characteristics were rounded arches and vaults. The movement actually took influences from a wide variety of sources, leading to much regional diversity. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Romanesque buildings are how they ambitiously combine several different art forms, making Romanesque churches into a form of master art. Every visible part of the building was a potential art space, meaning even practical architectural elements could double as sculpture. Columns are a perfect example of Romanesque art because they are an obvious influence from Greco-Roman architecture and Medieval builders built upon past usage of columns and used and integrated sculpture into the practical design. Portals (the area around the main door) are another important element that were turned into sculpture:

cathedral sculpture Judas Christ in his majesty 

Romanesque art is also responsible for many innovations that were unheard of in Roman times. Stained glass windows are one of the most important examples as for many they are synonymous with Medieval art. The colorful, two dimensional, windows provide a nice counter to the often colorless (granted some were painted but it has faded away) and three dimensional sculptures. The art remained important well into the Renascence and there was revival of stained glass in Victorian times which continues to some extent today. Most of the examples I could find were Gothic or later, but here are some Romanesque stained glass windows:


During the Romanesque period almost anything could be made into art. The diversity is stunning with each building different than the next. Depending on the location influences (aside from namesake Roman) could include Celtic, Saxon, Islamic, Norse, Mozarabic, Visigothic, Ostrogothic, or Byzantine just to name a few. Visual style aside, all Romanesque art is unified with common elements. The chief of these is a Biblical worldview, or more accurately the Biblical worldview endorsed by the Catholic Church. Close examination of most pieces will reveal the most common theme are Biblical stories, depictions of extra-Biblical Saints are also popular. The reason for this was to make the content of the Bible accessible for the illiterate. Scholars have dubbed this the “Poor Man‘s Bible” and it can be seen in sculptures, stained glass, and murals (which I have chosen not to write about as they are not uniquely Romanesque). Local flavor can be seen in depictions of that areas rulers and history. We can also see much about how Medieval people saw the world in their depictions of grotesque beasts meant to protect the building from evil. Taken as a whole, Romanesque cathedrals and churches can be viewed as elaborate art museums, because they showcase the contemporary art in a region represented by almost every form of art.


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