Daily Archives: July 18, 2013

Decorating the Romanesque Cathedrals

During the Romanesque era there was much portable artwork done in addition to what was integrated into cathedrals. The sculptures found on column capitals and portals where often grand scaled and cryptic, but free sculptures tended to be much more straightforward and focused. Another major difference is it is much harder to see Roman influence in portable object than in architecture, at least for me. The subject matter was often the same, a heavy focus on the Bible as well as emperors and miscellanea. However, the effect is very different because with portable sculptures you can really feel in the presence of the subject. They are not on seven feet over your head, they are right there in front of you. Too me this makes them seem very different. While some of the sculptures were life sized or larger, others were much smaller. Having a crucifix on a table focuses on Jesus’ suffering as he is executed, nothing else. A portal carving of the same subject would show a large scene with much going on and may distract from what the main focus is on.

cross cross2 cross 3

Illuminated manuscripts flourished during the Romanesque period. Building upon the ambitions of the Book of Kells and Lindsfarne Gospels, Romanesque illuminators started to focus less on abstractions and more on scenery. The results were stunning and in many ways these new works can be viewed as a paper equivalent of the stained glass windows that were becoming a staple of Romanesque architecture. While you won’t spend as much time marveling at elaborately interlaced designs, Romanesque illuminated manuscripts are much less cryptic and key details are easy to notice. Like the Hiberno-Saxon predecessors, the majority are still Bible though Psalters were becoming more common.

psalter psalter2

Romanesque religious art also included a wide number of other portable objects. Churches were beginning to become more and more ornate and many of these decorations have survived. Altars are a very important part of Catholic Mass so it is not surprising that many Romanesque altars are still around. More unique to the Middle Ages were reliquaries. Reliquaries serve as display containers for relics, which are items supposedly belonging to a Saint such as bones or belongings. Though many may laugh at revering such dubious items today, it is important to remember that people back then took relics very seriously because it brought them closer to Christ and the Saints. Many churches and monasteries became famous for their reliquaries so people started travelling from place to place to pray at those sites. Such people were known as Pilgrims and pilgrimage became very important because they literally put many communities on the map, it also inspired many people to travel in a time when most people never ventured outside of their county.

For people of the Romanesque era art was something they took great pride in. It was more than creative expression, it was a way of showing deep spirituality as whole communities banded together to build houses of worship. Even after Romanesque went out of style this was still a major component of building cathedrals. In my earlier post I said Romanesque cathedrals could be viewed as art museums and I think it is also appropriate to view them for what they were intended to be, an expression of pious devotion.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized