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the prevailing artistic style in Western Europe and certain countries of Eastern Europe from the tenth through 12th centuries. (In some regions the style continued into the 13th century.) The Romanesque period was one of the most important stages in the development of medieval European art. The term “Romanesque” was introduced in the early 19th century.
The Romanesque style absorbed many elements of Early Christian art, Merovingian art, and the art of the Carolingian Renaissance. It was also influenced by ancient Greek and Roman art, the art of the era of great migrations, Byzantine art, and the art of the Muslim Near East. In contrast to earlier, local currents in medieval art, the Romanesque style was the first artistic system of the Middle Ages embraced by most European countries. The style, however, was given a great variety of forms by different local schools, owing to feudal fragmentation.
The bases for stylistic unity throughout Europe were the well-developed feudal relationships and the international character of the Catholic Church, which at that time was the major ideological force in society and, owing to the absence of strong secular centralized authority, had fundamental economic and political influence. In most states the chief patrons of the arts were the monastic orders, and the builders, laborers, painters, and manuscript copiers and illustrators were monks. It was only late in the 11th century that itinerant artels of lay stonemasons and sculptors appeared.
Both individual Romanesque buildings and church, monastery, and castle complexes were often built in a rural setting. Situated on a hill or elevated riverbank, the structures dominate the surrounding area as an earthly image of the “City of God” or as a striking symbol of the might of a suzerain. Romanesque buildings are well integrated into their natural surroundings. Their compact forms and clear silhouettes echo and enrich the natural relief, and the local stone used in construction blends in with the soil and greenery. The impression created by the exteriors of Romanesque structures—one of calm and austere strength—is achieved to a great extent by the towers, which are essential elements of Romanesque architecture, and by the massive walls, whose weightiness and thickness are emphasized by narrow window slits and recessed portals.
The Romanesque building represents a system of simple solids—cubes, parallelepipeds, prisms, and cylinders—whose surface is divided by bays, blind arches, and galleries, which impart rhythm to the wall without violating its monolithic integrity. Romanesque churches developed the basilican and radial plans inherited from Early Christian architecture. A skylight or tower was usually placed at the crossing. Each of the main parts of the church represents a distinct spatial unit, clearly separated from the others both within and without. Such an approach resulted to a large extent from the demands of the church hierarchy: for example, the choir had to be inaccessible to the congregation, who occupied the nave.
Inside the church there are arcades, which separate the aisles, and buttressed arches, which are situated at considerable distances from each other. The slow, measured rhythms of the arcades and arches pierce the stone mass of the vaulted ceiling, creating a sensation of the unshakable solidity of the divine order of the world. This impression was enhanced by the vaults themselves, which replaced the flat wooden ceilings that formerly were used over the side aisles. The various types of vaulting characteristic of Romanesque churches included barrel vaults, groin vaults, rib vaults, and—less frequently—domical vaults.
During the early Romanesque the principal form of ornamentation was the mural painting. By the late 11th and early 12th centuries, when the vaults and walls became more complex in configuration, carved relief was the most popular form of church decoration. Carved reliefs were used to embellish interior columns, the portals, and—often—the entire facade. In the mature Romanesque style low relief was replaced by increasingly high relief, rich in chiaroscuro effects but never losing its organic connection with the wall. The relief always seems to thrust into or grow out of the wall’s solid mass.
The Romanesque period was marked by the flourishing of manuscript illumination, which was distinguished as a whole by monumentality of size and composition. A number of minor arts also developed, such as casting, engraving, ivory carving, enameling, weaving, carpet-making, and jewelry design.
The central themes in Romanesque painting and sculpture are associated with the concept of the unlimited and awesome power of god. In strictly symmetrical compositions dealing with such themes as Christ in majesty and the Last Judgment, the figure of Christ considerably exceeds the other figures in size and dominates absolutely. Freer and more dynamic are the narrative cycles based on Old Testament, New Testament, hagiographic, and, occasionally, historical subjects.
Romanesque painting and sculpture is characterized by numerous divergences from realism: heads are disproportionately large, clothing is treated ornamentally, and bodies are subordinated to abstract patterns. As a result, the human image often makes exaggeratedly expressive gestures or even becomes part of the decoration. At the same time the figure often retains an intense spiritual expressiveness. In all genres of Romanesque art an important role is played by patterns, which may be geometric, floral, or zoomorphic. Romanesque animal motifs derive from the animal style and directly reflect Europe’s pagan past. The overall system of imagery, which at its mature stage tended toward a universal artistic embodiment of the medieval picture of the world, paved the way for the Gothic conception of the cathedral as a “spiritual encyclopedia.”
The earliest forms of the Romanesque style appeared in French architecture in the late tenth century. Particularly common was a three-aisled basilican church with a barrel vault over the nave and groin vaults over the side aisles. Also common was the pilgrimage church, whose choir is surrounded by an ambulatory with radiating chapels (for example, the church of St. Sernin in Toulouse, c. 1080 to the 12th century).
The local schools of French Romanesque architecture showed great variety. The Burgundian school, exemplified by the Cluny III Church (1088 to the 12th century), is noted for a special monumentality of composition. The school of Poitou favored sumptuous sculptural ornament, as seen in the Church of Notre Dame la Grande in Poitiers (12th century). The Romanesque churches of Provence, such as the cathedral of St. Tro-phime in Arles (eighth to 15th centuries), are distinguished by their richly embellished main portal, which has one or three arches and probably derives from the ancient Roman triumphal arch. Norman churches, with their austere decoration and clarity of spatial articulation, prepared the way for the Gothic style. A typical Norman Romanesque church is Sainte-Trinité in Caen (1059–66).
French Romanesque secular architecture is represented by a type of fortress-castle having a donjon. The finest achievement of the French Romanesque in the plastic arts was the powerfully expressive sculpture of the tympana of Burgundian and Languedocian churches, for example, those in Vézelay, Autun, and Moissac. Also noteworthy are many mural cycles, miniatures, and objects of applied art (including the Limoges enamels).
The Saxon school was the principal representative of German Romanesque architecture. Saxon churches have symmetrical eastern and western choirs and, sometimes, two transepts. A front facade is absent, as seen in the church of St. Michael in Hildesheim (1001–33). The mature Romanesque is represented by the great cathedrals of the Rhineland, which were built from the 11th to 13th centuries in such cities as Spey-er, Mainz, and Worms. Wide use was made of the alternate-support system, by which two supports of the side aisles corresponded to each support of the nave.
The German Romanesque was characterized by the celebration of the grandeur of imperial power, which is expressed most vividly in the architecture of imperial palaces. During the Ottoman Romanesque period, which extended from the second half of the tenth century through the first half of the 11th century, manuscript illumination flourished, with its most important centers at the abbeys of Reichenau and Trier. There were also notable achievements in metal casting, as seen in the bronze doors of the cathedral in Hildesheim (1015). German stone sculpture and stuccowork grew in importance during the mature Romanesque.
In Italy, Romanesque elements first appeared in the work of the Lombard school, which developed an architectural style called the First Romanesque in the ninth or tenth century. The architecture is distinguished by stone roofs, the regular positioning of walls and supports, and the tectonic articulation of the exterior walls. However, there did not yet exist any obvious relationship between the elements of spatial composition. Italian Romanesque architecture is predominantly urban in character and reflects influences from Arabic architecture and the architecture of ancient Greece and Rome (mainly in southern Italy and Sicily). The Romanesque architecture of Tuscany, where the incrustation style was developed, is closely related to that of Germany and France. An outstanding example of Tuscan Romanesque architecture is the cathedral complex in Pisa (11th through 14th centuries).
In Spain, partly in connection with the Reconquest, fortress-castles and city fortifications appeared in larger numbers than anywhere else in Europe. Spanish church architecture was often based on the French pilgrimage church (for example, the cathedral in Salamanca), but as a whole it displayed relatively simple compositional solutions. Some works of Spanish Romanesque sculpture anticipated the complex imagery of the Gothic style. Many Romanesque frescoes have been preserved in Spain, mainly in Catalonia. The frescoes are distinguished by precise line and extremely intense color.
The Romanesque style spread to England after the Norman Conquest of 1066. The traditions of local wooden architecture were combined with elements of the Norman Romanesque. Particularly noteworthy were English paintings and book illuminations from this period, which were marked by lavish floral ornamentation.
In the Scandinavian countries most large urban cathedrals were based on German Romanesque models, whereas small parish and rural churches were marked by distinctive local features. The Romanesque style also developed in Poland, Bohemia, and Hungary.
In the 12th and 13th centuries the Crusaders built Romanesque castles in Palestine and Syria (for example, the Krac des Chevaliers in Syria, 12th and 13th centuries).
Certain features of the Romanesque style appeared in the art of ancient Rus’, for example, in the architecture and sculpture of the Vladimir-Suzdal’ school. These features resulted not so much from direct influences as from similarities in ideological and artistic aims.
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