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Index by Period

Romanesque Style
(1000 - 1140)

The name "Romanesque" was invented in 1871 to describe a "primitive Gothic" style of architecture - stone architecture with stone relief sculpture, "in the Roman style." In their gravity and rudimentary architectural power, the interiors of these churches recalled the grandeur of Roman buildings, but many of them also a had a fortress-like mass and weight that reflected the uncertainty of the times. Many Romanesque cathedrals were built in the shape of a Latin cross.

The development of Romanesque architecture owes much to the primacy accorded to vaulting. Barrel vaults, groin vaults, and rib vaults provided a new unity and weight. The rib vaults carried the articulation of the individual bays from one side of the nave to the other, and thus further compartmentalised the churches.

The art of the Romanesque period was characterized by an important revival of monumental forms, notably sculpture and fresco painting, which developed in close association with architectural decoration and was strongly influenced by Roman art (with its abstract, flattened figures and vigourous narratives). The embellishment of churches with carvings on capitals, piers, jambs, and portals marked the first widespread revival of stone sculpture since late antiquity.

Most Romanesque painting took the form of church murals and illuminated manuscripts. The large and relatively unbroken expanses of wall space within Romanesque buildings presented an excellent ground for the work of the painter, and the basic forms of Romanesque fresco painting are typically monumental in scale and bold in colouristic effect. There are few Romanesque murals left, since they suffered from fading, damp air, dirt and bad restoration. And as people’s tastes changed, they scraped away or replaced old murals with new works. Most of the murals that have survived over the centuries are only fragments.

contributed by Gifford, Katya

12 April 2002


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