Romanesque Art; What is it? Features and Concepts

The Romanesque period was an artistic movement that arose in Europe as a consequence of material prosperity and spiritual renewal and spanned the 11th to the 13th centuries. Obviously this type of art was one of the first totally European and Christian styles and it was also acquiring various options used in the Middle Ages. Due to the large group of options that they acquired, they managed to develop a coherent and determined language that soon after was applied to various artistic representations. Romanesque art was above all a religious art, which reflected the values ​​of the new feudal society, a society that was both warrior and Christian, for this reason and they made a large number of churches and religious buildings and the name of Romanesque is given because in its construction Roman elements were used,

Due to the relations between religious and nobles, the construction of the great churches was promoted by kings, nobles, bishops and abbots of the monasteries, being sometimes the neighbors of the village who paid for and built the churches and the works were carried out by specialized craftsmen: architects, stonecutters, painters …

One of its main characteristics that defines this type of art, and that all the countries of Europe had in common, was that it was always a religious art and that it represented the values ​​of feudal society that was itself Christian and warrior. The countries that stood out for this art were Spain, France, Germany, Italy.

Romanesque architecture

Architecture turns out to be the great agglutinator of the rest of the plastic arts, it is above all a religious architecture, defined by two basic principles that determine its style, monumentality and durability. They wanted to build enduring temples with the greatest possible grandeur, trying to avoid as much as possible of destroying them. In this endeavor, Romanesque architecture followed a continuous evolutionary process of improvement and resolution of tectonic problems in search of height and light. For this, the material used had to be stone and that the temple had to be vaulted, for a greater firmness, giving greater symbolic relevance to the building and avoiding the fires that the wooden ceilings suffered with certain frequency.

In Romanesque art , churches were built with large solid stone walls that could support the enormous weights of the vaults. We can distinguish between two kinds of constructions: The religious ones, with constructions like churches, which are divided into three fundamental types, pilgrimage, basilical and rural type; and the monasteries; and civilians.

The temples of Romanesque art were some carved stone buildings oriented with the head to the east with one or more longitudinal naves that could have others crossed.

The basic materials used in Romanesque architecture:

The  stone of ashlar masonry or ashlar, which is a block of stone carved as a parallelepiped with which the walls were formed that had two thin layers of ashlar masonry and in the middle a mass of rubble, which were small stones normally coming from the carving of ashlars .

The Sillarejo, which is a smaller stone, with less working and setting, made with a hammer, directly devastating the raw stone, but without polishing the faces.

El Mampuesto, which is an uncut or rough-cut stone.

Other materials used were brick, especially used in Spain, wood used to cover non-vaulted temples, slate and fired clay with which the tiles were made to build the roofs.

Romanesque sculpture

It represents the most complete reaction against classical naturalism. The figures reach a tremendous spirituality and the anatomy is relegated to the background since the clothes dominate the body. However, the style will reach a significant evolution that will reach Gothic naturalism.
The Romanesque sculptors are completely linked to architecture, as being the large and tall temples, the sculptors must adapt their figures to the new proportions and the sculpture acquires monumentality.
The sculpture acquires greater relief on the cover of the temple,especially on the eardrum where the theme of the Almighty is surrounded by the symbols of the evangelists. The relief is very flat and the scenes of little complication, appearing the clothes adjusted to the body, summarizing the folds of the fabrics with simple lines. Over time the style shows an appreciable evolution and the figures acquire greater volume while the characteristic isolation is being abandoned and a greater communication between the figures appears, communication that is already advancing in the Gothic. The figures of round bulk are quite few, being reduced to the representation of the Crucified and of the Virgin with the Child.

Romanesque painting

It continues with the unnatural attitude of previous stages as well as the absence of perspective is maintained. Drawing and flat colors are juxtaposed to create intense color contrasts. The figure focuses all the artist’s attention and the background is smooth. Thick lines of black or red color shape the figure’s silhouette while the modeling of the faces is achieved based on rounded red spots on the cheeks, beard and forehead. Like the sculpture, its location in the temple is also outlined. The center is the main chapel where the Christ in Majesty is represented in the vault surrounded by the evangelists, although the Virgin may also appear. The cylindrical surface of the apse is reserved for saints or prophets and a decorative composition is placed in the part of the plinth, while stories distributed in large areas subdivided into paintings are painted on the side walls of the temple. Good examples of this Romanesque painting are found in Catalonia, especially those of the churches of Tahull, today in the National Museum of Art of Catalonia.

Romanesque art in Spain

At the beginning of the century this art was developed by the counties of Catalonia and therefore they had specific characteristics, the most outstanding were:

  • Use of the semicircular arch.
  • The temples are covered by rocky barrel and furnace vaults.
  • There is no presence of sculpture.
  • The pillars are used as a support
  • The ships are very high and wide.

When the golden period of this era began, it was characterized by unmatched beauty and quality. That is why when this type of art is at its maximum splendor it moves to the kingdoms of Castile and there other characteristics are established such as:

  • Great and monumental doors.
  • Decorated little dogs.
  • Sculpture was used on the facades.
  • Semicircular windows

Romanesque art in France

In France this type of art reached its great splendor and vigor through the Monastery of Cluny (which today a large part of it has disappeared), but it was an irradiator of a new art. After that, various art centers appeared, however, each one took on different characteristics. Even so, in France you can see some very famous works of art such as the Basilica of Saint-Sernin (in Toulouse), Cathedral of Saint Peter of Angouleme (in Angouleme), the Abbey of Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe (it was one of the most pictorial and relevant groups of this stage), among other works of art.

The Romanesque art of Germany

This type of art in Germany was an evolution of Ottonian art, with which in Germany various architectural groups with great monumentality were created, in addition many of them served to make novel and original ideas such as the double-headed “solution” . Among the most important works we can highlight: Church of Santa María del Capitolio (in Colonia), Abbey of Santa María Laach and the cathedrals of Espira, Mainz and Worms.

Romanesque art in Italy

One of the main characteristics of Italy was the early Christian and classical heritage that was a great contribution in this style of art. Without a doubt, in Italy new unique and own characteristics also appeared, such as the “Lombard style”.

What stood out most of this style in Italy were the buildings that can be distinguished by the large amount of decoration and ostentation but at the same time by a magnificent structural precision. There are thousands of works that have taken a very important role over the centuries, although some of the most outstanding are the Cathedral of Parma, the Basilica of Saint Michael (in Pavia), the Cathedrals of Modena and Trent and the Cathedral of Pisa .

Most important constructions of Romanesque art

Jaca Cathedral:  built around 1080 it is the most important work on the Aragonese Camino de Santiago. It consists of a basilica plan, three semicircular apses and three naves separated by alternating cruciform pillars and columns. It has a dome with ribs on its tubes. In exterior decoration the taqueado or checkered is typical. It exerted enormous influence in Aragon and Castilla.

San Isidoro de León:  on a former Visigothic church the crypt or Royal Pantheon was made in 1059, with a square floor plan and divided into nine compartments with groin vaults by four robust columns, with beautiful paintings. Towards 1090 the teacher Petrus Deustamben built the church with a basilica plan with three naves separated by cruciform pillars and with banked semi- circular arches , without an ambulatory. In the cruise there are lobed arches, of Islamic influence.

 San Martín de Frómista:  Founded around 1066, it is the church of the Camino de Santiago in Palencia, which consists of a basilica plan, three naves, three apses, a transept that does not protrude in plan, cruciform pillars and a barrel vault roof. It has two circular towers on the foot façade and a polygonal dome tower over the transept.

Zamora Cathedral: it  belongs to the late Romanesque of the Escuela del Duero (such as the Collegiate Church of Toro and the Torre del Gallo de Salamanca), from the year 1170. With three naves and three apses. The most original is the dome on the transverse  pendentives  , with a ribbed dome of nerves, decorated with scales and elevated on a window drum. Outside there are four cylindrical turrets. It has an influence from the French Romanesque style of Poitou.

 

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