Medieval art


The medieval art is essentially religious . This has its origin in the Roman, barbarian and early Christian inheritance and later adopts its own character. The style terms “Romanesque” and “Gothic” were given a posteriori and were not used during this time.


What is medieval art?

From the 5th to the 15th century, the medieval period takes place. In this period there is medieval art which can be divided into two parts: the Romanesque and the Gothic . The Romanesque appears first, in Western Europe and is characterized by having a rural style. Its name comes from the fact that it was largely based on the art of the early Christians in Rome. For its part, the Gothic originates in the cities and bears its name due to its primitive character. Both contain strong influences from Christianity and are manifested by various means such as goldsmithing, sculpture, paintings, mosaics, frescoes and architecture.


Characteristics of medieval art

It reached its peak between the 11th and 12th centuries, the Romanesque period; and the 12th and 15th century, the Gothic period. Its main characteristic would be to worship or offer to God , thus obtaining his grace or indulgence. Due to this, its wealth is found in the ornaments of monasteries, churches and places of worship, being an intermediary between the human and the supernatural world, where it is governed by offering to the dogmas of the Christian faith.


Historical synthesis

Romanesque period:

  • The European population is growing at a high rate.
  • The church reaches its greatest prestige and power, due to being considered the only well-organized and hierarchical institution.
  • The increasing construction of larger temples due to the number of worshipers.
  • The reform of the monasteries.

Medieval art Characteristics, history, architecture, sculpture, painting

Gothic Period:

  • The crusades between the Christians against the Muslims and Saracens.
  • The prolongation of Christianity .
  • The construction of the abbey church of San Dionisio by Abbot Suger.
  • The construction of the Cathedral of Notre Dame (Paris).
  • The construction of the Cathedral of Chartres.

Medieval architecture

It is divided into its two periods:

  • Romanesque architecture: It became more evident in the construction of temples, churches, monasteries of great magnitude , firm and solid, to avoid their destruction and deterioration over time, serving as evolution to perfect and solve the problems in said realization. It was characterized by its walls and buttresses. The only purpose of their buildings was the offering to the sacred, which is why they were called “fortresses of God” . It includes the use of semicircles in arches and vaults, the use of stones, the incorporation of very thick towers and walls with few openings.
  • Gothic architecture : Tall buildings with symbolic meaning are built , among which the cathedral stands out . It includes the ribbed vault (formed by two diagonally crossed arches), the flying buttresses and the pointed arch, the pointed arch, and the liberation of the walls, which allowed the placement of stained glass. In addition, the combination with sculptural elements that frame its sacred decoration predominates.

Sculpture in medieval art

  • Sculpture in the Romanesque period: It is based on the iconography of the Bible , where “the Bible in stone” was born , because most of the inhabitants were illiterate and even so it was necessary to instill the sacred. What is achieved in a symbolic and expressive way through reliefs, where the loss of naturalism in the figures is observed , since they were lengthened or reduced due to the space to work and the proportions between figures were not respected (a horse could be smaller than a man), which creates a lack of realism. Still, it fully reflects the rigidity and symmetry of the spirit and morals of the time.
  • Sculpture in the Gothic period: Realism prevails since the sculptors seek to give a real characterization to the portrayed characters , in this case, angels, saints and biblical figures, which is achieved with great movement and naturalness. Regarding the materials, the stone remains, with an ornamental and didactic function, worked as attached reliefs with a narrative character with a tendency to naturalism, seeking a serene, beautiful and majestic ideal. Typically, marble, stone, ivory, and wood are used.

Painting in medieval art

  • Painting in the Romanesque period: It tends to have Byzantine influence , due to the location of the Christ Pantocrator in the main apse of the temple. It is dominated by drawing, the contour of the silhouettes, the use of unmixed flat colors, the lack of depth and the absence of volume in the figures. The religious theme and the expressiveness of the figures are maintained, which are made with great magnitude.
  • Painting in the Gothic period: Stained glass windows, frescoes and panels stand out, which fulfilled fidelity to the episodes of sacred history , prevailing the worship of God. Later, some characteristics are introduced such as the search for realism, emotional expressions and the diversity of the color palette. In the case of the stained glass windows, their purpose was the sensation of luminosity and the use of natural light, thus acquiring the sensation of divine presence. Like sculpture, it has a strong tendency to naturalism and detail . It seeks to give an appearance of reality through perspective and shading.

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