Make A Playlist: Add a video to get started!
faq  |  playlists  |  log in  |
Make A Playlist: Add a video to get started!
Add to Playlist

Romanesque Art


In the 11th and 12th centuries Romanesque churches were filled with beautiful art. And that art served the church. Statues and paintings didn’t need to be realistic so long as they illustrated Bible lessons: teaching, inspiring, and scaring the faithful.

Complete Video Script

[32] Romanesque churches were filled with beautiful art. And that art served the church.

[33] As most people were illiterate, pictures and symbols were used to teach and celebrate the Christian message. The art didn't have to be realistic as long as it inspired worship.

[34, Tympanum and facade, 12th century, St. Trophime Church, Arles, France] The physical church was a sermon in stone. The entrance set the tone. Carved scenes were flat or in "low relief" and cluttered — images that told a story.

[35] While today, Romanesque churches have plain stone walls, many were originally painted. Paintings were full of symbolism, showing saints not inhabiting the dark, cold, and sinful world on earth but in an ethereal heaven.

[36, Basilica of San Isidoro, 11th century, León, northern Spain] Romanesque painting had a mystical kind of beauty. Here it's the Annunciation as the angel announces to Mary she'll give birth to the Messiah. All of nature — including goat herders in 11th–century attire — celebrates the news. Christ's life unfolds ending with the crucifixion and his return, triumphant over death, sitting on a rainbow and blessing all who gathered.

[37, Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, Rome] At the high altar stands Jesus alongside his ever-popular mother. Known as the Virgin Mary, Madonna, or "our lady" (or Notre Dame), she was a compassionate and approachable figure — one that medieval peasants could pray to for help.

[38, Monreale Cathedral, Palermo, Sicily; Imperial Treasury, Vienna] Other imagery showed how the powerful Church legitimized the secular ruler — Christ actually crowning the king. They were partners in power and, many would say, partners conspiring to keep the masses down. This exquisite crown of Charlemagne, who in the year 800 was Europe's greatest ruler, came with a cross and the message (in Latin): "By Christ, kings reign."

[39, Hell mosaic, c. 1225, Baptistery, Florence] Throughout the Middle Ages — in the Romanesque age as well as the Gothic age that followed, art inspired. It comforted. And it frightened. Vivid Last Judgment scenes scared people into faithfulness. They show the end of the world, when Christ passes judgment on all humankind…giving the ultimate thumbs up or thumbs down. The righteous rise up to Heaven, while the wicked are cast down into a horrible, horrible Hell ruled by the Devil. There, they're tormented for eternity by demons, eaten by ogres, and excreted in an eternally miserable cycle.

[40] Across Europe, and through the centuries, peasants were made fearful by this powerful art — subjected at church to such vivid visions from the moment they walked through the door.