Introduction to the Romanesque

The Romanesque period was the first major art and architecture movement in Europe following the ‘Dark Ages’.
The word ‘Romanesque’ was a 19th century term historians created to describe the style of the period, forever linking it to the ancient Roman aesthetic and roman basilicas.
The up-surging power and dominance of the Roman Catholic Church.
Importance of pilgrimage routes – the enormous surge in building was due mainly to the need for churches along the main pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela.
The dreaded year 1000!

Romanesque Churches 

Ancient Roman Basilica’s served as the architectural blueprint on which Romanesque Churches developed.
The Basilica was the beating heart of the ancient roman community. The Early Christian’s wanted to replicate both its architectural format and its social importance.
Cluny Abbey, France is regarded as the first ‘Romanesque’ church to be built.
It was the largest church ever built and remained so until the 17th Century.

Romanesque architectural features 

•Rounded Arches – used on doors windows and as ornamental arcades on walls.

•Stone Roofs – technical innovations included stone vaulting – it insulated against fire and greatly improved acoustics.
•Excessively wide walls – to carry the weight of the stone roofs.  
•Cruciform Shape – Sainte Lazare in Autun, France
•Small Narrow Windows – as large windows would have weakened the walls – this resulted in dark interiors.
•Rounded Interior Pillars
•Radiating Chapels - St. Mary Magdelene in Vézelay

•Barrel & Groin Vaulting 

Barrel vaulting was the first method tried, but the heavy stones pressed out as well as down, causing the semi-circular arches to flatten, the walls to push outwards and the roof to collapse.  This problem is known as outward trust.
•Groin vaulting was a further experiment in finding a solution.  This consisted in two barrel vaults intersecting at right angles.  For a while it seemed as if this approach provided a solution, but the problem of outward trust continued to plague builders for a century after.
Cruciform Shape
•Romanesque churches were designed to cater for large crowds of pilgrims.
•Crosswise transepts broke up the long nave and pilgrims could walk around the entire church without interrupting the monastic liturgy.
•An ambulatory or walkway around the back of the alter facilitated viewing relics.
•Radiating chapels (a ring of small chapels) extended from the ambulatory and each of these contained a minor relic.
•A dome over the crossing lit up the the central area of the church with the effect of drawing pilgrims toward the alter.

 Sainte Lazare in Autun, France

St. Mary Magdelene in Vézelay


Exam questions 


Name and discuss in detail the two sculptures illustrated on the accompanying sheet, making reference to the periods in which they were produced, and to their themes, composition and style.
Discuss briefly the role of sculpture in a named medieval church/cathedral that you have studied.

 Illustrate your answer.


Discuss the ways in which the main architectural and decorative features of
Romanesque churches differ from those of Gothic cathedrals. In your answer name one Romanesque church and one Gothic cathedral, and make detailed reference to scale, structure, layout and decoration.
 Name and discuss briefly one example of Gothic sculpture that you have studied.

 Illustrate your answer.

The Christian church influenced the development of art and architecture during the Romanesque period. Discuss this statement making detailed reference to the structure, layout and decoration of one named church from the period.
 Name and discuss briefly one example of Romanesque sculpture that you have studied.

 Illustrate your answer.

Romanesque sculpture has decorative and narrative functions.
Discuss this statement in relation to two named examples of Romanesque sculpture you have studied.  Emphasise the treatment of the human figure in your answer
Name a Romanesque church you have studied and discuss briefly the relationship between its architecture and sculpture.
Illustrate your answer.

Answer (a) and (b)

(a) Describe and discuss the characteristics of Gothic sculpture and its relationship to the architecture of the period. Use specific examples.

(b) How does Gothic sculpture differ from the sculpture of the Romanesque period?
Use specific examples.

Illustrate your answer.

In Europe, crusades, pilgrimages and monasticism contributed to the development of Romanesque art and architecture. Discuss this statement, referring in your answer to two specific Romanesque churches and to the origins, development and characteristics of the Romanesque style.

Illustrate your answer.