Visual Arts Directory
Visual Arts - Review Directory

The cultural and artistic activity of the eleventh and twelfth century had the expansion of monasticism as it's main force behind the exceptional. They had founded new orders, such as the Cistercian, Cluniac, and Carthusian, and monasteries were established throughout Europe. Writing in the early eleventh century, the Burgundian historian Radulfus Glaber described a "white mantle of churches" rising over "all the earth." Stimulated by economic prosperity, relative political stability, and an increase in population, this building boom continued over the next two centuries. Stone churches of hitherto unknown proportions were erected to accommodate ever-larger numbers of priests and monks, and the growing crowds of pilgrims who came to worship the relics of the saints. Adapting the plan of the Roman basilica with a nave, lateral aisles, and apse, these churches typically have a transept crossing the nave, and churches on the pilgrimage road included an ambulatory and a series of radiating chapels for several priests to say Mass as one.

Since the fall of the Roman empire, the monumental structure covered church facades, doorways, and capitals. Monumental doors, baptismal fonts, and candle holders, frequently decorated with scenes from biblical history, were cast in bronze, affirming to the accomplishments of metalworkers. Frescoes were applied to the vaults and walls of churches. Rich textiles and precious objects in gold and silver, such as chalices and reliquaries, were produced in increasing numbers to meet the needs of the liturgy and the cult of the saints. The new monasteries became repositories of knowledge: in addition to the Bible, the liturgical texts, and the writings of the Latin and Greek Church Fathers, their scriptural copied the works of classical philosophers and theoreticians, as well as Latin translations of Arabic treatises on mathematics and medicine. Glowing illuminations often decorated the pages of these books and the most important among them were adorned with luxurious bindings.

The study of medieval art began in earnest in the decades following the iconoclasm of the French Revolution. Art historians in the early nineteenth century, following the natural sciences in an effort to classify their field of inquiry, coined the term "Romanesque" to encompass the western European artistic production, especially architecture, of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The term is both useful and misleading. Clearly, medieval sculptors and architects of southern France and Spain had firsthand knowledge of the many Roman monuments in the region. The twelfth-century capitals from the cloister of Saint Guilhem, for example, adopt the acanthus-leaf motif and decorative use of the drill holes found on Roman monuments. The contemporary niche from Fuentidueņa uses the barrel vault familiar from Roman architecture.