How to Understand Romanesque Art


Romanesque art, as a definitive style, emerged around the year 1000 and lasted until about 1150 in France, Italy, Britain and the German fiefdoms. The name literally means “in the style of the Roman.”


  1. Recognize that this was a period of huge physical migration. For the first time in history, people were making religious pilgrimages across vast distances, stopping in various cities along the way.
  2. Recognize that the Crusades began in 1095 with the intention of recapturing Jerusalem from its Jewish and Muslim dwellers. This led to increased trade between northern Europe and the Islamic world.
  3. Know that the Romanesque is most famous for its monasticism and illuminated manuscripts. Monks wrote out pages by hand, using and developing a script called Caroline miniscule – a precursor to the Roman alphabet we now use – and embellished the pages with gold and, less commonly, silver.
  4. Look at pictures and examples of Romanesque art and architecture. There are good examples on the Internet.
  5. Know that two things took place in wall painting and manuscript illumination: Forms became smoother and more fluent with a less aggressively patterned interpretation put on nature, and the interest in contemporary Byzantine art grew more intense. Both of these tendencies aimed at representing human actions and interactions with greater conviction and increased psychological power.
  6. Know that this period is characterized by the building of churches with vaulted ceilings of masonry. Mason vaulting was highly fire-retardant in an era when marauding hordes and competing feudal lords regularly sacked and destroyed churches and their communities.
  7. Notice that relief sculpture began to appear in art, particularly in churches and in pictures with religious themes.