Architectural Studies

Romanesque Architecture

In the early nineteenth century, antiquarians coined the term “Romanesque” to describe all medieval architecture that predated the Gothic style and that bore formal similarities to buildings from the bygone Roman Empire. Thus the category Romanesque could include buildings ranging from the 5th through the 12th centuries. While the term Romanesque has continued, scholars have considerably refined its meaning over time. The term is now seldom used as a blanket descriptor applied to European architecture stretching back to the fall of Rome. Instead it is generally limited to a much narrower time frame starting in the mid-eleventh century, when large-scale masonry construction and monumental sculptural practices returned around much of Europe.

Following several tumultuous centuries characterized by economic decline and the invasions of Vikings, Moors, Magyars and other groups, the eleventh century witnessed greater economic prosperity, a reinvigorated urban culture, the rise of the merchant and artisan classes, and increased trade and travel. This same period saw a marked rise in popularity of the pilgrimage routes around Europe, with Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain, becoming the preeminent destination in western Europe.



Though France, and specifically the region of Burgundy, has long been viewed as the principle hub for the spread of Romanesque architecture, later in the 19th century, scholars noted an earlier phase of Romanesque building, often in brick rather than stone, which was dubbed the “Lombard Romanesque.” Similarly, in the early 20th century, Spanish scholars coined the term “First Romanesque” to describe a cluster of early Romanesque churches in northeastern Spain, especially around northern Catalonia, dating from as early as the mid-10th century. There is no shared consensus regarding the primacy of France, Italy or Spain for the initial waves of Romanesque.




Link to essay on Romanesque art and architecture at the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (for the curious).


Romanesque Architecture Quiz


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