Painting and sculpture of the Middle Ages in Europe and parts of the Middle East, dating roughly from the 3rd century to the emergence of the Renaissance in Italy in the 1400s. This includes early Christian, Byzantine, Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, and Carolingian art. The Romanesque style was the first truly international style of medieval times, superseded by Gothic in the late 12th century. Religious sculpture, frescoes, and manuscript illumination proliferated; panel painting was introduced only towards the end of the Middle Ages.
Early Christian art
(4th5th centuries AD
) In AD
313 Constantine the Great formally recognized Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire. In response, churches were built and commissioned art took on the subject matter of the Christian saints and symbols. Roman burial chests (sarcophagi
) were adopted by the Christians and the imagery of pagan myths gradually gave way to biblical themes.
(4th15th centuries) Byzantine
art developed in the Eastern Roman Empire, centred on Byzantium (renamed Constantinople in 330; Istanbul from 1453).
The use of mosaic associated with Byzantine art also appears in church decoration in the West. In Ravenna, for example, churches of the 5th and 6th centuries present powerful religious images on walls and vaults in brilliant, glittering colour and a bold, linear style. The Byzantine style continued for many centuries in icon
painting in Greece and Russia.
Celtic and Anglo-Saxon art
(4th9th centuries) Stemming from the period when southern Europe was overrun by Germanic tribes from the north, this early medieval art consists mainly of portable objects, such as articles for personal use or adornment. Among the invading tribes, the Anglo-Saxons, particularly those who settled in the British Isles, excelled in metalwork and jewellery, often in gold with garnet or enamel inlays, ornamented with highly stylized, plant-based interlaced patterns with animal motifs. The ornament of Celtic art
and Anglo-Saxon art
was translated into stone-carving, from simple engraved monoliths to elaborate sculpted crosses, as well as the illuminated manuscripts produced in Christian monasteries, such as the decorated pages of the Northumbrian 7th-century Lindisfarne Gospels
(British Museum, London) or the Celtic 8th-century Book of Kells (Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland). Illumination usually included a large, decorated initial to mark the opening of a gospel or passage, sometimes with an elaborate facing or carpet page.
(late 8thearly 9th centuries) Carolingian art centred around manuscript painting, which flourished in Charlemagne's empire, drawing its inspiration from the late classical artistic traditions of the early Christian, Byzantine, and Anglo-Saxon styles. Several monasteries produced richly illustrated prayer books and biblical texts. Carved ivories and delicate metalwork, especially for book covers, were also produced.
Romanesque or Norman art
(10th12th centuries) This is chiefly evident in church architecture and church sculpture, on capitals and portals, and in manuscript illumination. Romanesque art was typified by the rounded arch, and combined naturalistic elements with the fantastic, poetical, and pattern-loving Celtic and Germanic traditions. Imaginary beasts and medieval warriors mingle with biblical themes. Fine examples remain throughout Europe, from northern Spain and Italy to France, the Germanic lands of the Holy Roman Empire, England, and Scandinavia, although in Italy, the classical influence remained strong.
(12th15th centuries) Gothic art
developed as large cathedrals were built in Europe. Sculptural decoration in stone became more monumental, and stained glass filled the tall windows, as at Chartres Cathedral, France. Figures were also carved in wood. Court patronage produced exquisite small ivories, goldsmiths' work, devotional books illustrated with miniatures, and tapestries depicting romantic tales. Panel painting, initially on a gold background, evolved in northern Europe into the more realistic International Gothic
style. In Italy fresco painting made great advances; a seminal figure in this development was the artist Giotto
di Bondone, whose work is seen as proto-Renaissance.
© RM 2013. Helicon Publishing is division of RM.