In the art world, the medieval periods were traditionally though to be the unproductive phase of Europe between the decline of Rome and the Renaissance. Our modern feelings toward medieval art are far more appreciative. The main intent of Medieval art was to express Christianity which was also a common bond between a wide spread and diverse Europe. For this reason most of the art found from medieval times originated in monasteries and churches. European art during the Middle Ages can be divided into four periods. These four periods include Celto-Germanic art which ranged from 400 to 800 A.D. and was important in metal work. Carolingian art ranged from 750 to 987 A.D. overlapping 50 years of the Celto-Germanic period. The period of Romanesque art spanned mainly the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and was an important period for medieval architecture. Gothic art, the final period of the Middle Age art began in the Romanesque period around the twelfth century and went on until the sixteenth century. Artwork form these four periods all consist of distinct styles setting them apart from one another.
The earliest remains from the Celto-Germanic period consisted of mainly bronze workbracelets, armbands, broaches, swords, and purse covers. The styles in which samples are crafted involve geometric patterns which interweave different human and animal representations. This is the same style that sets the Celto-Germanic period apart from all others.
The paintings of the Celto-Germanic period, similar the metal work, involve many intricate spiral designs, interlaced with different shapes and animal figures. “They were colored with gum, glue or gelatin binders that were used on parchment” (Cleaver151). Used to illuminate scriptures, the paintings often depicted religious themes. Celto-Germanic architecture made extensive use of wood. Between 750 and 987 A.D. the Celto-Germanic style went through some changes and new styles evolved in different geographic locations. It was during this time the second period of medieval art began.
Architecture in the Carolingian period made good use of wood just as the Celto-Germanic period did. A major difference between the two was that Carolingian architects used stone only for important buildings such as churches and castles. Their buildings and plans for unfinished buildings show that a major factor in Carolingian architecture was length. This was both appealing to the eye and practical, leaving room for extra altars and separate entries.
The Carolingian style is of small dimensions. Most of this style pulls its influence from Byzantine artwork. “An explanation for the sudden change from Celto-Germanic styling can be attributed to the new minuscule form of writing, remarkable for its clarity and form” (Pioch). Metal work from this time period is rare although writings tell us that goldsmiths and enamel workers remained active.
The art of the Romanesque period was characterized by the revival of sculptures and fresco painting. These were common elements of architecture. Along with those architectural advancements the period produced frequent examples of realism as well as a heightened emphasis on emotion and fantasy. The crusades acted as a main contributor to this time period lending more religious and revolutionary imagery.
Examples of Romanesque sculpture are dated back to the last decade of the eleventh century and then first decades of the twelfth. “The primary source of artistic patronage was provided by the monastic institutions, for whom sculptors executed large relief carvings for the decoration of church portals and richly ornate capitals for cloisters” (Cleaver 156)
Another aspect of the Romanesque revival was the production of metalwork objects, of which many outstanding examples, such as crucifixes, reliquary shrines, and candlesticks, are still preserved in church treasuries. It was during this same period that central France became an extremely active center of metalwork production, specializing in enamelwork.
Fresco painting, a technique where murals are painted onto wet plaster on the ceilings of buildings was popularized during the Romanesque period. Manuscript illumination during this period seemed to become more relaxed. Although the works of art still proved to be amazing, detail became less intricate. The Romanesque period also produced many versions of the Bible, characterized by elaborate and highly inventive initial letters, on which the artists of this period lavished for rich ornamental display.
The fundamental character of the Gothic period was the predominance of architecture; all the other arts were determined by it. The character of the Gothic visual was one of immense liveliness. Gothic style was the dominant structural and aesthetic mode in Europe for a period of up to 400 years.
It is generally agreed that Gothic architecture made its initial appearance in the Ile-de-France, the royal domain of the Capetian kings. However, “the start of the style seems to build off of several generations of prior experimentation, mostly in Normandy” (Jacobsen). Although individual components in Gothic architecture, such as ribbed vaulting and the pointed arch, had been employed in Romanesque construction, they had not previously received such a focused and consistent application.
The gothic style is characterized by soaring spaces, this sets it apart from Romanesque style. Flying buttresses made it possible to reduce wall surfaces and let more light into buildings of the day. The Gothic period also made much use of stained glass windows in buildings other than churches where they were normally used. The wall surfaces were designed to have the appearance of large weightless curtains. This gave the buildings a spiritual and mysterious quality all of their own.
The Medieval time period was an important era for the growth of culture throughout the entire world. We owe many innovations used in design, architecture and overall style to the works of the many artists that flourished in the middle ages. Each of the four periods of development were unique to one another, yet followed an overlying religious theme that defined the medieval times. The advancements made during that time were able to influence to the 800 years of art that lead up to present day, and still remain visually and architecturally beautiful.
Cleaver, Dale G. ArtAn Introduction. New York: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1994.
Jacobsen, Aaron H. Art and Architecture of the Middle Ages. Barbarian Art of Christian Europe, Romanesque Art, Gothic Art. <http://www.midevil.com/book-of-knowledge/m/296.htm>
Pioch, Niclous. WebMuseum, Paris. 26 May 1996. International Gothic Style. 26 May 1996. <http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/tl/gothic/international.html>
Witcombe, Chris. Art History Resources on the Web. 24 October 1995. Art of the Middle Ages. 17 January 2002. <http://witcombe.sbc.edu/ARTHmedieval.html#Gothic>