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  • Romanesque Sculpture


    Romanesque stone sculpture


                         Romanesque Sculpture


    It is subordinate to architecture, which determines the places and spaces that must be covered with reliefs or statues, the porticoes of the entrance and in the capitals of the cloisters (place of religious retreat).

    The pilgrimage that took place using the shrine dedicated to St. James from the 8th century destined to paid tribute to this Saint in the Romanesque Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela; became the most renowned medieval pilgrimage and favors an increase in the production of sculpture. Under the Organization of the order known as “The order of Cluny”, were carried out in the places of passage constructions with the purpose of welcoming the pilgrims on their way to the Cathedral and also to display religious relics that contributed to exalt religious fervor.


    Cathedral of Santiago of CompostelaRomanesque Art


    An increase in the use of applied sculptures with exclusive religious thematic to architectural structures can be seen above the Northern Europe. These images are mostly carried out in wooden polychrome and in some cases covered with metals such as bronze or silver.

    Other sculptures carves in the stone to decorate specific spaces in this buildings are; as in the case of the paint very stylized, been a mere idealization of the reality. They have to serve as a religious propaganda vehicle efficiently and for that purpose a forced perspective to fix this figures in the space destined in the building is imperative.


    The figures scupture were adapted to the architecture spaces in Romanesque Art.


    The sculpture although not as outstanding as the Romanesque architecture, applied the same pre-established codes and artistic scheme to provide a clear and educative religious message about the sacred word. The sculpture and the architecture both used the Northern Roman elements.

    Were also seen in Romanesque style the presences of the Byzantines and Persians elements as well as some Arabs decorative characteristics. The Romanesque sculpture between the XI and XII centuries mimics artificial models establishing a particular routine of decoration.


    General Features of the Romanesque Sculpture


    • · Non-artistic didactic purpose; (Catechism and religious instruction).
    • · Stylization and disproportion of the figures (not portray of the natural proportions).
    • · Wrong perspective, illogical relationship between size of the figure with the depth of the background.
    • · In the reliefs, the size difference of the figures means the importance of character.
    • · Symmetrical composition; the scenes are made up, observing this principle of proportion.
    • · In the eardrums, composition always has the figure of Christ as the axis.
    • · Some rigidity of forms.
    • · There is lack of expression suitable in figures or sometimes this is very exaggerated.
    • · Forget the sculptural muzzle in the human form.
    • · Imposed symmetry in the folds of the cloths that resembles the Greek archaic period.
    • · Occurs a repetition and monotony in the elements of the scene being rendered.
    • · Stiffness and Coarseness can be seen in the execution of the work.
    • · They often adopt the theme of flora and represent it stylized.
    • · Represent fauna but sometimes as monstrous.
    • · The heads represent all at the same height in some figures of sets.
    • · Marked polychrome with vivid colors when they take place in materials that allowed it.


    Forced size and positions of figures in the capitals od the buildings in Romanesque Arquitecture.



    Among depictions of biblical scenes that are found in many of these Romanesque buildings sculptures are the one called “Bestiaries” as well as personifications of the signs of the zodiac. There is also a frequent use of peculiar diptychs of ivory, crucifixes made in both ivory and bronze and also statues in which it represents the Virgin Mary.


    Expression of adoration in the scupture humans figures in the Romanesque Art.


    Decoration of caskets for both jewelry and relic showed great mastery in the finish, careful detailed figures against the background manage to fix very well adapted to the shape of the container.


     Fundamental schools in the development of Romanesque sculptures that stand out:


    • Irish and Anglo-Saxon school. Since the 7th century. (Interlaced and calligraphic ornaments)Elongated figures.


    • German school. From the 9th century. With the momentum of Carlo Magnum. (Works of bronze and Byzantines classical tendency).


    • The Italian school. Since the end of the 11th century until the middle of the 12th century  (Italic-Byzantine)  than is guided by Constantinople models.                                                 (Bronze doors with relief in several cathedrals).


    • The French school. Since 12th century. With 6 outstanding schools:

    –          The Isle of France School.

    –          The School of Normandy.

    –          The school of Poitou and Saintonge.

    –          The Auvemia School.

    –          The School of Toulouse and Languedoc.

    –          The Provence and Burgundy School.


    As well as in the case of the Romanesque paint (that will be explained in a separated post) the use of the” Isocefalia” (disposal at the same height of the heads of a group of characters in a painting or a relief) is portrayed in numerous Romanesque sculptures to decorate capitals, walls, and porticos responding to the ecclesiastic propaganda and their standard codes of decorations pursuing to establish a hierarchy of the character represented.

    A derivation occurs in the representation of designs towards the 13th century that can be called as a transitional phase towards the Gothic period. Imitated in a certain way the reality of nature, permeating the sculptures with greater dynamism but in which the artist cannot be complete separated from previous codes of decoration. Some figures made almost as exempt sculptures are the prelude to the next and new period in with these elements of movement, details and perfection rich a high level of execution in some of the artistic work in the late period of the Romanesque sculpture and evolve in accentuated way if they are compared with some of the previous sculptures of the Romanesque period.


    Excempt sculptures in Romanesque Art


    The resulting amalgam of this transition produces very good works but others with no artistic value whatsoever even in the same region; since they are a mix between the old rigid style and the new pushing to establishes. In this transitive time some of the rigidity of the figures is loss as was mentioned before; as well as the symmetry and exaggeration of the straight and vertical line; gaining in delicacy and realistic movement. Some new decorative elements in this Romanesque sculptures such as the use of abundant narrow tiny folds in the clothing are incorporate that were not used before with such detail.


    Romanesque to Gothic scupture transition 0



  • Byzantine Sculpture


    Byzantine sarcophages


    Byzantine sculpture in the early days.


    The Byzantine sculpture In the early days is more an extensions of the Hellenistic art, were portraits of great impacting aesthetics drama were produced. Sculpture underwent changes very similar to those in architecture; were several good examples of secular architecture survive from that period. Among them are vestiges of an atrium in the Great Palace of Constantinople. This building was decorated with an splendid mosaic plant, containing in it sculptures representation, worthit example of the empire wonder’s.

    In sculpture the forms are still basically representational, but they are treated in an abstract manner what give us an indication on how the symbolic character of the art becomes gradually more important; over even its expression and aesthetic, responding to the new theology and ecclesiastical power. 

    For instance the three-dimensional representational sculpture forms they inherited from the hellenistic period in the early days of the long Byzantine period progressively were reduced, until they vaguely used them in subsequent stages.



    Byzantine Diptychs



    Previous to the iconoclastic period themes were more related to religious themes. Representation of sacred figures and saints were prolific also in sculpture as they were used elsewhere in art such as painting and mosaic, although we also see more everyday themes and motifs from nature that were still reminiscence from the Hellenistic influence. Many represent animals loaded with symbolism, Christian, Dove, deer, peafowl, or acrostics signs (form of writing in which taking the first letter; syllable or Word of different lines and putting them together it can be read a message) these contained a great theological significance.

    During the Iconoclastic struggle sculpture representations are forced to completely abandon sacred images representations, instead the naturalistic themes rich predominance. The struggle between iconódulos (in favor of images representation) and iconoclasm (opponents of the images) resulted in the year 754 all art; based on religious images were banned in the Eastern Church.

    They try to put an end to the religious images representation to avoid idolatry and the cult to the images therefore was banned. The exempt  sculpture lost importance and was reduced to the Arts under the ivory, enamel, bronze and gold materials; in with they work the bas-relief with great skill. The topics represented during the iconoclastic period persecution were the geometric, astral and animals figures, with uneven and concave moldings (estrigilos).









    Sculpture after the Iconoclastic struggle.


    After the Iconoclastic period important Byzantine sculpture are the one of small sizes; such as the diptychs and boxes, carved in ivory which was used for the realization of objects of luxury and religious use. This type of exuberant and luxurious objects were preferred  mostly by the elites of Constantinople and to supply with those specifically, was necessary brought them from distant places such as Egypt and India.

    The elaboration of those art pieces in ivory; does not require a complex structure such as workshops and numerous people, is rather a handmade work made with extreme careful. Some have very intricate and elaborated work; to which sometime gold and silver elements were added to highlight some aspect of the scenes or figures, but also this metals were used in to the frame support. In the images above and below can be appreciate the spectaculars results. 

    This very detailed oriented trade, elaborate by the artisan himself and perhaps some other assistant in training; since this type of trades knowledge was pass in that kind of fashion, have a high demand at that time. Their results were of incomparable beauty and exquisiteness accessible only to the wealthy hierarchies and the principal client of course was the Church.


    This Art work are of incomparable beauty and exquisiteness accessible only to the wealthy hierarchies


    After the culmination of this iconoclastic period there is a return to the worship of images, but not to return to idolatry and under the influence of the new Islamic currents; the human figures representations disappears  from  the exempt sculpture representation to avoid the predecessor idolatry ever to take place again.

    The most outstanding works are the ornaments of the capitals with vegetal motifs competing with animals figures such as those of San Vitale of Ravenna,  or the sarcophagi with themes as the good Shepherd.




    Sculpture representation  in Sarcophagus in the Byzantine art.


    In sculpture, the best sample of the Byzantine art can be found located in the reliefs of the sarcophagus. Subsequent to the year 313 the figurative items, inspired by the Roman models are the most common, on the fronts of the sarcophagi appear reliefs, which initially only follow classical aesthetics. One mainly example is “The sarcophagus of Probes”.

    Subsequently representation turns to be with more flat designs and figures, generally in the same sizes. These were placed in those spaces in which the structure of arches give unit to the scene.


    The better examples of sculptures in this period related their thematics around religious representation of well known passages from the bible, applying them to the decoration of the sarcophagus. As examples those tematics were:

    The life of Christ.

    Scenes from the Old Testament (Daniel and the Lions)

    The sacrifice of Abraham.

    – Adam and Eve.



    Most important sarcophagi representation in Byzantine art.

    The Junious Basso (Vatican)



    The junius Bassus Sarcophagus.


    The Dogmatic or the Trinity. (Museum Lateran)


    Dogmatic of the Trinity Sarcophagus. Byzantine period.
    Dogmatic of the Trinity Sarcophagus. Byzantine period.

    You can also see the version in spanish of this post in http://www.historiadelarteen.com

    The part corresponding to Byzantine architecture, painting, glass making and mosaic are explained each in separate posts to better understand those tematics. You will find them in the archives of the blog or in the right column by categories.