- The Romanesque style, named for the classical Roman features that characterize it, dates to the 11th and 12th centuries and features a thriving artistic culture. Medieval monastic communities enjoyed a continued growth, and towns often grew up around these religious centers because they provided goods and services as well as a degree of political stability. Cities also became more important than in the early years of the Middle Ages, although most people still lived primarily in agricultural communities spread across the continent. This agrarian culture was the central feature of the feudal era, when landowners living in fortified castle compounds offered some stability and protection to the local people in exchange for a certain percentage of the goods produced on their land. In addition to the landowners, who increased their authority either through marriage alliances or by battle, the clergy maintained authority mainly in the urban communities. The Holy Roman Empire then contributed an additional layer of aristocratic authority to this mix, and while sometimes these leaders forged a unified power structure, more often than not they vied for an increase in their own power.Because of this increasingly complex political environment that was not yet fully codified, fortified castles came to symbolize Romanesque culture. Medieval castles line the countryside of Europe today, and while some are small, abandoned, and crumbling structures, others have been rebuilt or remain well preserved. Nonetheless, all types of castles have stirred the imagination of many people who romanticize this era, known for its chivalric codes and ideas on courtly love. The Romanesque castle, as the seat of both aristocratic life and military life, was often the scene of great battles. Castles grew out of Frankish military structures adapted for use by the Normans, who first built castles from wood, and only later began to construct larger compounds from stone. Initially, castles were of the quickly built mound-and-bailey type, which featured a round ditch dug out to create a moat. The loose earth was then piled into the center of the ditch and used to create a wall for a tower, which was then surrounded by a wood wall called a palisade. This structure was adjacent to the outer courtyard, called the bailey, in which the garrison and livestock were located. Masonry castles became popular during the Crusades, as Christian soldiers were able to see firsthand some of the massive stone Byzantine castles of eastern Europe.The Krak des Chevaliers, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is located in Syria along the border with Lebanon and is perhaps the best preserved Crusader castle in the world. A smaller, fortified stone structure had initially been built on this site by the Emir of Aleppo in 1031, which was captured during the First Crusade of 1099. It was then used over the years by the Crusaders and given to the Knights Hospitaller, who oversaw a dramatic expansion of the fortifications. During the Ninth Crusade of 1272, King Edward I of England stayed there and, greatly impressed by its architecture, was inspired to construct similar castles in England and Wales. The Krak des Chevaliers features a massive exterior of thick masonry built up on a hill. The wall has a walkway on top of it and towers located at various intervals around its circumference. This wall is then separated from a taller inner wall built up on an earth and rock mound, called a rampart, which forms the castle. A moat and drawbridge allow access to the castle. In the later Gothic era, the Hospitallers added internal courtyards and halls. The interior decoration of the Krak des Chevaliers makes it one of the best-preserved castle interiors in the world.It was this castle type that became the most popular across western Europe, as seen in England's Tower of London and Italy's Castel del Monte. The former is a massive square crenellated castle built by William the Conqueror beginning in 1078 to house the aristocracy, the treasury, the garrison, and the prison of London. The concentric Castel del Monte in the southern Italian region of Puglia was built by Frederick II in 1240 to defend his provincial territories. Durham Castle in England is an important example of Norman Romanesque architecture. While the medieval castle was supplanted in the Renaissance by the urban palace and then the rural villa, these massive structures continued to be inhabited and remain very architecturally important today.The highly fortified appearance of the castle, symbolizing the need for greater political stability, was mitigated by an increasingly prosperous, flourishing culture that witnessed the construction of many other types of buildings. The launching of the Crusades at the end of the 11th century and the increase in travel for military purposes, to establish new trade routes, and for pilgrimages, provided ample motivation for the construction of many other forms of monumental architecture, including beautiful cathedrals and great civic buildings. This growth in architectural construction aided in the establishment of a vibrant market for building materials and a large work force of manual laborers who more and more often were not tied to the land for their survival. Increasingly, stone replaced timber across Europe as a more durable and stronger material that allowed for larger structures, resisted fire, and recalled the buildings of Ancient Rome. Thus, a head master, or capomaestro, was typically trained as a stone-mason. He created the layout and design for a building based upon the needs of the patron, and he directed a team of stonemasons who constructed the building. Construction required careful on-site super-vision and was probably based on wooden building models, as paper was still too rare and expensive in Europe at this time to be used for extensive sketches of designs and for measurements. Stone blocks were individually carved and fitted together to create sophisticated structures with arches, vaults, and complex programs of architectural sculpture.Churches were the most sophisticated of Romanesque structures, and typically consisted of basilica-plan buildings with beautifully decorated façades, tall flanking bell towers, wide projecting transepts, and elevated sanctuaries, often with ambulatories and with larger and larger windows that allowed more light into the interiors. The space where the nave and the transepts, or side arms, meet is called the crossing, which increasingly was used as the basic unit of measure for the entire church, with geometry organizing the interior. The taller nave ceilings necessitated a more sophisticated support system than was traditionally found in early medieval structures, and so brick and stone barrel vaults and cross vaults with semicircular ribs became more common as time went on.The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, built from 1078 to 1122, is an important early Romanesque structure that exhibits these features. Built to accommodate the larger crowds that visited such pilgrimage churches, Santiago also has additional chapels running around its eastern side to house an increase in liturgical objects, works of art, and relics. After entering through the elaborately carved portal at Santiago, the viewer faces a tall two-story nave with compounded piers running down the nave arcade. The compounded pier, a Romanesque invention, consists of a cluster of half-columns joined together to create a stronger structure than an individual column. This greater strength allowed Romanesque builders to construct taller ceilings. At Santiago, the ceiling consists of a barrel vault separated into bay units by rounded masonry ribs. One set of engaged columns within the compounded pier then rises through the nave wall to meet the ribs, thereby dividing the wall very visibly into its bay units. Each of these bay units has a two-part arched window in the upper gallery from which light is filtered into the nave. More light enters via windows at the high altar and in the octagonal lantern that rises up over the crossing. The more sculptural effect achieved by the piers also provides a greater structural clarity to the church interior, a hallmark of Romanesque architecture. The lower side aisles are covered with groin vaults, which also help to disperse the weight of the nave roof into the outer walls.Another Romanesque church of interest is Saint-Étienne in Caen, France, begun in 1060. Established by William, the Duke of Normandy, at the time of his conquest of England, this church features a tall façade flanked by some of the tallest towers of the era of Romanesque art. Because of this great height, external wall piers called buttresses are attached to the façade, creating a three-part division to the front that helps support the structure. The façade also rises up into three stories, and the center of the façade is articulated with a row of three windows in the two registers above the entrance, providing an overall unity to the exterior of the building. On the inside, the nave arcade features compounded piers that divide the nave into bay units, and a gallery above the arcade from which a sexpartite vault system springs. This vaulting, dating to the later 12th century, is characterized by bay units of three ribs each that intersect in the middle to form six parts, thus forming the most sophisticated structural system to date.During this era, architectural sculpture became more complex. It was centered at the portals of the church where all visitors would pass from the physical world into the "house of God." The Romanesque church portal typically consists of a pair of wooden doors surrounded by an elaborately carved rounded arch that rises above the basic post-and-lintel framing of the doorway. A pier is located between the two doors, which is sometimes intricately carved and called a trumeau. Flanking the doors is a series of engaged columns called jamb columns, and above the lintel is a round arch called a tympanum. Surrounding the tympanum are several rows of square carved stones called voussoirs, which form several semicircular layers called archivolts. A good example of this architectural sculpture can be found on the west portal of the Cathedral of Saint-Lazare in Autun, France, from around 1130. It features a scene of the Last Judgment in the tympanum.Although the Romanesque style originated mainly in Germany, France, and England, it spread across Europe, and examples in Italy include the Church of Sant'Ambrogio in Milan, begun in 1080, and the unique Pisa Cathedral Complex, begun in 1063.
Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts. Allison Lee Palmer. 2008.
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