METALWORK AND PAINTING
Unlike architecture and sculpture, Romanesque painting shows no sudden
revolutionary developments that set it apart immediately from
Carolingian or Ottonian. Nor does it look more "Roman" than Carolingian
or Ottonian painting. This does not mean, however, that in the eleventh
and twelfth centuries painting was any less important than it had been
during the earlier Middle Ages. It merely emphasizes the greater
continuity of the pictorial tradition, especially in manuscript
GOSPEL BOOK, CORBIE.
Nevertheless, soon after the year 1000 we find the
beginnings of a painting style that corresponds to—and often
anticipates—the monumental qualities of Romanesque sculpture. The new
attitude is clearly evident in the St. Mark (fig. 434), from a Gospel
Book probably done toward 1050 at the monastery of Corbie in northern
France. The twisting and turning movement of the lines, which pervades
not only the figure of the evangelist but the winged lion, the scroll,
and the curtain, recalls Carolingian miniatures of the Reims School such
as the Ebbo Gospels (see fig. 388).
This very resemblance helps us see
the differences between the two works. In the Corbie manuscript, every
trace of classical illusionism has disappeared. The fluid modeling of
the Reims School, with its suggestion of light and space, has been
replaced by firmly drawn contours filled in with bright, solid colors,
so that the three-dimensional aspects of the picture are reduced to
overlapped planes. Even Ottoman painting (see figs. 398 and 399) seems
illusionistic in comparison. Yet by sacrificing the last remnants of
modeling in terms of light and shade, the Romanesque artist has endowed
his work with an abstract clarity and precision that had not been
possible in Carolingian or Ottonian times. Only now can we truly say
representational, the symbolic, and the decorative elements of the
design are knit together into a single, unified structure.
This style of rhythmic lines and planes eschews all effects that might
be termed specifically pictorial, including not only tonal values but
the rendering of textures and highlights such as we still find in
Ottonian painting. For that very reason, however, it gains a new
universality of scale. The evangelists of the Ebbo Gospels, the drawings
of the Utrecht Psalter, and the miniatures in the Gospel Book, of Otto
III are made up of open, spontaneous flicks and dashes of brush or pen
that have an intimate, handwritten flavor. They would certainly look
strange if copied on a larger scale or in another medium. The Corbie
miniature, on the contrary, might be translated into a mural, a
stained-glass window, a tapestry, or a relief panel without losing any
of its essential qualities.
434. St. Mark, from a Gospel
Book produced at Corbie, ñ. 1050.
Bibliotheque Municipale, Amiens
"Propaganda on cloth"
435. The Battle of Hastings.
Detail of the Bayeux Tapestry.
1073-83. Wool embroidery on linen,
height 20" (50.7
Centre Guillaume le Conquerant, Bayeux, France
This monumentality is much the same as in the Vezelay
tympanum (fig. 427), where similar pleated drapery patterns are rendered
in sculptural terms. It is found again in the so-called Bayeux Tapestry,
an embroidered frieze 230 feet long illustrating William the Conqueror's
invasion of England. In our detail (fig. 435), portraying the Battle of
Hastings, the designer has integrated narrative and ornament with
consummate ease. The main scene is enclosed by two border strips that
perform a framing function. The upper tier with birds and animals is
purely decorative but the lower strip is full of dead warriors and
horses and thus forms part of the story. Devoid of nearly all the
pictorial refinements of classical painting (see fig. 220), it
nevertheless manages to give us an astonishingly vivid and detailed
account of warfare in the eleventh century. The massed discipline of the
Graeco-Roman scene is gone, but this is due not so much to the artist's
ineptitude at foreshortening and overlapping as to a new kind of
individualism that makes of each combatant a potential hero, whether by
dint of force or cunning. (Observe how the soldier who has fallen from
the horse that is somersaulting with its hind legs in the air is, in
turn, toppling his adversary by yanking at the saddle girth of his
mount.) The stylistic kinship with the Corbie manuscript is apparent in
the lively somersaults of the falling horses, so strikingly like the
pose of the lion in the miniature.
Firm outlines and a strong sense of pattern are
equally characteristic of Romanesque wall painting. The Building of the
Tower of Babel (fig. 436) is taken from the most impressive surviving
cycle, on the nave vault of the church at St.-Savin-sur-Gartempe
(compare fig. 405). It is an intensely dramatic design, crowded with
strenuous action. The Lord Himself, on the far left, participates
directly in the narrative as He addresses the builders of the colossal
structure. He is counterbalanced, on the right, by the giant Nim-rod,
the leader of the enterprise, who frantically hands blocks of stone to
the masons atop the tower, so that the entire scene becomes a great test
of strength between God and man. The heavy dark contours and the
emphatic play of gestures make the composition eminently readable from a
distance. Yet, as we shall see, the same qualities occur in the
illuminated manuscripts of the region, which can be equally monumental
despite their small scale.
436. The Building of the Tower of
Detail of painting on the nave vault, St.-Savin-sur-Gartempe.
Early 12th century
Where did the idea come from to cover such a vast area with murals?
Surely not from France itself, which had no tradition of monumental
painting, but from Byzantium, where it was practiced during the Second
Golden Age (see fig. 347)—probably by way of Italy, which had strong
ties to the East. Toward the end of the eleventh
century, Greek artists decorated the newly constructed basilican church
of the Benedictine monastery at Montecassino with mosaics at the
invitation of Abbot Desiderius (later Pope Victor III). Although they no
longer survive, their impact can be seen in the frescoes painted a short
time later in the church of S. Angelo in Formis near Capua, also built
by Desiderius. The Arrest of Christ, along the nave (fig. 437), is a
counterpart to the mosaics and murals that line the arcades of Early
Christian basilicas, whose splendor Desiderius sought to recapture
(compare fig. 302). The painting shows its Byzantine heritage, but it
has been adapted to Fatin liturgical requirements and taste. What it
lacks in sophistication this monumental style more than makes up for in
expressive power. That very quality appealed to Western artists, as it
was in keeping with the vigorous art that emerged at the same time in
the Bayeux Tapestry.
437. The Arrest of Christ,
ñ. 1085. Fresco. S.
Angelo in Formis, Capua
By the middle of the twelfth century Byzantine influences were in
evidence everywhere, from Italy and Spain in the south to France,
Germany, and England in the north. How were they disseminated? The
principal conduit was most likely the Benedictine order, then at the
height of its power. A Byzantine style must have been an important
feature of the decorations in the abbey church at Cluny, the seat of
Benedictine monasticism in France and the largest one ever built in
Romanesque Europe. Unfortunately, the great church was almost completely
destroyed after the French Revolution, but the Cluniac style is echoed in
the early twelfth-century frescoes at nearby Berze-la-Ville; these have
distinct Byzantine overtones that relate them directly to the paintings
at S. Angelo in Formis.
The Channel Region
While Romanesque painting, like architecture and sculpture, developed a
wide variety of regional styles throughout western Europe, its greatest
achievements emerged from the monastic scriptoria of northern France,
Belgium, and southern England. The works from this area are so closely
related in style that it is impossible at times to be sure on which side
of the English Channel a given manuscript was produced.
GOSPEL BOOK OF ABBOT WEDRICUS.
Thus the style of the wonderful miniature
of St. John (fig. 438) has been linked with both Cambrai and Canterbury.
Here the abstract linear draftsmanship of the Corbie manuscript (fig.
434) has been influenced by Byzantine style (note the ropelike loops of
drapery, whose origin can be traced back to such works as the ivory leaf
in fig. 317), but without losing its energetic rhythm. It is the
precisely controlled dynamics of every contour, both in the main figure
and in the frame, that unite the varied elements of the composition into
a coherent whole. This quality of line still betrays its ultimate
source, the Celtic-Germanic heritage. If we compare our miniature with
one from the Lindisfarne Gospels (fig. 373), we see how
much the interlacing patterns of the Dark Ages have contributed to the
design of the St. John page. The drapery folds and the clusters of
floral ornament have an impulsive yet disciplined aliveness that echoes
the intertwined snakelike monsters of the animal style, even though the
foliage is derived from the classical acanthus and the human figures are
based on Carolingian and Byzantine models. The unity of the entire page,
however, is conveyed not only by the forms but by the content as well.
The evangelist "inhabits" the frame in such a way that we could not
remove him from it without cutting off his ink supply (offered by the
donor of the manuscript, Abbot Wedricus), his source of inspiration (the
dove of the Holy Spirit in the hand of God), or his identifying symbol
(the eagle). The other medallions, less directly linked with the main
figure, show scenes from the life of St. John.
PORTRAIT OF A PHYSICIAN.
Soon after the middle of the twelfth century,
however, an important change began to make itself felt in Romanesque
manuscript painting on either side of the English Channel. The Portrait
of a Physician (fig. 439), from a medical manuscript of about 1160, is
surprisingly different from the St. John miniature, although it was
produced in the same region. Instead of abstract patterns, we suddenly
lind lines ihat have regained the ability to describe three-dimensional
shapes. The drapery folds no longer lead an ornamental lile of their own
but suggest the rounded volume of the body underneath. There is even a
renewed interest in foreshortening. At last, then, we see an
appreciation for the achievements of antiquity missing in the murals at
S. Angelo in Formis, as it is in those at St.-Savin-sur-Gartempe. Here
again, the lead was taken by Cluny, which was an important center of
manuscript production. This style, too, stemmed from Byzantine art,
which saw a revival of classicism during the Second Golden Age, but it
was perhaps transmitted through Germany where, as we have seen,
Byzantine elements had long been present in manuscript painting (compare
figs. 386 and 398). The physician, seated in the pose of Christ as
philosopher (compare fig. 315), will remind us of David from the
Psalter (see fig. 340), but he has been utterly transformed. The sharp,
deliberate lines look as if they had been engraved in metal, rather than
drawn with pen or brush. Thus our miniature is the pictorial counterpart
of the classicism we saw earlier in the baptismal font of Renier of Huy
at Liege (see fig. 431). In fact, it was probably done at Liege, too.
438. St. John the Evangelist,
from the Gospel Book of Abbot Wedncus.
Shortly before 1147.
Societe Archeologique et Historique, Avesnes-sur-Helpe, France
439. Portrait of a Physician,
from a medical treatise, ñ. 1160.
British Museum. London
NICHOLAS OF VERDUN.
Nicholas Of Verdun
Nicholas Of Verdun, (flourished c. 1150–1210, Flanders), the
greatest enamelist and goldsmith of his day and an important
figure in the transition from late Romanesque to early
Gothic style. He was an itinerant craftsman who travelled to
the site of his commission; therefore most of what is known
of his life is inferred from his works.
The altarpiece (1181) of
the Abbey Church of Klosterneuburg, Austria, is his best
known work and reveals his absolute mastery of metalworking
and the technique of champlevé enamelling, in which
compartments hollowed out from a metal base are filled with
vitreous enamel. The program of scenes on the altar is the
most ambitious of its kind in the 12th century and is often
considered the most important surviving medieval enamel
work. The earlier scenes are done in a mature Romanesque
style, but later scenes become progressively more bold and
The reliquary (1205) of SS.
Piatus and Nicasius in the Cathedral of Tournai, Belgium,
subordinates enamel work to beaten metalwork. Though
much-damaged by restoration, it remains a masterful work of
early Gothic sculpture, with its slender figures and supple
The Shrine of the Three
Kings in the treasury of Cologne Cathedral is the most
important of the Cologne reliquaries attributed to Nicholas.
Much of the reliquary is the work of assistants, but the
general design and the figures of the prophets are by
Nicholas. Powerful and expressive, the prophets have been
called the most important metal sculptures of the late 12th
century. Two reliquaries attributed to Nicholas, the shrines
of St. Anne in Siegburg and of St. Albanus in Saint-Pantaleon,
Cologne, have suffered so much by restoration that they no
longer reveal the hand of Nicholas except in the overall
Nicholas Of Verdun.
Shrine of the Three Kings at Cologne Cathedral
That a new way of painting should have originated in
metalwork is perhaps less strange than it might seem at first, for the
style's essential qualities are sculptural rather than pictorial.
Moreover, metalwork (which includes not only cast or embossed sculpture
but also engraving, enameling, and goldsmithing) had been a highly
developed art in the Meuse Valley area since Carolingian times. Its
greatest practitioner after Renier of Huy was Nicholas of Verdun, in
whose work the classicizing, three-dimensional style of draftsmanship
reaches full maturity.
The Klosterneuburg Altar, which he completed in 1181, consists of
numerous engraved and enameled plaques originally in the form of a
pulpit but later rearranged as a triptych (fig. 440, fig. 441).
440. NICHOLAS OF VERDUN.
Klosterneuburg Altar. 1181.
Gold and enamel, height ñ. 28"
(71.1 cm). Klosterneuburg Abbey, Austria
Laid out side by
side like a series of manuscript illuminations from the Old and New
Testaments to form a complex program, they have a sumptuousness that
recalls, on a miniature scale, the glittering play of light across
mosaics (compare fig. 342). Our detail of The Crossing of the Red Sea clearly belongs to the same tradition as the Liege miniature,
but the figures, clothed in rippling, "wet" draperies familiar to us
from countless classical statues, have achieved so high a degree of
organic body structure and freedom of movement that we tend to think of
them as harbingers of Gothic art rather than as the final phase of the
Romanesque. Whatever we choose to call it, the style of the
Klosterneuburg Altar was to have a profound impact upon both painting
and sculpture during the next 50 years (see figs. 488 and 489).
Equally revolutionary is a new expressiveness that unites all the
figures, and even the little dog perched on the bag carried by one of
the men, through the exchange of glances and gestures within the tightly
knit composition. Not since late Roman times have we seen such
concentrated drama, though its intensity is uniquely medieval. The
astonishing humanity of Nicholas of Verdun's art must be understood
against the background of a general reawakening of interest in man and
the natural world throughout northwestern Europe. This attitude could
express itself in various ways: as a new regard for classical literature
and mythology, an appreciation of the beauty of ancient works of art, or
simply as a greater readiness to acknowledge the enjoyment of sensuous
441. NICHOLAS OF VERDUN.
King Solomon and the Queen of
Baptism of Christ
The Adoration of the Magi
The Resurrection of Christ
Twelve Beasts of the Apocalypse