Sunday, April 26, 2009

How does Romanesque art and architecture reflect the times?

When the first 1000 Christian calendar years failed to bring about the end of the world, there was a feeling of relief amongst the people; however, there still remained a looming fear that the world could end at any moment. I think this fear, along with the Christian hierarchy's desire to perpetuate the fear of Christ's imminent return to judge the world, is represented throughout the architecture and art of the time.

Large magnificent buildings were constructed with highly decorated doorways to attract pilgrims. These buildings appeared heavy and massive with thick walls and very low light. The buildings themselves may have given one the feeling of being judged which would have played well into the overall mindset of impending doom. Also, Christ is depicted as judge of the soul in relief sculptures on tympanums above the doors of these churches. These images served as a reminder to the visitors that upon entering the building they were being judged.

During Romanesque times, there was also a rise in pilgrimage for the purpose of viewing holy relics in the hopes that this would bring the pilgrim salvation or healing. The need to accommodate large groups of pilgrims necessitated the building of larger structures which also resulted in heavy looking and dark spaces. The west tympanum of Saint-Lazare depicts the last judgement and shows two men carrying bags with a cross and a shell on them. This has been interpreted to mean that those making the pilgrimage would be judged favorably, an idea that would surely have inspired many others to embark on a pilgrimage.

Overall it seems the function of the art was more important than depicting accurate proportions. This function was to instill the fear of God's ultimate judgement. The desire was to convey the message to the literate and illiterate alike, that Christ was coming and all would be judged.

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