Contrast the focus of life in the early Early Medieval period with the focus during the Romanesque period. What factors sparked the increase in building of churches in Western Europe? What were the various roles of figurative art, both two-dimensional and sculptural, during the Romanesque period?

Sample Answer

The medieval period refers to the period between the fall of the Roman Empire and the renaissance period (400CE to 1400CE) (Boissonnade, 2013). Conversely, the Romanesque period was marked by medieval art derived from Roman architecture between 450CE to 1150CE. Romanesque architecture refers to specific architectural designs, minor arts and sculptures common across France, Italy, Spain and Germany during the 11th century (Jacki, 2019). The medieval era is mostly referred to as the Middle Ages by many scholars since it is flanked between two very significant epochs in European history (Lawrence, 2015). During this period, the fall of the Roman Empire led to the domination of the Greco-Roman cultures by Christian influences (Lawrence, 2015). Depictions of life during the medieval and Romanesque periods are marked by battles, knighthood, discoveries, church architecture, arts, and liaisons between royalty and commoners.

Life in the medieval period for instance revolved around the agrarian calendar. Most people spent their time on farming and other agricultural activities (Boissonnade, 2013). Sowing and reaping seasons were marked by church feasts and social activities were considered very important. Social activities comprised of acrobatic performances, trading, games, and tournaments (Boissonnade, 2013). After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Catholic Church became a very powerful institution with many rulers deriving their power from protecting the church and collaborating with the church (Lawrence, 2015). Ordinary citizens were expected to give 10 percent of their earnings as tithe to the church (Lawrence, 2015). The Catholic Church also authorized many military expeditions or crusaders who were to expel Muslims from Jerusalem (Lawrence, 2015). Moreover, many medieval people were superstitious but travelling merchants and crusaders came back to Europe with tales from Asia, Middle East and Africa where there was advanced knowledge in human body and the earth (Lawrence, 2015). The shift from the dark ages to the renaissance period was brought about by the establishment of schools and colleges across Western Europe hence the creation of renaissance art and learning through acquisition of scientific knowledge.

The Romanesque period was marked by architecture and arts hence the construction of many castles and churches in a distinctive style (Jacki, 2019). After the collapse of the Roman Empire, Romanesque architecture was the first style to spread across Europe. Romanesque Architecture is considered a continuation of Roman styles and the fusion of Roman Carolingian, Byzantine and Ottonian styles during the Romanesque period saw the expansion of monasticism (Jacki, 2019). Romanesque buildings were characterized by massive articulated walls, powerful vaults and round arches (Jacki, 2019). The Romanesque period saw the prosperity of European art since high quality art was not only confined to the royal court but continued movement and exposure led to the homogenization of building methods associated with the Romanesque style (Jacki, 2019). The era of early Christian art marked the epitomy of Romanesque style where richer and more grandiose styles characterized by massive scales were witnessed (Jacki, 2019).

During the medieval period many churches, grand cathedrals and ecclesiastical structures were built in major towns and cities. In Western Europe more churches were constructed because of the demand for larger churches which would accommodate priests, monks and pilgrims who wanted to view the relics of saints. Romanesque churches and cathedrals were solid and substantial (Jacki, 2019). The expansion of churches in Europe was also brought about by the crusaders’ military expeditions to free the holy land of Jerusalem from the grip of Muslims. The success of the crusaders in the acquisition of the Holy land led to the construction of new churches across Europe in Romanesque architecture (Jacki, 2019). Consequently, there was a huge demand for decorative religious art such as sculptures, stained glass and ecclesiastical metal works.

During the Romanesque period, figurative art included metalwork, sculptures, paintings, enamels, and ivories (Jacki, 2019). Metalwork, ivories and enamels were used to build shrines and were used to signify high status in the society (Jacki, 2019). Romanesque paintings depicted biblical events and the lives of saints (Jacki, 2019). Romanesque sculptures were pictorial and biblical. Romanesque sculptures depicted biblical teachings such as the fall of man, Jesus’ death and resurrection and the life of Christ. Sculptures were also symbols of worship


References
Boissonnade, P. (2013). Life and work in medieval Europe. Routledge.
Jacki Craven, (2019). Romanesque Architecture and Art. Retrieved online at https://www.thoughtco.com/romanesque-architecture-4134212
Lawrence, C. H. (2015). Medieval monasticism: forms of religious life in Western Europe in the Middle Ages. Routledge.

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