Medieval Society & Thought | Romanesque Sculpture | Architecture Romanesque to Gothic | Bibliography

Romanesque Sculpture

After the fall of the Roman Empire, large stone sculptures disappeared for a long time. Some wooden sculptures were around in the proto-Romanesque period, and works like the Gero Crucifix became the first version of what was to become a very popular theme. The sculpture at this time, especially early in the period would have been used mostly in decoration of architecture. Low-relief carvings on doors and walls were very common. Figures are often not very realistic; like stained glass and illuminated manuscripts, the figures are recognizable as humans but are extremely symbolic. Size and position was However, because they are 3-dimensional, they appear more realistic than equally stylized paintings. This art was often used to convey stories or send a message. For instance, a series of carved capitals could tell stories by showing characters or scenes. This makes sense, as this art form rose along pilgrimage routes. Often illiterate pilgrims, off to view various relics would be interested in visiting churches which housed these relics and would also be interested in the religious tales explained on the walls and windows. Certain scenes appear over and over, such as the Arrest of Christ and the Last Judgement. It became more and more popular as churches continued to spring up especially in the South of France. Churches would be very thouroughly decorated: inside walls, outside walls, jambs, the trumeau and niches would all be carved but perhaps most important were the carved tympanums over the large entry portals. This area was perfect for carving as it was not load bearing and was clearly visible. Not only would a scene, such as the Last Judgement be present, often decoration would be carved in bands around it. These sculptures were often preferable to painting as they had a much longer life, and thus could spread their message for a longer period of time.
The carved west tympanum of Autun Cathedral depicting the Last JudgementSculptures at this time were considered more tradespeople than artists and work is usually unsigned. However, the work of one Gislebertus is signed, and his style is quite distinctive. He is responsible for much of the decoration of the Cathedral of Saint Lazare at Autun, France and this is his best known work. His Last Judgement which adorns the West Tympanum is not only detailed and skilled, but expressive and frightening. It is on this work that his signature was carved: 'Gislebertus hoc fecit' meaning 'Gislebertus made this'. Demons claw at the scales and waiting souls, and disembodied hands lift the damned by the neck. His carving of Eve was one of the first large nudes to appear at this time and his very groundbreaking work would have heavily influenced his fellow sculptors. It is his art that begins to lead us into the Gothic style.Eve as she appears in Gislebertus's Last Judgement