Medieval Art

There are many types of medieval arts. In fact, medieval art has continually advanced throughout medieval times. Some of these advances were brought about by the emergence of the Pre-Renaissance period whose early subjects were restricted to religious artworks called Pietistic paintings that also came in different forms such as illuminated manuscripts, mosaics and fresco paintings and were to be found in churches.

In an attempt to specify the types of medieval arts, historians tried to classify them according to major periods of the middle ages as well as style. The generally accepted classifications were early Christian art, Migration Period art, Byzantine art, Insular art, Pre-Romanesque, Romanesque and Gothic art. Other classifications were based on nations and cultures that had their own distinctive style. These types of medieval arts included the Anglo-Saxon art and Norse art.

Anglo Saxon Art

Anglo Saxon Art was characterised by it's use of vivid colours, Anglo saxons were experts with metalwork and renowned for brooches like the fuller brooch Read more about the Anglo Saxon Art >>

Byzantine Art

Byzantine Art

Byzantine Art was influenced by early Roman Art, popular throughout medieval times Byzantine mosaic art was particularly beautiful Read more about the Byzantine Art >>

Carolingian Art

Carolingian art from the Carolingian Empire was recognised by it's use of bright vivid colours, illuminated manuscripts and use of biblical themes Read more about the Carolingian Art >>

Famous Medieval Art

The most notable art forms from the medieval period stem from the Frankish, Anglo-Saxon, Norman, Insular, Moorish and Byzantine Periods Read more about the Famous Medieval Art >>

Gothic Art

Medieval illuminated manuscripts

Medieval Gothic Art was fashionable for around two hundred years from the 12th - 14th century, it was very popular with medieval people and could be seen in stained glass, manuscripts, Fresco's and panel paintings. Read more about the Gothic Art >>

Illuminated Manuscripts

Illuminated Manuscripts of Medieval Times

Illuminated manuscripts and books were given fancy letters and borders that would "light up" the page often in gold or silver leaf Read more about the Illuminated Manuscripts >>

Medieval Artists

Medieval Art was Influenced by religion

The medieval period was a rich period for art and artists, medieval artists such as Giotti di Bondone created famous paintings such as the last supper. Many famous Medieval artists of the day came from medieval Italy. Read more about the Medieval Artists >>

Medieval Painting

Romanesque Medieval Wall Painting

The medieval period was exciting time for medieval painters in medieval painting. Numerous famous Medieval paintings were created such as the Last Supper and the Last Judgement during the Middle Ages. Read more about the Medieval Painting >>

Moorish Art

Moorish Art can be identified by it's use of mosaics, floral designs, use of bright colour and Ivory pieces such as "The Pyxis of Al-Mughira" Read more about the Moorish Art >>

Norman Art

There were strong influences on Norman Art from Roman times and the Normans escapades in the Middle East and other areas as well Read more about the Norman Art >>

Romanesque Art

Christ and Mary Vesica Pisces Romanesque Art

The Romanesque style was popular before the Gothic art period. The distinctive Romanesque style adores mainly church ceilings to this day. Read more about the Romanesque Art >>

Tudor Art

Tudor Art was defined by it's half-timber black and white exteriors. Tudor Art was prevalent in 1485 to 1603 during the rule of Tudor monarchs Read more about the Tudor Art >>


Characteristics of Medieval Art

One of the most remarkable characteristics of medieval art was its vivid colour. Most of these artworks also did not make use of perspective and the figures therefore conveyed clear emotions. Most art historians also point out that in these medieval art pieces, the important figures were shown and appear to be larger than the other figures surrounding them. This was one of the many remarkable characteristics of medieval art.

And since the middle ages stretched from the fall of the Roman Empire until the beginning of the Renaissance period, most of the art pieces during this period were created mainly for churches. The arts were made to glorify God rather than for aesthetic appeal. Another characteristic of medieval art was its subject which revolved mostly around the holy family and the saints. However, some sculptures and paintings depicted war scenes.

Early Medieval Art

Early medieval art was also referred to as Early Christian art and more generally described as Late Antique art, covering the period from 200 to 500 AD. During this time, art pieces showed mixed sources and influences. It included Barbarian artistic culture from northern Europe. During the 4th century, Christianity became the official religion in Europe. This prompted the adoption of existing Roman styles from both imperial and popular art.

In the beginning of the period, most surviving art pieces were tomb-paintings, but later on included various art pieces with different influences. The early medieval art pieces included mosaics that were found in churches and built under imperial customs. Over the years, it transformed from baroque style, classical Greek style to a more mystical style.

History of Medieval Art

The medieval art history spans from around 476 C.E. with the fall of the Roman Empire up to the beginning of the Renaissance period around 1350 AD. Art during this period evolved together with human experiences, especially on topics such as traditional and new biblical concepts, Christian dogma and mythology.

During this period, the church financed many projects, including the early Christian art found in the Roman catacombs and burial crypts. Medieval artists decorated churches as well as created public works dedicated to Catholic beliefs. The earliest art pieces found in churches included a mausoleum for Constantine’s daughter found in Rome’s Santa Costanza.

Meanwhile, during the 11th century Romanesque architecture symbolized wealth and power of the church and European countries, while Gothic art was developed in the 12th century and named after Goths who ruled France.

Medieval Art | England

Medieval England art adorned stone buildings across the country. Cultural traditions along with the steady growth of the natives creativity established the early English style. However, this was regarded as unworthy by the Norman masters. Norman arts, however, whose lavish copying of Parisian Romanesque art revealed the shallowness and pretensions of their cultural roots, dominated most of the early medieval England art.

Nevertheless, as the enthusiasm for French art declined, English artists and craftsmen were able to resurface from their suppression. Even medieval clergymen who were considered important art patrons of the medieval period were not able to prevent English artists from expressing their native sources of inspiration in terms of fantasy and elaborate design. The best example is the Winchester Psalter, an original work which forges old English illuminated art and the new order.

Medieval Art | Europe

Medieval Europe art is also known as Western art. This kind of art has clearly influenced the world since the 3rd millennium up to this date. Medieval art in Europe was divided into periods and each period had art pieces that revealed what it was like to live in each period.

Medieval Europe art originated from the Orthodox church and had spread through other regions in Europe where the churches were dominant. However, most of the artwork during this time remained centred in Constantinople. Regions in Europe such as Russia, Greece and other Slavic nations also had contributed to the influences of Medieval Europe art. And since the movement originated in the church, artists were restricted to create art pieces that were solely for the church. These regulations were strictly imposed on them further suppressing them from creating art pieces inspired by other fancy ideas.

Medieval Art | Paintings

Medieval paintings were also called illuminations since there were no portrait paintings during this time. The term illumination was inspired by the gleaming effect of a gold leaf, which was often applied to the pages of the manuscript together with ink and paint. Medieval paintings also included murals. They were created in the same style as the illuminated manuscripts. However, a few of them had weathered the centuries.

The Byzantine also produced fine illuminated manuscripts as well as murals during the medieval period. These were also considered medieval paintings, although Byzantine artists were mostly devoted to mosaic. According to historians, the primary canvas of Byzantine paintings was the church interior. Large portions of the church interiors were graced with huge biblical figures. On the other hand, narrow spaces were adorned with intricate designs.

However, Western European paintings shifted from realism to medieval style, and a regional style was developed. This was called the barbarian style which focused more on patterns instead of human figures.

Medieval Artists

Early medieval artists which were predominantly composed of monks and priests based in monasteries. According to historians, one of the finest early medieval art pieces were the Irish and Anglo-Saxon illuminated manuscripts which were created by scribes and monks from the scriptorium of abbeys and monasteries across Northern England and Ireland.

However, artists from other walks of life began to emerge with the Renaissance period. The first signs were observed in 775 at the court of the Christian King Charlemagne. The king’s artists, calligraphers and miniaturists produced a number of excellently crafted illuminated texts such as the Gospel of St. Medard of Soissons, Lorsch Gospels and the Godescalc Evangelistary. By the mid-10th century designers and architects erected hundreds of new churches and monasteries across Europe.

The most famous medieval artists were Donatello, Giotto, Leon Battista Alberti, Cimabue, Filippo Brunelleschi and Fra Angelico to mention a few of them.

Byzantine Art

Byzantine art showcased dedicated, highly conservative styles. Most of these pieces adhered to Greek styles using simplified stylization in figures. This was merely due to their disdains for vanity, and their attempts to show the spiritual nature of their subjects.

Byzantine art came from Byzantium, the capital of the Roman Empire. The empire was divided into two sections, the Eastern and Western Parts. When the Roman Empire fell, the western part of the empire disintegrated. However, the eastern part of the Byzantine Empire stayed whole. The differences between the Catholic religion and the Byzantine Empire were clearly reflected in these art pieces. The art styles of Byzantium during the Dark Ages and Early Medieval period were largely created for the Eastern Orthodox Church. Most of these pieces were considered flat and one dimensional with no perspective. Artists did not use shadows and figures were generally front facing.

Other characteristics of Byzantine art include long and narrow faces with no attempt in portraying realism. There were also no sculptures for Byzantine art as they were considered a form of idolatry. Artists were also members of the religious houses and monasteries.

Gothic Art

Gothic art emerged during the late middle ages. This period experienced most of the great advances in art technique in the medieval period. Artists broke away from Byzantine and Romanesque art styles. The Gothic art lasted for nearly two hundred years, covering the 12th century to the 14th century. By the near end of the 14th century, Gothic art had evolved into a more secular style. This style had grown to be more natural and was referred to as International Gothic art.

Gothic art was characterized by brighter colours, shadows and light, and changes in subject matter which included animals and mythological scenes. Gothic art moved toward realism and embraced the development of perspective and proportion. They also incorporated new ideals of naturalism and the creation of pictorial sense. Gothic artists and painters were mostly founders of this movement, aimed toward greater realism eventually culminating into Renaissance art style.

Medieval Art Sculpture

Medieval art sculptures used to be one of the major art forms before the fall of the Roman Empire. However, they disappeared and only resurfaced during the Gothic age. The primary types of medieval art sculptures were architectural types and ivory objects. These ivory objects included crucifixes, relief panels and containers. These were often used to decorate altars while some were used as book covers or used as a diptych.

Carved ivory sculptures were the leading Byzantine art form. Architectural art forms were not very popular among the Byzantine since they preferred coating architectural surfaces with graphic art such as mosaic and painting.

Meanwhile, the western part of the Roman empire entered the Dark Ages severely fractured following its fall. Classical art was succeeded by regional styles commonly known as barbarian art styles. This style flourished throughout 500 to 1000 AD. These art pieces commonly focus on decorative patterns with zoomorphic effects.

Medieval Religious Art

Most art forms in the middle ages were considered to be medieval religious art. Common themes for art pieces were about God and the saints, and were made primarily for the church. However, it was during the Late Antiquity, when Christianity became integral to the European culture. The life of Christ became an essential teaching in church. This prompted the increased adoption of the scenes in Christ’s life on art pieces.

This period in the medieval era laid a lot of emphasis on religion and required artists to produce medieval religious art pieces. Some historians believed that this contributed to the stifling of creativity among artists during this era. However, other historians did not agree so. They pointed that the most ambitious illustration of Christ’s life showed more inventiveness and less of the society’s requirements on the art pieces, especially on Italian paintings.

Famous Medieval Artworks:

  • Some of the famous medieval arts are as follows:
  • Church mosaics of Byzantine design were incredible and were considered to be major achievements in medieval arts advancement towards the end of the 12th century.
  • Paris Psalter – shows King David playing a harp, created during the 10th century.
  • Coptic Icons of Jesus – were made in the 6th and 7th century, part of Byzantine iconic art
  • The Effects of Good Government – a fresco in the City Hall of Siena done by Ambrogio Lorenzetti in 1338
  • Scenes of Courtly love – made on the Lady’s ivory mirror-case in Paris between 1300 and 1330
  • Codex Aureus of St. Emmeram’s jewelled cover – a Carolingian Gospel book made in 870 AD
  • Wilton Diptych – created for Richard II of England in 1400. This diptych was stamped with gold backgrounds and ultramarine
  • Arch of Constantine – found in Rome in 315 AD
  • Carolingian Evangelist portrait – from Codex Aureus of Lorsch, used a Late Antique model from the late 8th century
  • Ascension of Christ and Noli me tangere – a classical art piece from 400 AD
  • Consular diptych in Constantinople – this was made from fully Late Antique style in 506 AD
  • Chartres cathedral – the best High Gothic sculpture that had largely rediscovered the art of naturalistic figure representation, created in 1220

Medieval Art Facts:

There are so many interesting things about the medieval arts in the middle ages, including the following fun facts:

  • One way to to show devotion to the Church was to build grand cathedrals and other ecclesiastical structures.
  • Cathedrals were the largest buildings in medieval Europe and were commonly found at the centre
  • Between the 10th and 13th centuries, most European cathedrals were built in the Romanesque style, which had solid and substantial designs.
  • Abbey Church of Saint-Denis in France and the rebuilt Canterbury Cathedral in England had Gothic structures.
  • Books were considered works of art before printing press were invented in the 15th century.
  • Smaller illuminated manuscripts like books of hours, psalters and other prayer books were sold in the 12th century, but were only sold to wealthy individuals.
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