Medieval painting in Europe was rich in religious imagery and symbolism due to the influence of religion during the medieval times. The main attention in the medieval painting was paid to the depiction of famous figures, mainly religious, and scenes from religious tales and heaven and hell. Medieval painting began from the early Christian paintings during the early medieval times and went up to the period of Gothic art. It was also during the early medieval times that transition took place from Roman art to Byzantine style under the increasing influence of Christianity.
Medieval painting types can be broadly classified into iconography, fresco, and panel painting. During the medieval times, Catholic iconography was an important type of medieval painting which consisted of the representation of holy figures as well as heaven and hell and other religious concepts. Fresco was another popular type of medieval painting which employed the technique of mural painting on wet lime plaster. Water was used to merge the pigment with the plaster and cause the painting to become an integral part of the wall. The technique remained popular even after the end of the medieval times. Finally, medieval panel painting was done on a flat panel generally made of wood.
A variety of medieval painting styles were prevalent during different eras of the medieval times. The earliest one is called the Byzantine Style which mainly consists of the representation of holy figures. These figures are often halo-crowned and have serene expressions. More often than not, the Byzantine mosaics have a gleaming golden background. During the subsequent centuries, Germanic, Celtic, and Anglo-Saxon art remained dominant. During the middle medieval times, Romanesque paintings remained dominant and were distinctive with respect to their aesthetic unity throughout Europe. One of the most important works from this era is the Winchester Bible which consists of the paintings and their historical details. During the late medieval times Gothic paintings became popular and had a greater degree of realism and depth of perspective.
A variety of famous medieval paintings can be listed from different eras of medieval times. A famous painting was the Carolingian Evangelist portrait from the Codex Aureus of Lorsch. Another famous painting from the 11th century is called the Bamberg Apocalypse from the Ottonian Reichenau School. A famous painting form the 12th century is Mary Magdalene announcing the Resurrection to the Apostles, which was painted by Albans Psalter. The dominant themes of all these paintings remained religious in nature till the end of the medieval times.
Various famous medieval painters left their mark on the art and paintings of the medieval times and enriched the culture. One famous painter of medieval paintings was Giotto di Bondone who lived in Italy during the late medieval times. Among his famous medieval paintings, we can include the portrait of Dante, Meeting of Anna and Joachim, The Kiss of Judas, and others. Another famous medieval painter was Cimabue who also lived in Italy during the late medieval times. His famous paintings include Virgin Enthroned with Angels, The Last Supper, Flagellation, and others. During the late medieval times, paintings and sculpture flourished in Italy which became the birthplace of Renaissance.
Medieval paintings were rich in religious themes and the themes of doomsday and apocalypse were important. A wide range of doom paintings also dealt with the images of the Last Judgement and Heaven and Hell. One famous painting of the Last Judgement was painted in Fra Angelico in the late 14th century. Last Judgement was also painted by various other medieval painters including Stephan Lochner, Michelangelo, Marcello Venusti, and others. Seven Deadly Sins were also popular theme of medieval doom paintings.
Various methods and paints were used for medieval paintings during different eras. One of the most popular painting mediums used was called Tempera which was also known as egg tempera. It was composed of coloured pigment mixed into water-soluble binder medium which made it very long lasting. Thus the medieval paintings from early medieval times painted in this painting material survive to the day. It remained the most popular painting material throughout the medieval times. Other painting materials often used for medieval painting include red ochre, yellow ochre, umber, and lime white.
Among the religious themes of the medieval times, hell was easily one of the most popular themes since it constantly reminded people of punishment for their sins. One of the most famous paintings of hell was done by Hieronymus Bosch where he painted heaven and hell side by side. Frescos of hell were common in churches as well as in religious manuscripts during the medieval times. For instance, a famous depiction of hell is found in the Hortus Deliciarum of Herrad of Landsberg from 1180 AD. Another famous painting of hell is called The Temptation of St Anthony and it was also painted by Hieronymus Bosch.
During the medieval times, it was very common to paint the walls and ceilings of the churches with religious themes. For instance, a complete set of medieval paintings is found on the three walls of the chancel of St. Mary. This was painted around 1320 AD and depicts the entire life of Jesus Christ as well as the Day of Judgement. Similar medieval wall paintings are found on the famous Ivanovo Rock Monastery of Bulgaria and date from the 14th century. Medieval wall paintings rich in religious themes are found in the medieval churches throughout Europe.
Medieval times in Europe were dominated by religious authorities and just like every other sphere of life arts and paintings also had predominantly religious themes. During different eras of the medieval times, different techniques and styles were adopted by the painters for medieval paintings. The most common religious themes that recurred in the medieval paintings included heaven and hell, the Last Supper, The Day of Resurrection, and the Seven Deadly Sins. It was also a common practice to paint church walls and ceilings with religious paintings.
This article on medieval painting gives detailed information on the painting styles used the history of medieval painting and the artist and materials used for medieval paintings. If you’d like to learn more about medieval art in general please look at the numerous links at the bottom of this medieval painting page you may also find the articles on medieval architecture interesting as well.