Medieval Painting

Medieval painting in Europe was rich in religious imagery and symbolism due to the influence of religion during medieval times.

The main attention in medieval painting was paid to the depiction of famous figures, mainly religious, and scenes from religious tales and heaven and hell.

Leonardo da Vinci - Medieval Painting

Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci was born in the late medieval period *15 April 1452 – 2 May 1519 he was a young man when the medieval period ended and his famous works were created in the European Renaissance period from the 15th and 16th centuries. Because of his fame and the importance of his works we have decided to include Leonardo da Vinci in the ‘Medieval Painters’ article although he is really a Renaissance artist.

Leonardo-Da-Vinci-Virgin-Mary

Leonardo Da Vinci Virgin Mary Painting

Leonardo Da Vinci was one of the most accomplished polymaths in Europe during the 15th and 16th centuries. As the bridge between the medieval and Renaissance periods, Da Vinci was the extraordinary embodiment of the Renaissance ideals, being an exceptional genius whose interests were spread over multiple fields and domains.

Leonardo-Da-Vinci-The-Last-Supper

The last Supper Leonardo Da Vinci

Leonardo-Da-Vinci-Mona-Lisa

Leonardo Da Vinci Mona Lisa


Medieval Painting Types

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.

The 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 medieval times. Finally, medieval panel painting was done on a flat panel generally made of wood.

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 the transition took place from Roman art to Byzantine style under the increasing influence of Christianity.

Christ Pantocrator mosaic from Hagia Sophia

The mosaic of Christ Pantocrator in Hagia Sophia, Istanbul dates back to the 12th century and is one of the finest examples of Byzantine mosaics


Medieval Painting Styles

A variety of medieval painting styles were prevalent during different eras of medieval times. The earliest one is called the Byzantine Style which mainly consists of the representation of holy figures.

Byzantine Mosaic Art

Byzantine mosaic art was beautiful and the theme was often religious

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.

Medieval Artists Anglo Saxon Art Ivory Panels

Medieval Artists Anglo Saxon Art *Ivory Panels

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.

Romanesque Style Painting

Romanesque Style Painting in bright colors


Famous Medieval Paintings

  • The Carolingian Evangelist portrait from the Codex Aureus of Lorsch.
  • Bamberg Apocalypse from the Ottonian Reichenau School.
  • Painting *12th century 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 medieval times.

Famous Medieval Artists

Various famous medieval painters left their mark on the art and paintings of 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.

  • Portrait of Dante

  • Meeting of Anna and Joachim
  • The Kiss of Judas

Another famous medieval painter was ‘Cimabue’ who also lived in Italy during the late medieval times. His famous paintings include

  • Virgin Enthroned with Angels
  • Flagellation

During the late medieval times, paintings and sculptures flourished in Italy which became the birthplace of the Renaissance.

Medieval Doom Paintings

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
  • Fra Angelico

Seven Deadly Sins were also a popular theme in medieval doom paintings.

Medieval Doom Paintings Last Judgement, Fra Angelico, panel painting, 1425–1430

Last Judgement, Fra Angelico, panel painting, 1425–1430

Medieval Paint

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 colored pigment mixed into a 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 medieval times. Other painting materials often used for medieval painting include red ochre, yellow ochre, umber, and lime white.

Medieval Paintings *Hell

Among the religious themes of 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 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.

Medieval Wall Paintings

During medieval times, it was very common to paint the walls and ceilings of 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 in the famous Ivanovo Rock Monastery of Bulgaria and date from the 14th century. Medieval wall paintings rich in religious themes are found in medieval churches throughout Europe.

Medieval Painting Summary

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 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.

  • A famous medieval Italian painter was called Giotto di Bondone, he painted life like pictures of animals.
  • Many medieval paintings fitted into the doom type category such as the last judgment by Fra Angelico
  • One of the most popular materials for painting in Medieval times was called tempera and egg tempera
  • Hell, a popular medieval painting theme helped to control medieval people – making them aware of their sins!
  • Painting the walls and ceilings of medieval buildings such as churches was also very popular and common in medieval times

This article on the 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.

  • Because religion played such an important role in medieval times it was often the subject of Medieval paintings
  • Famous people in medieval life were often the subject matter of medieval paintings
  • Medieval paintings often depicted scenes of heaven and hell this was a common theme
  • Medieval paintings Incorporated styles of different periods such as Byzantine Romanesque and Gothic
  • Most medieval paintings can be categorized as either fresco, Iconography, or panel painting styles
  • The earliest style of medieval painting was Byzantine and Gothic paintings became popular in later times