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 *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 >>

Christian Art

The most fertile period of Christian art was the medieval era during which the Catholic Church assumed a formal and powerful position in European affairs.... Read more about the Christian 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 >>

Fresco Paintings

Fresco paintings were very popular towards the late medieval Europe. The most popular form were religious art and frescoes Which adorned walls of ecclesiastical buildings.... Read more about the Fresco Paintings >>

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 >>

Insular Art

Insular art evolved directly from the fusion of Anglo-Saxon and Celtic styles of art and includes famous artworks such as the 'Book of Kells'.... Read more about the Insular Art >>

Medieval Artists

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 >>

Migration Period Art

Migration period art *Early Germanic Art *4th - 10th century Read more about the Migration Period Art >>

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 >>

Pre-Romanesque Art

Pre-Romanesque art is marked by a wide range of diversity since different forms and styles of art evolved during this period in different parts of Europe. Read more about the Pre-Romanesque 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 was prevalent from 1485 to 1603. The Tudor period was defined by its half-timber black and white buildings' exteriors. Read more about the Tudor Art >>


Medieval Art Characteristics *c. 476 – c. 1485

One of the most remarkable characteristics of medieval art was its vivid color. Most of these artworks also did not make use of perspective and the figures, therefore, conveyed clear emotions.

Inside medieval church

Early Medieval Church

Most art historians also point out that in these medieval art pieces, the important figures were shown and appeared to be larger than the other figures surrounding them. This was one of the many remarkable characteristics of medieval art.

Much of the art that was created in medieval times centered around religion and was created for churches and Cathedrals throughout the period.

Early Medieval Kings Edward the Confessor

Church Stained Glass of King Edward the Confessor

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 history of medieval art history spans from around c. 476 with the fall of the Roman Empire up to the beginning of the Renaissance period in the 15th century.

Art during this period evolved together with human experiences, especially on topics such as traditional and new biblical concepts, Christian dogma, and mythology.

Romanesque Style Painting

Romanesque Style Painting *using vivid colors

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.

Medieval illuminated manuscripts

Illuminated Manuscript

Meanwhile, during the 11th-century Romanesque architecture symbolized the 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 native’s creativity established the early English style.

Medieval Artists Anglo Saxon Art Ivory Panels

Early Anglo Saxon Art *Ivory Panels

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 that forges old English illuminated art and the new order.

Bayeux Tapestry-scene5-Battle-of-Hastings-Norman-Conquest

Bayeux Tapestry Battle of Hastings Norman Conquest


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 centered in Constantinople.

Regions in Europe such as Russia, Greece, and other Slavic nations also had contributed to the influences of Medieval Europe art. Since the movement originated in the church, artists were restricted to creating 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 Illuminated manuscript

Medieval Illuminated Manuscript

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.

Byzantine Art Mosaic

Byzantine Mosaics *Church Ceiling

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 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.

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 Artists’ article although he is really a Renaissance artist.

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.

Medieval Illuminated Bible

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 Mosaic Art

Byzantine mosaic art was beautiful and the theme was often religious

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.

Byzantine Art Mosaic

Byzantine art mosaics on a Church Ceiling

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.

Byzantine Art


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.

Medieval illuminated manuscripts

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.

Medieval Gothic Art Glass

Stained Glass Window *Gothic Art

Gothic art was characterized by brighter colors, shadows and light, and changes in the 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 the pictorial sense.

Italian Medieval Cathedral

Stunning Italian Gothic Cathedral

Gothic artists and painters were mostly founders of this movement, aimed toward greater realism eventually culminating in the 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.

Medieval Artists Anglo Saxon Art Ivory Panels

Medieval Artists Anglo Saxon Art Ivory Panels

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.

Medieval Church Byzantine

Look at the fancy byzantine artwork in this medieval church

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 from 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 Late Antiquity, that Christianity became integral to the European culture. The life of Christ became essential teaching in the church. This prompted the increased adoption of the scenes in Christ’s life in art pieces.

Medieval Art was Influenced by religion

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 out that the most ambitious illustration of Christ’s life showed more inventiveness and less of the society’s requirements on the art pieces, especially in Italian paintings.

Christ and Mary Vesica Pisces Romanesque Art


Famous Medieval Artworks:

Byzantine Church Mosaic designs were incredible and were considered to be major achievements in medieval arts advancement towards the end of the 12th century.

Christ Pantocrator mosaic from Hagia Sophia

Mosaic *Christ Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

Paris Psalter *King David Playing the Harp *Created 10th Century.

Coptic Icons of Jesus *created in the 6th and 7th century *Byzantine iconic art

Coptic-Icons-of-Jesus

Coptic Icons of Jesus

  • 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 jeweled cover – a Carolingian Gospel book made in 870 AD
  • Wilton Diptych – was 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